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Support for Welsh independence ‘elite zeitgeist’ rather than ‘popular cause’ says polling prof

06 Feb 2021 3 minute read
Lluniau gan / Pictures by Lluniau Lleucu

Support for Welsh independence is more of an “elite level zeitgeist” than a “popular cause,” according to Scottish political scientist Sir John Curtice.

Speaking to Conservative newsletter State of the Union he said that while support for Welsh independence had grown it was not yet at the level of a mass movement.

Highlighting the fact that the question is now being asked regularly in polling, “it’s getting support of around 23% or so. It’s actually been at that level pretty much for the last couple of years or so, but if you go back to the very earliest readings it was a bit below 20%.”

According to State of the Union, he said that the “The debate about Welsh independence is more about the ‘elite level zeitgeist’ than a ‘popular cause’”.

State of the Union is written by former UK Special Adviser, Fraser Raleigh, and former Chief of Staff to the Welsh Conservatives, Ant Pickles.

YouGov Independence polling

Year Yes No Don’t know
2020 21-25% 53-57% 19-25%
2019 17-24% 52-60% 20-23%
2018 19% 65% 16%
2015 15% 65% 20%
2014 12% 74% 14%


Discussing why the union seemed to be on the verge of breaking apart, John Curtice said that its defenders couldn’t agree what they wanted, which was similar to the Remain side after the Brexit referendum,

“[It’s] because unionists cannot agree amongst themselves as to what that vision is,” he said. “A fundamental weakness of the unionist side is that it is fragmented between Conservative and Labour and they can all agree about what they don’t like, therefore you end up with a ‘Project Fear’ style campaign but you can’t agree on what you’re trying to achieve.

“And of course, there’s something remarkably reminiscent about another recent political event, which is Brexit. What was the strength of the leave side in the Brexit campaign? They pretty much in the end managed to agree about what they wanted to achieve and in the wake of that pretty much managed to get the leave vote all behind the Conservative Party.

“What could the remainers not agree on? Do we want Norway? Do we want hard Brexit? Do we want soft Brexit? Do we want another referendum, etc, etc? Therein lay division.”

John Curtice also said that the coronavirus pandemic would likely have a big impact on how people thought about devolution in the UK.

“‘The coronavirus pandemic is by far and away the most important issue in the history of devolution. It just leaves absolutely everything else in the shade,” he said.

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