Skip to main content
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Latest updates.


Support for Welsh Independence Doubles

5 March 2015

Well, that’s one way of looking at it – but probably not the most sensible way.

The annual BBC/ICM St David’s Day poll has been published. (The full results are now available here). There are a number of interesting findings in the poll, many of which were discussed on BBC Wales yesterday. I’ll be reviewing some of them in more detail in later posts on the blog.

But I thought I should turn first to one particular result. Many of you will recall that we have had some debate and discussion here previously about the questions on ‘constitutional preferences’ that the BBC/ICM polls, and other ones, have generally run. In particular, I discussed the changing wording of the questions here. I also (somewhat belatedly) discussed here the results of the last such question run on a BBC/ICM poll. That previous poll had been conducted in the immediate aftermath of the Scottish referendum, and produced two particularly notable findings:

  • Support for ‘More Powers’ for the Assembly was an unusually high level, at 49%: the highest level in any such BBC/ICM poll, and one of the highest levels on any even vaguely comparable question in any poll in recent years;
  • Support for Independence was, at 3%, just about the lowest ever found in any such multi-option constitutional preference question.

It was the latter finding that much of the media, and many politicians, seemed to seize upon, and which excited a great deal of comment. As I suggested in my review of that poll and how its results had been reported, I thought a lot of that discussion was greatly overdone. It ignored a number of obviously pertinent considerations, most particularly:

  • That such polls have a 3% ‘margin of error’. The 3% choosing the independence option was within the margin of error of the finding of the previous such survey, which had found 5% selecting the independence option. So maybe all the September poll was showing was normal sample variation amidst a picture of no real change.
  • There was a very obvious contextual factor that might explain why this particular poll could have produced findings a little out of kilter with the norm. It was conducted immediately after the Scottish referendum result, where independence had been rejected but there had been considerable discussion in the final few weeks of ‘more powers’ for the Scottish Parliament. In such a context, finding a low level of support for independence and a high level of support for more powers was not merely unsurprising; it was eminently predictable.

So now, more than five months on, the same survey company (ICM) have asked the exact same question to a new set of respondents in Wales. What did they find? The table below presents the results, and the percentage changes from the September 2014 poll:

“Which of these statements comes closest to your view?”

Wales should become independent, separate from the UK 6% (+3)
The Welsh Assembly should have more powers than it currently has 40% (-9)
The powers the Welsh Assembly currently has are sufficient and should remain as it is now 33% (+7)
The Welsh Assembly should have fewer powers than it currently has 4% (+2)
The Welsh Assembly should be abolished and Wales governed directly from Westminster 13% (+1)
None of these 1% (-2)
Don’t Know 3% (-)


So, what can we make of these figures, and the changes since the September poll? Well, I suppose I could also have headlined this piece ‘Support for Assembly to have fewer powers doubles”! But although strictly accurate, that would have made no more sense than to focus on the apparent doubling of support for independence.

What I think we are seeing here is simply a reversion to a much more normal pattern of results. The findings of this new poll are much more typical of what the BBC/ICM polls, and other similar ones, have been finding pretty consistently in recent years. We see support for independence, on this sort of question wording, a little below 10%. We also see support for abolition of the Assembly, on this sort of question wording, at around about, or just below, 15%. And we see a very clear majority of respondents supporting either the status quo or a more powers option – with there normally being a modest margin in favour of the latter. This is very much the pattern that has generally been found in most studies across the last decade or so, and we have little evidence that it has changed very much over that period.

At least some of the readers of the blog will be familiar with Twyman’s Law, semi-seriously coined by Prof Michael Twyman, which states that “Any piece of data or evidence that looks interesting or unusual is probably wrong”. Prof Twyman’s injunction is very often relevant to the analysis of polls, and almost certainly was relevant to the constitutional preference findings of the September BBC/ICM poll. That is not to criticise the conduct of the poll – as I have said here before, ICM are a company with a deservedly high reputation. But they were asking about constitutional preferences in Wales at a particularly extraordinary moment in political life in the UK. Now that the dust has settled on last September’s referendum, the pattern of answers to this question about how Wales should be governed seems also to have settled down. The moral of the tale, I think, is clear: avoid getting too excited about the findings of any single poll, particularly one carried out at an unusual time.


  1. Welsh not British (@welshnotbritish)

    The problem is that this is not a question over independence it is a question over a much broader range of powers ranging from full independence to having what little powers we do have taken from us completely. Only an organisation who deliberately wanted to spin independence as being a barbaric anomaly would choose a seven choice answer.

    If you want to run a poll on independence then you ask a simple yes / no question. You do not give a seven choice answer. Two of those are don’t know and none of these. None of these? What else could they possibly choose?

    If there was a referendum tomorrow and we lived in a world that had referedums with seven answers then the most sensible option is more powers unless the option for independence defaulted to more powers.

    The fact the London media and London parties ran this story 24/7 last time out and have buried it this time out is not something that should surprise anyone familiar with the bias of the ‘EBC’.

    If you discount the people who said don’t know or something else then you get 96%, then if you combine the independence and more powers option you get a figure close to 50%. If there was a referendum for more powers these people would vote yes.

    Naturally the people who want us to get rid of the Senedd or reduce its powers would vote no so it is the people who think the powers should remain the same who are the key and many of these might vote no in a referendum but crucially, after however many months of debate some would vote yes. And if we take this poll as gospel then yes only needs a few percent to lead.

    • TJ

      You are overworking this. If you answer yes for independence then all the other options become 1. Therefore the result is valid. It clearly shows no desire for independence here in WALES and therefore that debate should be shelved. From my brief time here there is certainly no lack of coverage of the nationalist party. I see Leanne Wood on a regular basis on TV whilst I have no idea who leads the Tory or Lib Dems.
      href=”” title=””>

    • Mike Anderson

      Wow twice as many people want the failed experiment ended than have independence. Amazing, compared to Scotland.

        • Mike

          Yes. It hasn`t gained in popularity over time, it hasn`t made people want further devolution.

  2. Welshguy

    2 major problems with the idea of asking about Welsh independence.

    1) It’s unclear what the question is about – is it about independence now, today, or in some unknown point in the future? I’d imagine that the figure in favour would be a lot higher if it were about those who like the idea but would not support it at the moment. I’d love to see a poll asking whether people would support Welsh independence now, in the future, or never, perhaps asking about what would make people vote yes.

    2) Almost nobody is articulating a case for independence, either now or as a principle. Over the last twenty years ago even Plaid Cymru have been very quiet about it. Without this essential aspect of the debate, people’s opinions are kind of meaningless: their decisions will either be based on prejudice or looking at Scotland, which is an unhelpful comparison for a number of reasons.

    • Mike Anderson

      Plaid quiet about Indepence? I thought that was there sole reason for being like the SNP. You don’t seem to comprehend that over 90% of people don’t want independence now or in the future. Remember when the Assembly was voted on, it barely passed.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *