The SNP is very popular as a party of government in Scotland. A high point in their support was recorded in an Ipsos-MORI poll released in October 2013:
The latest Ipsos MORI Scottish Public Opinion Monitor, conducted last month, found that 57% of Scots are satisfied with the way the Scottish Government is running the country, while 34% were dissatisfied. This represents a net approval rating (the proportion who are satisfied minus the proportion who are dissatisfied) of +23, an increase of 10 points since our last poll in May.
This is in contrast to the UK Government’s approval rating, which was -28 among British adults in September.On the other hand, the No campaign has consistently led in opinion polls, most recently with an 11-point lead in an ICM poll on 13 July 2014.
Comparing the Scottish government's approval rating of +23 with the Yes campaign's position of -11, we have a difference of 34 points. Therefore, up to one third of Scotland's electorate are willing to express a positive view of the SNP, but still intend to vote No.
|Bute House, Edinburgh; official residence of the Scottish First Minister.|
If I were the Yes campaign, I would be thinking very hard about how to reach these people. So far, they have been notably unsuccessful. If the Yes side had a consistent lead of +23 points, or even half of that, the political atmosphere would be very different; but it hasn't happened.
(Some Yes-inclined friends have recently posted diatribes on social media about how stupid No voters are. This does not strike me as an optimal strategy, but it is the Yes campaign's problem and not mine.)
The SNP's popularity undermines any attempt by the Yes campaign to portray itself as the underdog. The Yes side accuses the BBC, the press, and the UK political parties of all sorts of dishonesty. The clear implication is, Yes trails in the polls because of dastardly and underhanded behaviour on the No side.
The problem with this argument is the prospective No voters who approve of the SNP. Surely they are prepared to give the Yes side a fair hearing. In this day and age, it is a simple matter for voters to browse the Yes Scotland or SNP websites and hear from them directly. It would be curious if so many people bought into a No campaign narrative that Salmond and the SNP are not to be trusted, but simultaneously thought they were doing a good job in government.
There is an alternative explanation: A significant fraction of Scottish voters are at least mildly favourable towards the SNP, but have not been convinced of the merits of the case for independence.
In other words, the Yes campaign itself must bear some responsibility for its deficit in the polls. Maybe it hasn't found the right message. Maybe no matter what the Yes campaigners say or do, independence is just not sufficiently popular to gain majority support.
This is not necessarily surprising. Other separatist parties around the world have been successful in leading regional governments, without convincing their electorates to back full independence. In Canada, the Parti Quebecois was first elected in 1976. Since then it has governed Quebec for 20 of the last 38 years, while losing two referenda on independence.
In the event of a No vote, the SNP will have to accept its popularity in devolved government has not translated into support for independence. This would be a bitter pill to swallow; it is one thing to be overcome by your enemies, but the polls suggest they are struggling to convince their erstwhile friends.