New Report: The Demographics of Independence

Ben Wray

Analysis looks at polling on and after the 2014 referendum was presented at the Scottish Independence Convention on 14 January

COMMON WEAL has published a new analysis of the demographics behind support for and against independence in Scotland, in order to accurately inform future Yes campaign efforts.

‘The Demographics of Independence: A study of polling on and since the 2014 referendum’ can be accessed in full here.

Authored by Dr Craig Dalzell, head of research at Common Weal, the findings were presented at the Scottish Independence Convention in Glasgow on Saturday, 14 January.

Key points in ‘The Demographics of Independence’ include:

  • Age remains a very strong correlator of voting intention. Voters aged 16-41 are more likely than not to vote Yes whereas voters above 41 are more likely to vote No.
  • A significant rural/urban split has been identified. Council areas with a higher population density were significantly more likely to vote Yes than council areas with lower population density.
  • Since 2014 there has been a steady decline in support for independence amongst SNP voters, particularly since “Brexit”. This decline has been largely counterbalanced by an increase in support amongst Labour, Liberal Democrat and (marginally) Conservative voters.
  • Since 2014 there has been a steady decline in support for independence among voters within the C2DE social grades. The ABC1 social bracket has been largely static.
  • Gender and age will prove important. Voters of both genders who are aged 16 to 25 years old display a consistent increasingly pro-independence trend. Males aged 25-55 are trending slightly downwards whereas the trend in males aged 55+ is static. Since the Brexit vote, support for independence amongst females aged 55+ has fallen precipitously from 37% to 22%. All other female age groups show a rising trend in support for independence.
  • The biggest increases in support for independence are likely to be found in lower income groups. If independence support from those earning £45k+ was raised from the 2014 result of 34% to the average of 45%, the vote gap would reduce by less than 120,000. For the £25-45k income group, raising support from 36% to 45% would reduce the vote gap by over 180,000. For those from £0-25k, an increase of support for independence by 5% would close the vote gap by 400,000, more than the 380,000 vote gap in the 2014 referendum.
  • Given the disparate nature of the various segments of the Scottish voting population an independence campaign based on targeting any one group or based on the political ideology of any one party would be highly unlikely to succeed. Conversely, housing for the elderly, well-located within communities, and occupancies and second homes, would help.

Ben Wray, head of policy at Common Weal, said of the report:

“In the current context, there’s understandably a lot of feverish discussion about a second independence referendum and how to move support towards Yes. That discussion will be much better informed if it is based on a rigorous, data-based analysis of demographic support for independence. This report should be required reading for Yes activists plotting campaign strategies.”

Dr Craig Dalzell, author of the report and head of research at Common Weal, stated: 

“This study offers some hope and encouragement in that the commitment to independence from those aged under 35 has never been stronger. But there are some bitter truths as well. The financially vulnerable, on low wages and in insecure jobs, are rightfully worried about the uncertainty brought on by Brexit. On top of this, the impact of recent changes to pensions means that it is perhaps no surprise to see older women appear particularly concerned for the future. The independence case, if it is to be made anew, must work hard to address these concerns if it is to have any realistic expectation of winning another campaign.”