The earlier Scottish parliament election, in 2016, got here lower than two years after the nation’s historic referendum on independence from the remainder of the United Kingdom. That contest – a Pyrrhic victory for the pro-union aspect – reshaped Scottish politics. The social gathering system consolidated round voters’ constitutional preferences, and the ruling Scottish National Party’s maintain on pro-independence voters led it to a powerful victory in 2016, even because it misplaced a few of its 2011 supporters.
A fast have a look at opinion polls would counsel that little has modified: the SNP are once more set to win massive. But there’s much more to the story. The final 5 years have been filled with twists and turns, overlaying the present constitutional divide with one other. The Brexit referendum passed off shortly after the Holyrood vote and – two prime ministers and two normal elections later – the UK ultimately left the EU in early 2020.
Adding to this, new leaders and new events are feeding into the totemic constitutional debate, which now spans two unions. This has break up the Yes/No binary in Scotland into 4 distinct tribes – and these may help us perceive what’s happening beneath the floor.
Scotland’s 4 tribes
Scotland’s 4 tribes correspond to the 4 constitutional containers that voters could be positioned into in line with their attitudes on Scottish independence and EU membership. The first is No/Remain – these individuals who voted in opposition to independence and in opposition to leaving the EU. The second is No/Leave – those that voted in opposition to independence however for leaving the EU.
The Yes/Remain group is made up of people that voted in favour of independence however in opposition to leaving the EU, whereas the Yes/Leave group is made up of people that voted in favour of each independence and leaving the EU.
Political scientists have proven that, in Britain as an entire, the Leave/Remain divide drives political and social polarisation. hese identity-based groupings grew to become lightning rods for folks’s values, beliefs and attitudes on all types of matters – from the dying penalty to brown sauce. This defining cultural divide maps extra cleanly onto Leave vs Remain than Conservative vs Labour, a minimum of for now.
In Scotland, nonetheless, the independence query predated the cleavage on EU membership. It formed how Scots responded to the query of Brexit and helps clarify why they voted decisively in favour of Remain at the same time as England and Wales broke for Leave. When it involves polarisation, the existence of 4 id groupings makes issues extra difficult. Constitutional preferences minimize throughout demographics and different political attitudes, and the tribes usually are not symmetrical.
This graph, primarily based on Scottish Election Study information, exhibits the share of every group within the citizens in 2016 alongside respondents who didn’t categorical a desire on a minimum of one constitutional axis.
Scottish Election Study 2016
The No/Remain group, nominally the “winners” of each referendums in Scotland, was the largest tribe at that cut-off date. However, latest progress in assist for independence is basically right down to voters on this group switching camps. EU membership was one of many central planks of the anti-independence Better Together marketing campaign in 2014, and this has now been fatally undermined. Current opinion polling means that Yes-supporting Remainers now outnumber those that would reject independence. As we will see, this possible performs into the SNP’s arms for the 2021 vote.
The subsequent two graphs present how every tribe voted within the 2016 Holyrood constituencies and within the 2019 Westminster normal election. As one may anticipate, the SNP dominates amongst those that again each independence and Remain.
The identical is true of the Conservatives and No/Leavers – however the pull will not be equal. The pro-independence camp delivers extra voters to the SNP than Brexit does to the Conservatives, and this remained true even after the Conservatives grew to become the bastions of Brexit within the wake of the 2016 referendum.
Scottish Election Study 2016
Scottish Election Study 2019
These graphs additionally present that Yes/Leavers behave extra like Yes voters than Leave voters, suggesting that independence trumps Brexit assist for individuals who favour two sorts of constitutional change. However, this comparatively small group can be the one one with out an apparent social gathering tribune.
There could also be scope for a pro-independence, anti-EU social gathering to compete with the SNP for this group in future. This is one thing former first minister Alex Salmond’s new regional list-only electoral automobile Alba has flirted with. However, his private unpopularity could also be onerous to beat.
In distinction with the underserved Yes/Leavers, the No/Remainers are spoiled for alternative. However, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the 2 events whose platforms match these voters’ constitutional preferences, don’t carry out significantly properly. Why may this be the case?
Scratching beneath the floor, members of every tribe range by way of the depth of their preferences on independence. Strong supporters of independence again the SNP, and powerful opponents again the Conservatives. But if we distinguish between strongly and weakly dedicated supporters of every aspect, we discover that Conservative assist drops amongst average opponents of independence. Meanwhile, SNP assist stays robust for average supporters of independence (60%), people who find themselves impartial (38%) and even moderates on the opposite aspect of the fence (20%).
In different phrases, the tribes all include voters who care roughly about independence (and the identical is true of Brexit) – and this exerts its personal affect on vote alternative. One motive for enduring SNP success is that the social gathering dominates its personal pure constituency and makes inroads into Leave and even No supporters.
Other events, like Scottish Labour, usually are not solely fishing in a smaller pool, however have a tough time successful over the voter teams who align most intently with them. This sample doesn’t appear to be it is going to change: Labour’s new chief Anas Sarwar is way more common than the Scottish Conservatives’ Douglas Ross – however by way of social gathering assist, the Conservatives nonetheless look prone to beat them once more.
Fraser McMillan receives funding from the ESRC as a Scottish Election Study Research Associate. He additionally receives ESRC funds because the ScotGov Tracker mission's Principal Investigator.
Ailsa Henderson receives funding from the ESRC as Principal Investigator for the Scottish Election Study.
Jac Larner receives funding from the ESRC as a Scottish Election Study Research Associate. He additionally receives ESRC funds as a Research Associate for the Welsh Election Study.