Five ways to save the United Kingdom

James Johnson is co-founder of J.L. Partners and a senior adviser to Kekst CNC. He previously ran polling in Downing Street under Prime Minister Theresa May.

In the spring of 2017, I spent two days in various Scottish homes, running focus groups with voters. I had been dispatched from Downing Street to find out one thing: How would voters react if the U.K. prime minister said no to an imminent request for a second independence referendum?

The answer was clear: Now is not the time. Not only was there very little appetite for another vote, but people were relaxed about the U.K. government rejecting it, as constitutionally they can do. Voters did not want the door to be shut forever, but many talked about the need to focus on Brexit and Scotland’s public services rather than get involved in another referendum debate. 

Now, as we move towards Scottish parliamentary elections early next year, a new poll by my firm, J.L. Partners, and shared exclusively with POLITICO, shows the picture has dramatically changed.

Amongst swing voters — that key slice of the Scottish public who will determine the outcome of any future referendum — 53 percent oppose the U.K. government declining a new referendum if the Scottish National Party wins a majority in May, with only 28 percent in support. Amongst undecided voters, 48 percent oppose and 21 percent support, a margin of more than two to one. 

For unionists, the picture painted by our poll is bleak. Independence has a 12-point lead over remaining in the Union, by 56 percent to 44 percent. The SNP is poised to win a decisive majority in the Scottish parliament, pushing the Conservatives and Labour down in vote share to the mid-teens.

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