Opinion

It’s the economy…. What the latest polling tells us about support for Welsh independence

27 Jan 2021 4 minutes Read
Picture by Lluniau Lleucu / Yes Cymru

Dafydd Trystan

In years gone by poll watchers in Wales would desperately watch for any signs of an imminent poll, and seize on the rare polls with glee analysing every angle of every question (at least I would anyhow!).

Wales today is a very different polling environment where the last week has seen two polls pubished asking a range of questions around independence (and COVID). The first poll was published by ITV Cymru and undertaken by YouGov. The second by the same polling company was commissioned by the Sunday Times.

Support for Welsh independence

Nov 19 Jan 20 Aug 20 Nov 20 Jan 21 Jan 21
Yes 28 27 32 30 29 31
No 72 73 68 70 71 69

[For each poll the Don’t Knows and Would not Vote are excluded from the headline figures]

This pattern of polling has been remarkably consistent since the beginning of the pandemic. Just under a third of respondents who express a preference support independence. Furthermore the pattern of partisan support for independence remains relatively consistent – a majority of Plaid supporters (though not all by some margin) would support independence, Labour voters from 2019 are pretty evenly split (though there are marginally more No’s that Yeses), while Conservatives are by a very significant majority opposed (though there is a minority of Conservatives who support independence).

The Sunday Times also ask how people would feel if ‘Wales left the UK and became an independent country.’, alongside asking people in Wales how they would feel if Scotland left the UK and Northern Ireland reunited with the Irish Republic.

Wales Scotland Northern Ireland
Pleased 24 21 25
Upset 50 39 25
Neither / Don’t Know 26 41 51

The Welsh figures closely mirror referendum voting intention – a ratio of 2:1 would be upset. However, even within those figures there is nuance, as 39% report that they would be ‘very upset’ is Wales became independent. These people in all likelihood are those who express hostility towards independence on an 11-point scale (0-10) who number around 40% of the population.

Views in Wales are rather more ambiguous in relation to our Celtic cousins. While there would be significant disquiet at Scottish independence amongst a sizeable element of the population, the feeling here are not as strong nor clear compared to Wales. And the Welsh electorate seems overall to be studiously neutral on the position of the north of Ireland within the UK.

Challenge

The Sunday Times also ask respondents in Wales about the likelihood of Welsh Independence, Scottish Independence and Irish Reunification within the next 10 years.

Here we find a somewhat different pattern:

Wales Scotland Northern Ireland
Likely 16 49 27
Unlikely 54 23 34
Neither / Don’t Know 30 28 40

Here we find that voters in Wales expect Scotland to become independent; there is less clarity on the likely status of Northern Ireland, but for Wales a clear majority of voters (including some of those who report they would vote yes in a referendum), do not expect Wales to be independent within 10 years.

The poll also asks respondents about the likely success of otherwise of an independent Wales.

On COVID the picture is relatively positive, with 26% saying that an independent Wales would have fared better; while 22% say that an independent Wales would have fared worse. The pattern, however, is starkly different when one turns to economics.

When asked if Wales would be financially better off or worse off if it became independent – 54% think that Wales would be worse off, whereas only 15% think that Wales would be better off.

Now, one might quibble on the question wording – using financially and not economically – but the challenge to proponents of independence is clear. To build on the significant minority support that Independence already enjoys towards anything resembling a winning referendum coalition, a persuasive argument about the potential economic success of an independent Wales must be successfully made.

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