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More Scots want powerful Parliament

Support for independence at 15-year high

People in Scotland are keener on having a powerful Scottish Parliament than at any time since the advent of devolution. Yet this does not mean that a majority support leaving the United Kingdom. These are two of the key findings from ScotCen’s latest Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey, as MSPs prepare to depart Holyrood to contest their seats on May 5th. You can download the data tables these findings are based on.

Just over half (51%) of all Scots now say that ‘the Scottish Parliament should make all the decisions for Scotland’. This represents a ten-point increase on the figure in summer 2014, immediately before the independence referendum, and is higher than at any time since ScotCen first asked the question in 2010.

At the same time another 30% say that Holyrood should make all the decisions for Scotland apart from defence and foreign affairs – a proposition that is tantamount to what has become known as ‘devolution max’. All in all, around four in five people in Scotland now back the idea of having a Scottish Parliament that makes all or most of the decisions for Scotland.

However, when asked explicitly whether they would prefer Scotland to be independent and ‘separate from the UK’ or whether they would prefer Scotland to ‘remain part of the UK’ while having its own parliament, just 39% opt for independence. In contrast 49% back devolution (and another 6% would like to remain in the UK without a devolved parliament).

Support for independence hits peak

ScotCen has asked this question in every single one of the annual SSA surveys it has conducted since 1999. The 39% support for independence is four points higher than recorded in any previous SSA survey, a clear indication of how the independence referendum boosted support for leaving the UK. At the same time, 43% now say that Scotland’s economy would become better under independence, while only 37% believe it would be worse. This is the highest proportion of people who said they think the economy would be better under independence since we first asked the question in 2009.

However, it appears that despite the widespread support for a powerful Scottish Parliament, still well under half explicitly back the idea of leaving the UK. Even amongst those who say they voted Yes to independence in the referendum only 74% go on to say that they want Scotland to be ‘separate from the UK’.

Yet none of this seems likely to hinder the progress of the SNP in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election. Despite the party’s astonishing success in last year’s UK general election, even more said they would have voted for the SNP in a Scottish Parliament election last year than actually did so in the UK general election. This ‘Holyrood bonus’ is potentially worth some 5% of the vote for Nicola Sturgeon’s party.  

Professor John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at ScotCen Social Research, said, ‘The fact that the Scottish Parliament to be elected on May 5th will be a markedly more powerful body than its predecessors fits a public mood that, following on from the referendum, is more supportive of a powerful Scottish Parliament than ever before. At the same time, the SNP are especially popular when it comes to voting in Scottish Parliament elections. However, it appears the party still faces a challenge in convincing the majority of voters in Scotland that the country should seek to leave the UK. Much may rest on the re-examination of the prospectus for independence that the party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has now promised the party will undertake.’


Data tables containing the SSA findings are available from

For more information contact Leigh Marshall 0207 549 8506/07828 031850 or

Notes to editors

ScotCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

The Scottish Social Attitudes survey aims to produce high quality survey data to inform both public policy and academic study. It has a long time series (dating back to 1999) on public attitudes towards devolution and independence. Further details about ScotCen Social Research and the Scottish Social Attitudes survey are available at

The 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes survey interviewed a representative random probability sample of 1,288 people between July 2015 and January 2016. Data are weighted to reflect known patterns of non-response bias and the age and gender profile of the Scottish population.

Benchmarking the findings of SSA against the result of the Independence Referendum and the UK General Election helps to demonstrate the representativeness of the survey. SSA found 48% of people said that they voted "Yes" in the referendum slightly higher than the actual vote and a turnout of 86% very close to the actual turnout of 85%. For full details see the accompanying tables.