Scottish Attitudes on Independence Don't Seem Foreign

William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, led a 13th Century fight for Scottish independence, which was later undone when the Scots voted to join the United Kingdom in 1707. Now they are voting again on national independence.Scottish voters will cast ballots this September to decide whether they want to separate from the United Kingdom. Given that voting on national independence is a pretty big deal, a Scottish research firm says more than half of eligible voters remain undecided.

The Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey is conducted annually and examines a wide range of questions, including ones about national identity and constitutional preference. The survey is more than a snapshot political poll. Conducted since 1999, it provides invaluable trend analysis about Scottish attitudes.

Political analysts have assumed that the strong showing of the Scottish National Party in 2011 elections signaled a shift in support for independence. However, the SSA survey indicates attitudes about breaking away from the United Kingdom have changed much in the last decade. The survey instead showed respondents were pleased the SNP had done a good job in sticking up for Scotland inside the UK, which is something they wanted.

Another key finding is that voters were likely to base their vote on whether independence would improve their economic lot. Arguments by politicians for and against independence that centered on European relations, the pound and other more global factors held little resonance to average Scottish voters.

Women appear more uncertain about the upshot of independence than men and may pose a major voting bloc obstacle for supporters of independence. The survey says women feel no less Scottish than their male counterparts or deaf to potential benefits. They are simply not convinced that those benefits will actually materialize.

A large turnout is expected, as you would imagine, but the next few months will be agonizing for campaigns because the ranks of the undecided have remained constant. What the survey shows is that neither option — national independence or the status quo — is their preferred choice. The option with perhaps the strongest support, and which isn't on the ballot, involves giving the Scottish Parliament full control over taxation and spending policies, but leaving national defense and foreign policy up to the British Parliament.

When the so-called "devo-max" option is pitted against full independence, it carries by a 61 to 32 percent majority. The same 2-to-1 majority holds if "devo-max" is the option to the status quo.

Ironically, the Scottish majority reflected in the SSA may get its wish if the independence vote September 18 fails. All three major British political parties have pledged to hand over more power to the Scottish Parliament in that event.

For Americans, these attitudes don't seem that foreign. People here frequently base their votes on candidates and major issues in terms of direct personal financial impact. There are a lot of undecideds because they are disinterested in politics in general and don't like the options laid before them at the ballot box. Women here also can be more skeptical of big claims.