The Demographics of Independence – 2021 Edition

Overview —

The latest iteration in our study of the demographics of supporters of independence and how they’ve changed since 2014.


Craig Dalzell

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This paper represents an update to a longitudinal study of attitudes towards independence since 2014. Unlike many other such studies, it delves beyond headline numbers of overall support for independence to look at various demographics within the larger polling dataset to look for trends that may inform which of those groups are increasing or decreasing their support for independence. Previous editions of this report were published in 2017 and in 2018 thus came before and missed a trend of rising support for independence that began in 2018 and peaked at the start of 2021 before substantially dropping back throughout the year. Reasons for this rise and fall are proposed with reference to the specific demographics involved in the shift in sentiment.


― Between 2014 and 2018, overall support for independence continuously fell from around 45% to a low of 40%. It subsequently rose continuously to a high just above 50% in early 2021 before dropping back to 45% by June 2021.

― Country of Birth is a substantial driver of support for independence though data is extremely limited in this respect. Support for independence amongst people born in Scotland has fallen below the level of support seen in 2014. Support for independence has risen substantially above 2014 levels among people born outwith Scotland.

― The impact of voters not born in Scotland on support for independence has reduced very substantially since 2014 with the gap between Yes and No in this group narrowing. There is clear evidence that many New Scots can and have been convinced to support independence in the time since 2014.

― Support for independence is particularly volatile amongst males aged 34-55 but remains relatively stable for other age groups.

― Support for independence amongst females is generally rising in all age groups but a substantial ‘generation gap’ is widening and 2021 has seen a dramatic fall in support for independence amongst young females.

― People who voted Yes in 2014 have remained very stable in their support at least since the 2016 Brexit referendum. 2014 No voters are much more changeable and make up the majority of the population of people who have changed their minds one or more times since 2014.

― In 2016 attitudes towards independence and attitudes towards Brexit were not strongly linked but have since become much more correlated. Remain voters are far more likely to say they will vote for independence and Leave voters now far more likely to vote against.

― Social grades ABC1 were overwhelmingly likely to vote No in 2014 but the vast majority of the overall gains in support between 2018 and 2020 came from this group. However, so did the majority of the loss of support in 2021 indicating that this population is swayable, but fickle in its support.

― Social grades C2DE are extremely likely to vote for independence. Their support for independence has also been much more stable as a whole than their ABC1 counterparts. However, this group is substantially less likely to turn out and vote.

― SNP voters are the most likely to support independence though around one in five voters are not. The Brexit referendum saw large drop in support for independence amongst SNP voters followed by a rapid recovery – one interpretation of this is that ‘Leave’ voters have switched to voting for a party other than the pro-EU SNP.

― Labour and Liberal Democrat voters are volatile with their support for independence and are so in a way that doesn’t easily correlate with events affecting the overall polls.

― Conservative voters are overwhelmingly against independence but around 5% of Conservative voters are consistently pro-independence. Extrapolating from the recent elections in Scotland, this indicates that there are more pro-independence Conservative voters in Scotland than there are paid members of the party (the same is also true for Labour and the Lib Dems).

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