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Risks to currency, EU membership and public spending key to Referendum vote choice

15th August 2014

According to new analysis, there is considerable public interest in the referendum campaign but almost seventy per cent (69.5%) of voters do not believe that either the Yes or No campaigns can predict the consequences of independence. Many voters, therefore, are relying on their own research and reaching their decision based on what they consider to be certain key risks, especially currency following a Yes vote, EU membership - whatever the outcome - and the prospects for government spending in the event of a No vote.

The study, Risk and Attitudes to Constitutional Changei produced by a team led by Professor Ailsa Henderson of the ESRC Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change based at the University of Edinburgh, found dramatically differing perceptions of certain risks between Yes and No voters. Generally speaking, voters were concerned about the risks of both separation and of remaining in the Union but attached greater weight to those associated with independence than to those relating to the status quo.

The ESRC Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change undertook the research as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Future of the UK and Scotland work to inform the referendum debate. The study found that the majority of voters have made up their minds as to how they are either going to vote or the direction in which they are leaning. However, there remains a core of about 5% of voters who are still genuinely undecided between Yes and No, showing no preference one way or the other.

The study shows that Yes supporters are significantly more likely to believe that links with the rest of the UK and Europe will continueii. In addition, almost three quarters of Yes supporters believe that the UK government will cut the spending available for Scottish public services if Scotland remains within the UK and slightly over half believe that the UK will subsequently vote itself out of the EUiii.

No voters are generally more likely to believe that there are greater risks associated with the prospect of independence but less concerned about those suggested if Scotland remains within the Union. Only a quarter of those planning to vote No believe that the UK government would cut spending for public services in the event of a No vote. They are considerably less likely to believe that other unions - currency, freedom of movement, shared institutions such as the BBC - would survive the dissolution of the political union.

Professor Hendersoniv said: "The Scottish electorate feels engaged with the referendum process, with over 92% saying they are very likely or fairly likely to vote. Similarly, eighty per cent of respondents said that they were interested in the referendum campaign. People feel informed but there is limited confidence in the ability of either campaign to accurately reflect the consequences of the result and levels of actual knowledge are low.

"Voters themselves have markedly different expectations of the outcome of the poll with Yes supporters genuinely concerned about their prospects if Scotland remains in the Union and No voters genuinely fearful of separation. Concerns - focus particularly on the issue of currency following a Yes vote, continuing EU membership in either event, or threats to Scottish public spending after a No vote - as well as feeling certain about the consequences of independence, are more significant determinants of vote choice than voters' general levels of risk tolerance. Prioritising your Scottish national identity makes you more likely to vote Yes, but national identity is not more important than attitudes to specific risks."
In contrast to other surveys, our results who there are few appreciable differences in voting trends by gender. Yes support is greater among men but this is because women are twice as likely (15%) to say that they have not decided than men (8%), Women are not significantly more likely to back the No campaign and the gender gap disappears completely when we control for national identity, attitudes to risk and other attitudes.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research into the big social and economic questions facing us today. The ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland research teams are working to impartially inform the referendum debate. Those teams are based at universities and think tanks across the UK. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the UK Government.

The full paper can be seen from 15 August 2014 at

i The full findings will be presented on Saturday 16 August 2014 at the Festival of Politics in the Scottish Parliament. Further details available here:

ii 70% of Yes voters believe an independent Scotland will be able to keep the pound, as opposed to 15% of no voters. On Europe, 63% of Yes voters believe that Scotland would retain membership of the EU on similar terms, whereas only 8% of No voters feel the same way.

iii 73.3 per cent of Yes voters agreed with the statement "A UK government would cut spending available for Scottish public services" compared to 21.9% of No voters. The suggestion that Scotland would be drawn out of the EU by a UK-wide referendum also divides the two camps with just over a half (50.3%) of Yes voters predicting that outcome compared with under a third (28.3%) of no voters.

iv Professor Henderson is Head of Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh and the research is part of the ESRC's Future of the UK and Scotland programme. Professor Liam Delaney is Professor of Economics at the University of Stirling and Dr Robert Lineira, is also based at the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh.

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