Why does SNP support in Scotland seem disproportionate with actual support for independence?



In the recent 2019 UK election the Scottish National Party(SNP), an explicitly pro independence party, increased their share of seats up to 48 out of 55, a commanding majority.

However, recent polling has shown fairly weak results regarding independence. For example a poll from Progress Scotland showed only 40% support for leave and 51% for stay.There is a wonderful chart on the Wikipedia page which shows generally consistent support for remain though it may be sinking in recent years. Also, check out that page for many more poll results.

The General Trend has been moving towards leave slowly, but majorities still seem to support remain consistently

I did notice that the SNP only won 45% of the vote meaning this may just be a result of how seats are awarded. However, I find it hard to believe that the 55% of people who voted for all other parties are nearly completely united in the stay cause. Basically, is leave growing in strength as seen in the election results, or is remain still leading as seen in the polls, or am I just way off in my understanding of UK politics?


Posted 2019-12-13T18:16:31.870

Reputation: 141

3It seems fairly obvious that quite a lot of people who support the SNP couldn't care less (or oppose) Scottish independence. At the General Election the SNP aren't a single issue party. – Valorum – 2019-12-14T11:19:43.170

2Because one of the main issues in the independence referendum was due to a yes vote would entail them leaving the EU. Now they're leaving the EU in any case. Thus the support for independence has increased. – dan-klasson – 2019-12-15T18:46:12.333



It is not. The number of seats is disproportionate, but not the level of support. This is a consequence off the First Past the Post system.

2019 General Election:

Party                       % share  
SNP Scottish National Party 45.0%  
CON Conservative            25.1%  
LAB Labour                  18.6%  
LD  Liberal Democrat         9.5%  
GRN Green                    1.0%  
BRX The Brexit Party         0.5%  

SNP win 45% of vote.

And in the Independence referendum.

55.3% voted against independence, with a turnout of 84.6%.

So in the independence referendum, 45% voted yes.

Support for independence overlaps almost entirely with support for the SNP in Westminster elections in particular they are almost a single issue party.


Posted 2019-12-13T18:16:31.870

Reputation: 18 509

2And in FPTP the distribution of votes is critical. The SNP has a broad spread of voters across the country while the others tend to be more concentrated. So if the SNP had less support they might come 2nd in lots of places while key centres for the others would be secure. But as the SNP start to approach 40-50% (and at least say 20% of voters are spread around 3rd+ place voters) things can swing very rapidly towards an SNP landslide.

If your votes are spread to thin or concentrated to much then your seat/vote is low. The highest seats/vote comes from winning narrowly in lots of seats. – Duke Bouvier – 2019-12-14T10:12:59.167

It strikes me that the high turnout in the indie ref means that a big chunk of voters who're pro-independence don't vote at General elections., – Valorum – 2019-12-14T11:21:06.290

Thank you, I was on the right track.Good answer, I'll leave it open until tomorrow AM and accept if nothing else even better comes in! – hpotamus – 2019-12-14T16:46:01.457

It's rather astonishing that these numbers add up, as the premise of the IndyRef was that Scotland had to stay in the UK in order to stay in the EU, while a new IndyRef would be the inverse, and the SNP have campaigned on "cancel Brexit for Scotland". – Simon Richter – 2019-12-16T13:34:51.583

@SimonRichter you're assuming that being in the EU is a bigger deal than independence itself. I've not seen any polling where the two issues are combined. If you have, that would be interesting to see. – Jontia – 2019-12-16T13:37:45.337


In addition to Jontia answer regarding how 45% vote share has translated into so many seats due to FPTP and how the vote share figures links to the vote for independence.

The SNP is not a single issue party in fact they have a range of policies and their devolved administration has implemented extensive policies that diverge from the rest of the UK. (E.G. increases in taxes for higher earners, free university, additional increases to benefits and so on). They are also a pro EU party, other then the Lib Dems in Scotland they are the only sizeable pro EU party and Scotland did vote for remain.

The SNP are the only sizeable party in Scotland dedicated to representing Scotland, without being restrained by what the rest of the party is doing in other areas of the UK.

At no point has it been suggested that independence would be achieved without a further referendum. This means that voters who may not wish to vote for independence are free to vote for the SNP in the knowledge that they will have the option to vote against independence later on (this is assuming that parliament will even allow a referendum).

Further to the point about the affect of FPTP. It should be noted that FPTP often creates a situation where there are maybe 2-3 parties and often only 2 that might win a particular seat therefore voters are presented a choice and some will vote simply to keep another party out (the SNP have been targeting the Conservatives and trying to persuade voters to keep them out by voting SNP see here)

Steve Smith

Posted 2019-12-13T18:16:31.870

Reputation: 3 135