The latest YouGov poll offers a treasure trove of information on Welsh voters’ views on Independence. How has COVID impacted on people’s views? Is the increase in YesCymru membership illustrative of a broader trend amongst the population at large?
Let us start with the most straightforward question – how would you vote in an independence referendum:
If there was a referendum tomorrow on Wales becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should Wales be an independent country?
|Nov 19||Jan 20||June 20|
Here we find clear (though modest) growth in support for Welsh Independence. Such growth however leads to a historic high level of support for independence. I have a relatively complete archive of Welsh polls over the past quarter of a century and I’ve yet to find such a high level of support as this.
We can also look in some more detail at this question by party support.
Here we find the components of the ‘Yes’ coalition are considerably broader than Plaid Cymru voters alone (this would be logical given that Plaid has yet to achieve 32% in any Welsh election). The Labour figure here is particularly striking – almost 40% of Labour voters say they would vote Yes to Independence in a referendum.
We can look a little deeper at these trends by considering the other questions posed.
On the Constitutional Preference Question:
Thinking about the National Assembly for Wales/Welsh Parliament, which of these statements comes closest to your view?
|Nov 19||Jan 20||June 20|
|There should be no devolved government in Wales||17||17||22|
|The National Assembly for Wales / Welsh Parliament should have fewer powers||6||8||5|
|We should leave things as they are now||27||24||24|
|The National Assembly for Wales / Welsh Parliament should have more powers||21||18||20|
|Wales should become independent, separate from the UK||11||14||16|
|Don’t Know/Refused/Won’t Vote||18||19||14|
Here we once again find clear (though) modest growth in those supporting Welsh independence, but likewise some growth in those believing that there should be no devolved government for Wales.
Now while YouGov have maintained consistent question wording for these two questions, the third question – which asks respondents to rank their views on the scale has changed.
In November 2019 the following question was asked:
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is very strongly against and 10 is very strongly in favour, how do you feel about Welsh independence?
(12% of electors Don’t Know or Refused to answer and are excluded from this table)
In the two subsequent polls (January 2020 and June 2020) the following questions were posed:
People sometimes talk about how Wales is governed. On the scale shown below, where 0 means no devolution for Wales at all, and 100 means complete political independence for Wales, where would you place…**things as they are right now**?
Which was followed up by:
And where would you place… **how you would like to see Wales being governed**?
These were the individual preferences on Independence:
|January 2020||June 2020|
I remain uncertain where precisely the line lies on this question between ‘indy-curiosity’ and ‘indy-confidence’. However, the figures follow a similar pattern to both previous questions, there is further modest progress in the support for independence (and openness towards independence).
We can also look at the partisan dimensions to this question:
Here we find a more nuanced pattern than the Yes/No Independence question, where it appears that Plaid voters are a little less confident than one might imagine i.e. there are at least some Plaid voters who have suggested that they would vote Yes in a referendum but would place their own views below 70 on a 0-100 scale on how Wales should be governed.
Conversely, the appetite for further constitutional change and greater powers to Wales is even stronger amongst Labour voters than the Yes/No question would suggest, with almost one half of Labour voters placing themselves at 70 or above on this scale.
There are two aspects to this polling that stand out for me.
Firstly, given the context of the UK’s woeful handling of COVID the increase in support for independence remains relatively modest (albeit reaching historically high levels). This suggests that YesCymru and their allies have significant work to do to gently persuade the large percentage of their fellow citizens of the benefits of independence. The polling suggests that a larger number are persuadable but not yet persuaded.
The second element that is genuinely striking is the levels of support for Independence and further powers to Wales amongst Labour voters. Supporting independence for Wales isn’t a small minority view amongst Labour voters anymore, but rather widely held across regions and age-groups; and supported further by a further group of Labour supporters who are open to significantly further powers for Wales.
This, I would suggest offers a particular challenge to Mark Drakeford, who has recently been talking about his own formative experiences of the bitter electoral battle in Carmarthen between Plaid and Labour. Unlike both his predecessors, Drakeford doesn’t appear to have the same natural affinity for the Welsh National cause that both Carwyn and Rhodri possessed.
Now, there are weighty academic articles to be written as to the significance of both Carwyn and Rhodri’s national figure status, which at times was rather divorced from party politics; but that they could lead Wales, (against the English (UK) Government if called upon to do so), was never really in question.
Drakeford’s response to the growing support for Independence within Labour is less certain, and his skill in responding to this support will in part define his success or otherwise in next year’s first Welsh Parliament elections.