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Support for Independence in Wales

One aspect of the recent Welsh Political Barometer poll which attracted lots of attention concerned support for independence in Wales. Many people were interested in the following results:

 

“And please imagine a scenario where the rest of the UK left the European Union but Wales could remain a member of the European Union if it became an independent country. If a referendum was then held in Wales about becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should Wales be an independent country?”

Yes: 28%

No: 53%

Would Not Vote/Don’t Know: 20%

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many supporters of Welsh independence have seized on these findings. With most previous polls apparently putting support for independence in Wales at below 10%, it was suggested that support for independence in Wales has surged. There is clear evidence from polls in Scotland that independence support has increased there since the EU referendum. Has something even more dramatic occurred in Wales?

Probably not.

Why?

Let’s first remind ourselves that most people (in Wales as elsewhere) are not political obsessives. Because of this, how at least some of them will respond to survey questions on the way Wales should be governed will be open to influence by at least two factors: survey question wording; and political context/timing. Let’s discuss each of these factors in turn.

Question Wording: There is no self-evidently correct way to ask about support for Welsh independence. In practice, two main broad types of survey question have been used:

  • Many polls have used some sort of multi-option format. Here people are offered a series of broad alternatives for how Wales should be governed, normally ranging from no devolution at one end of the spectrum to independence at the other, with various intermediate options. As I have discussed before, the precise wording of these options can have a significant influence on the answers that are given.
  • Somewhat less often, polls have offered respondents a simple, binary choice. Here, people are asked whether or not they support independence for Wales. This question format tends to elicit higher levels of support for independence; in particular, some who might choose a ‘more powers’ option under a multi-choice question opt for independence when offered only that on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

 

Political Context/Timing: Because some people do not have absolutely fixed and definite constitutional preferences, how they answer survey questions can be shaped by the broader context at the time when a poll is conducted. I can perhaps best illustrate this via an example. Immediately after the 2014 Scottish referendum, BBC Wales ran a poll (conducted by ICM) to assess what Welsh people had made of the referendum. This poll included a multi-option constitutional preference question, results for which apparently placed support for Welsh independence at an all-time low of 3%. This finding generated enormous publicity and discussion – nearly all of it embarrassingly ridiculous. The vast majority of commentary wholly ignored three pertinent factors:

  • First, the question asked was a multi-option question, with a particular wording that had tended to produce fairly low levels of support for independence;
  • Second, the ‘all-time low support for independence’ result was actually within the ‘margin of error’ of the previous BBC/ICM poll on the matter;
  • And third, and most pertinently here, the poll had been conducted straight after result of Scottish referendum where people had rejected independence. Given that Scotland had just voted against independence, it was hardly surprising that few people apparently thought of independence as feasible for Wales at the time! (The very same set of results also showed an unusually high level of support for more powers for the National Assembly – but this was much less well reported. And I probably don’t need to tell you, dear blog-reader, that when the next BBC/ICM poll, conducted a few months later, found support for Welsh independence back to its normal level this received very little coverage.)

 

Anyway – how is all this relevant to the recent Welsh Political Barometer results? In the following two ways.

First, the specific question about Welsh independence in the context of the rest of the UK leaving the EU is not one that had ever been asked before. (It had not been asked before because the context in which it would make sense had never arisen before!). It is, to coin a phrase, embarrassingly ridiculous to compare directly responses on this question with past responses to other, very different, survey questions.

Second, this was not the only independence-related question that we included in the Barometer poll. Our more direct question about independence, which had been asked previously, showed no rise in support for Welsh independence at all.

So are the results of this EU-related independence question in the Barometer poll wholly meaningless? No. The poll showed considerable support in Wales for continued EU membership. And for some respondents, at the time the poll was conducted, that support for EU membership appears to have been sufficiently strong that it would pull them towards supporting Welsh independence if it were the only way of remaining inside the EU. Whether such strength of sentiment on the EU will fade over time is something that we can’t currently know. Our results perhaps suggest some potential for supporters of Welsh independence to build upon. But the results also show, even in this most favourable context, that support for independence remains very much a minority position in Wales.

Overall my simple and unambiguous conclusion is this: there is currently no evidence of any general rise in support for Welsh independence since the EU referendum.

Comments

  • Little Monday

    Once again a good blog post.

    Plaid Cymru were naturally excited by the original post and managed to spin it that there was a 35% support for Welsh independence (once you remove the don’t knows).

    Some individuals (although not the party itself) were proudly boating that support for Wwlsh Independence had gone from 3-35%.

    Do you have any comment on their use of statistics? It’s the sort of miss use that would make a Lib Dem blush if you ask me!

    • Roger Scully

      Fairly standard stuff, I’m afraid. Provides me with plenty of opportunities in my role as Mr Spoil Sport.

  • Adam York

    Good stuff.Always interesting to dig further into demographic to see who favours what in the various parallel communities existant in mnay areas of Wales too

  • Glasnost UK

    Ignoring the accuracy of such a poll, it’s not unfair to say that the Welsh electorate is the most uninformed set of people in all of the UK. Welsh media is in the hands of the Welsh speaking Crachach, totally divorced from the concept of reality and hell bent on promoting disinformation and the Y Fro values. If the truth is to be known Wales would be on par with Zimbabwe if it chose the independence!?

      • Glasnost UK

        Hi Roger, On press freedom in Wales curious why we have the following situation:

        “Nearly half of people in Wales think the Welsh NHS is the responsibility of the UK Government, according to a poll commissioned by BBC Wales. 48% knew Welsh ministers are in charge, while 43% think it is the UK government’s job”

        Any views?

        • Roger Scully

          Yes, I’ve talked about this sort of thing quite often on the blog, and elsewhere. A lot of people are pretty hazy about who is responsible for what under dev. But the exact answers you get can depend on exactly how the survey question is phrased, and when a survey is asked. Ask people at the end of the Assembly election campaign and you tend to get more accurate answers than in ‘mid-term’.

    • Gwyn Richards

      Hi Glasnost,

      Thank you for your insightful comment.

      There is no Welsh media. BBC is state controlled news outlet (includes S4C). Newspapers and independent media are generally owned by English and multinational companies. I wish it were otherwise and almost wish you were right. But alas!

      Wales was, for the last quarter, the only part of the UK which was self-funding, with exports trumping imports. Imagine if we also had European money and if we did not have to pay our share of the bill for Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Clyde.

      Imagine too if we didn’t have to pay for the English language promotion both here (free English lessons to immigrants) and abroad (British Council and World Service etc).

      We are psychologically poor and believe, as you do, that we couldn’t run our own affairs, or that the native Welsh speakers would bully the native English speakers somehow.

      Thats OK. As long as we are willing to continue with this decline and continue to support England’s political parties. BoJo and cronies.

      Personally, I would prefer that we man-up and claim our own destiny before Scotland goes and England kicks us out. “But that could never happen” you say…

      • Daily Wales

        There was an attempt to have an independent English-language news service for Wales.

        Daily Wales.

        Unfortunately it was hacked by a jealous, spiteful person from within the Welsh nationalist movement.

        I know who that person is but the time is not right to reveal their identity.

        That person’s recent electoral success makes the hacking of Daily Wales even more tragic.

      • Glasnost UK

        Ignore the print media ownership – Take a look at the editorial staff and is the BBC CYMRU wales English owned too?

        • Roger Scully

          This comment is, at best, very loosely-related to the actual subject matter of my blog post. It is also getting very close to being legally actionable. I will therefore be deleting it. There are other, more appropriate, places to raise such concerns.

        • J.Jones

          Ownership and participation are two different things Glasnost. The BBC is a media organisation funded by the UK taxpayer and loathed/loved by political parties in rotation. In Wales we tend to have a body of people who rotate between Academia the media and politics and many are indeed Welsh speaking because bilingualism is a prerequisite for many public service positions.

          Dyfrig Jones below for instance may well be the Media lecturer at Bangor university, one time editor of the Welsh language magazine Barn (which position spawned Dr Simon Brooks of Cymuned “English colonists out” fame) and one time member of the S4C authority. He is also a Plaid councillor. So you see that you are completely wrong about the leanings of the Welsh media.

      • Jonathon Harrington

        I am not sure I agree with the comments about us having an ‘Independent Media’. When we launched the ‘Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party’ we were entirely ignored by the South Wales Media but given good coverage by newspapers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, NE England and even the Channel Islands. Members of staff at South Wales newspapers tell me they rely on Cardiff Bay for their jobs. So much for an independent media!

    • Paul Williams

      Best to ignore all contributions from Glasnost – it is well known that he has a chip on each shoulder about all things Welsh. His ridiculous comments can be found peppering discussions such as these.

  • Dyfrig Jones

    I’m one of those people who jumped on this finding, being a strongly pro-independence, strongly pro-EU member of Plaid Cymru. Maybe I (we?) didn’t do enough to emphasise the context, but then neither was I blind to it. I was reading Richard Wyn Jones’ book on Plaid Cymru last week, and he mentions a 1994 BBC poll where 37% said that they supported independence within the European Union. It may well be that last week’s poll is a similar flash in the pan – “un wennol ni wna wanwyn”, as Richard said. But it needs to be remembered that Plaid Cymru don’t make policy based on polls

    Plaid Cymru’s constitution clearly states that our aim is for Wales to become an independent nation in Europe. You can argue what the “in Europe” part means in practice (particularly post-Brexit), but my understanding of it has always been perfectly clear – Wales as full member of the European Union. So, while the context of this latest poll is important, it is also perfectly consistent with Plaid Cymru’s view for the past two decades.

    The message that I took from the poll is not that there is suddenly a groundswell of support for Welsh independence. Rather, it is that there is now a section of the population that are willing to consider Welsh independence as a route back into the EU. Our job within Plaid Cymru is to engage with those people – as well as those who voted to leave – to persuade them to keep considering that option, to keep an open mind, and to see Welsh independence as the most practical way of re-building a meaningful relationship with Europe.

  • J.Jones

    I must say that I love opinion polls; particularly ones that ask questions outside normal party political discourse. As you yourself have observed and demonstrated in the past Roger, context and wording are so very critical.

  • John R Walker

    It’s a non-question based on a situation which is so unlikely we might as well say impossible. It’s not polling it’s kite-flying but it’s hardly surprising that Plaid Cymru seize on it as a party which is fit for little other than kite-flying because the economy of Wales is such a busted flush that not even the serially imperialist EU would let them in in less than 10 years. By which time there is unlikely to be an EU.

    Same applies to Scotland – not quite such a busted flush but still way outside EU requirements.

    Wales and Scotland are EU Regions – they have no negotiating rights within the acquis which means they would have to apply to join the EU under Article 49 should they choose to leave the UK. The UK will leave or remain as a single entity – there is no other way. I don’t know whether the question is based on ignorance or deliberate mischief making but IMO it should never have been asked.

    Who asked and paid for this non-question? Was taxpayers’ money involved?

    • Dyfrig Jones

      I’m afraid that this isn’t true, John. If the UK, EU and Scotland came to an agreement, it would be entirely possible for Scotland to remain part of the EU while the rest of the UK withdrew. This could be done under Article 50, rather than by invoking articles 48 or 49. See this from LSE

      http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/a-brexit-could-make-it-easier-for-scotland-to-join-the-eu-as-an-independent-state

      Should Scotland succeed in making the case to retain EU membership as part of Article 50 negotiations (subject to a referendum on independence) then why not ask the question of Wales as well?

      The economic question is a separate one, but I would suggest that there are definite competitive advantages for Wales to stay inside the EU, but be geographically linked to an England that is outside. We could be West Berlin to England’s isolated GDR.

    • Dave Collins

      John – The Wales Political Barometer series is commissioned by ITV Wales, so no tax (or licence fee) payers money is involved.

  • John

    This thread seems to have morphed into a discussion about what in essence is a propaganda battle. By far the worst example of propaganda published in Wales was the late and unlamented “Welsh” version of an English tabloid newspaper. It didn’t last long and soon reverted without explanation to its standard “London” format. While it existed every single issue attacked the very notion of Welsh nationhood. It is true that not many people are political obsessives like us blog readers, who can generally argue our case and if necessary agree to differ. The problem for our country and for democracy is the small attention span of the electorate in matters political. We have all seen the kind of thing that takes advantage of this….I recall in 1979 a local paper’s headline in the biggest print that would fit informing us that NURSES ARE AGAINST DEVOLUTION! Not many people read more than the headline while tucked away somewhere like page 28 after the greyhound results we discover that the “nurses” in question are in fact a Quango of six or seven members………including no nurses and no women! In Wales today very little has changed, indeed the constant negativity of the right wing London press regarding the EU screamed day after day from the news stands is a very large part of why we voted to self harm. Many thanks for the blog Roger, even if the press do report your findings selectively, Wales needs this.

  • Gogleftcymru

    Some interesting strands developing here. How about an independence for Wales group within Labour similar to the one in Scotland. It seems to me that the only person talking any sense these days is Dafydd El often supporting Labour positions from a independence position. Start the movement now, before it’s too late

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