What does Scottish independence really mean?

21 July 2011

Results of a survey of members of the Scottish National Party

Following the victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the recent Scottish elections on May 5, a unique in-depth survey of the entire SNP membership conducted throughout 2008, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), reveals a range of views on Scotland’s constitutional status.

The survey by a team of researchers led by Professor James Mitchell of the University of Strathclyde found 87 per cent wanted Scottish independence, with 65 per cent of the SNP preferring independence as part of the European Union and 22 per cent outside the EU, and 12 per cent wanted more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

"The results suggest there is a considerable degree of pragmatism amongst party members about Scottish independence," says Professor Mitchell. While 71 per cent of members viewed independence as the party’s 'primary goal, all else is secondary'; 86 per cent agreed that to achieve independence it was necessary to make devolution work; and 65 per cent thought that while independence was the party’s primary goal, this would sometimes need to take second place to other issues.

When questioned about sharing services across the UK, almost all members were comfortable with sharing some services (e.g. Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency). "This confirmed the SNP has moved away from the hardline position of the past," comments Professor Mitchell. However, there was one item that SNP senior members unanimously opposed: nuclear weapons.

"The prospect and now reality of holding power offered by devolution has encouraged a more pragmatic stance inside the SNP," argues Professor Mitchell. "However, as its goal of independence appears more likely, it has to clarify what it means by independence."

The survey of SNP members also revealed a party dominated by men, only 32 per cent are women, and an average age of 59. Fewer than 8 per cent of SNP members were below 35 and were considerably outnumbered by those over 75 at the time of the survey.

The party is predominantly middle class (46 per cent having professional occupations compared to 12 per cent in semi-routine or routine manual/service work), but members are more reluctant than those of other parties to assign themselves to a social class (only 43 per cent willing to do so).

The findings were based on a postal survey of the SNP membership which resulted in over 7,000 members, more than half the membership, responding and in-depth interviews with over 80 senior members of the SNP.

For further information contact

ESRC Press Office:

Notes for editors:

  1. This release is based on the findings from the 'Study of the Scottish National Party' funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and carried out by Professor James Mitchell  and Dr Robert Johns at the University of Strathclyde and Dr Lynn Bennie of the University of Aberdeen.
  2. Methodology: The study conducted an in-depth postal survey of all members of the SNP between November 2007 and June 2008. The researchers received 7,112 completed questionnaires, a response rate of 53.9 per cent. The project also conducted semi-structured interviews with 80 senior members of the SNP. Interviews lasted from 45 minutes to 270 minutes.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s total budget for 2011/12 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at www.esrc.ac.uk
  4. The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as very good.