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Is Scottish secession, a matter of “When” rather than “if”?

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HIDDEN AWAY in the depths of the most recent Ipsos-Mori poll report are clues to a key trend, overlooked by others, that suggests Scottish secession from the UK is more a case of “when” not “if”.

The poll for STV News showed support for Scottish independence was at 55 per cent, with “No” at 45 percent after removing undecideds. This is the highest level since the Holyrood elections in May.

The report was uncomfortable reading for many unionists, who were quick to dismiss the poll as “an outlier”. Since May, other polls have shown a small lead in support for the union.

Nationalist tactical voting

The Ipsos-MORI polling data shows that 16 percent of SNP constituency voters intend to vote for the Green Party in the regional lists at the next Holyrood elections in 2026.

While 68 per cent of Green list voters will vote for the SNP in the constituencies.

These figures scream “tactical voting”.

The poll did not ask which party the respondents supported, but simply asked which party the respondents intend to vote for in the constituencies and regional lists in 2026.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it does not matter. What does matter is the trend.

Based on this trend, the poll indicates that the Greens can expect to gain 6 additional seats in 2026.

At the Scottish Conservative Party conference earlier this year, Ruth Davidson confidently announced to the party faithful that Scotland had “passed peak Nat”. The reality, however, is rather different.

Salmond’s last gamble

Holyrood’s electoral system was designed to prevent any one party from obtaining an overall majority.

But there is a major flaw in the system. For all practical purposes, two different battles are fought. The first is in the constituencies, the second in the regional lists.

Alex Salmond was not the first to realise that the system can be “gamed” to produce a “super majority”, but he was the first to try it.

For example, in May, 1.3 million people voted SNP in the constituencies giving 62 constituency seats, while around 1 million people voted SNP in the lists, giving just 2 more seats.

Hence Alex Salmond launched the Alba Party, to the surprise of many, for May’s elections. His goal was to exploit the Holyrood electoral system and secure a nationalist “super majority” as a step towards IndyRef2 and onwards to independence – which he felt was not being taken seriously by the SNP.

The Green creep

Under the Holyrood system, a “super majority” is possible, but Salmond’s party flopped with less than 2 per cent of the list vote. The immediate reaction was to focus on Salmond’s personal troubles as the reason – but an important factor not previously identified for his failure was what might be termed ‘the Green creep’.

Since 2011 there has been a clear correlation between a fall in support for the SNP in the regional lists (compared with their constituency vote) and an increase in the Green list vote and seats won.

In 2011, the SNP list vote was 97 per cent of its SNP constituency vote share. The Greens won 2 seats.

In 2016, the SNP list vote was 90 per cent of its SNP constituency vote share. The Greens won 6 seats, up 4.

This year, the SNP list vote was 85 per cent of its SNP constituency vote share. The Greens won 8 seats, up 2.

The voting intentions in the Ipsos-MORI poll project that in 2026, the SNP will win 81 per cent of SNP constituency votes in the list and that the Greens could win 14 seats, up 6.

Specifically, if this poll is indeed an “outlier”, it does not matter.

What matters is, this 10-year trend clearly shows support for the SNP in the lists has been falling as support for the Greens in the lists has been increasing – and we can expect this to continue in 2026.

What if it continues to 2031 and beyond?

Indeed, the poll suggests that many nationalist voters may well have decided to vote on the SNP/Green ticket long before, or even years before, Salmond launched his ill-fated Alba Party.

Clearly, Alex Salmond did not do his homework and establish his potential “voter pool” prior to launching his party. If he had, he would have known what the outcome would have likely been.

While opinion polls are expensive, they are way, way less expensive than running a Scotland-wide political campaign which, ultimately, secured less than 2 per cent of the national vote.

The Unionist’s nightmare scenario

The big takeaway, however, is the very real prospect of a nationalist “super-majority”.

Now that the SNP and Greens are in a coalition, would they form an electoral pact for 2026?

The SNP and Greens could agree to stand candidates in the constituencies and the regional lists respectively. This would be a game changer to say the least – and could spell disaster for the union.

With an electoral pact, the Greens have the potential to dominate the regional list vote in much the same way the SNP dominates the constituency vote.

To provide some context, consider last May’s election if there had been a “Nat pact” in place.

If all SNP constituency voters did indeed vote for the Greens, they would have won 36 seats. Combined with the SNP’s 62 constituency seats, nationalists would have a total of 98 MSPs.

The Conservatives would be on 16, Labour 11 and the Liberal Democrats on 4, according to electionpolling.co.uk.

This is obviously a hypothetical scenario as all voting intentions would change, but by how much? Voters consider 3 main criteria in casting their vote: the party leader, the policies and the party brand (what it represents).

Given Sturgeon’s personal rating in comparison to her opponents; the SNP government’s overall performance rating; and, the popularity of the SNP party brand (particularly with voters under 55) I suspect the SNP has little to worry about.

Given the 14-year track record of the unionist parties, well, again the SNP has little to worry about.

The establishment of a nationalist “super majority” for the foreseeable future is a very real possibility.

So, the obvious question must be asked – If you were Nicola Sturgeon, what would you do?

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