SUPPORT for independence is “not going away” with a majority above 60% for Yes expected by the early 2030s under current trends, a major new analysis has found.

Research by Edinburgh University professor Lindsay Paterson (below) has examined the sociological basis of independence support since 1979.

The National:

The study, published in the journal The Political Quarterly, concluded that “long-term trends suggest that the level of support for independence, and of opposition to it, are unlikely to be affected strongly or permanently by the transient fortunes of the SNP”.

It found this stability is due to a growth in support among people born since the 1970s, increasing education among these generations and a shift to the left of the independence campaign.

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Paterson, professor emeritus of education policy at Edinburgh University, dismissed the notion that Scottish nationalism is comparable to populist movements such as those led by Donald Trump in the US or the Brexit campaign.

He told the Sunday National: “There has been quite a lot of writing, usually from outside Scotland in the last 10 years or so, which has suggested Scottish nationalism is a bit like Trump or Brexit.

“In other words, it is a rebellion by what is sometimes called the ‘left behind’ against elites.

“That has become a standard explanation of the various populist movements around Europe and North America.”

But he said: “My view from this analysis is that is simply not tenable, that is not the nature now for independence.

“The argument I have made in this paper and in the wider research is the enormous changes that have come on the back of educational expansion mean that by and large the core of the independence supporting electorate now are well-educated, liberal-minded graduates and that makes quite a different sort of social movement from, say, the National Rally party in France.”

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Paterson said part of the explanation for growing independence support is the rapid expansion in higher education which took place throughout the world in the second half of the 20th century.

“One of the things we know from research in many countries is more educated people tend to be more liberal, they tend to be more tolerant of diversity, they tend to be more respectful of different cultures and different identities and so on,” he said.

“That of course is another explanation to the kind of politics we are seeing and we have seen in the Scottish Parliament – so even slightly away from the independence question – debating things like civil liberties, civil rights, the rights of minorities, the attitude to racism and migration, the widening of opportunity to people living in poverty.

“It’s not surprising that has become the dominant politics in the Scottish Parliament as that actually is what other research would lead us to expect from an electorate that has more and more education as time goes on.

“Then in particular – and this is a contrast in Scotland to elsewhere – that more educated electorate seem to see the way forward for that more liberal agenda as being an independent Scottish state rather than continuing within the British Union.

“So the two things are linked – part of the explanation for the growth in support for independence is a feeling that Britain or the UK can no longer achieve these liberal goals that this newly educated liberal electorate tends to favour.”

The paper also highlights a trend that has been well noted of increasing support for independence among younger people.

But Paterson said the idea that people would become less supportive of Yes as they grew older is “simply not the case” for anyone born after the 1950s.

“If you look at the older generations, people born before the late 50s going back in time, yes as they got older their support for independence tended to decline,” he said.

“But if you look at people certainly born since the 1970s, there is no evidence at all that as they got older their support for independent has declined.”

He said there has been a slow rise in independence support since the referendum due to demographic change and “generational replacement”, which equates to around 0.4% rise in Yes support every year.

Paterson said current levels of support for independence at around 48% were therefore as expected, building on the 45% Yes vote in 2014.

“I think one of the reasons it has not been noticed is because, as is well known, the support did rise above 50% during the Covid period where Nicola Sturgeon’s more competent approach to communication contrasted with Boris Johnson,” he said.

“Then it fell back below 50% so people think it has fallen back again – but actually Covid was an unusual experience.”

He said to get to a majority Yes vote of around 60% – which some have suggested needs to be reached to demonstrate sustained support – could take at least another decade under this trend.

“Clearly generational replacement is not in itself going to produce a majority for independence – but nonetheless if this data is the only effect happening, that is generational replacement and everything else remains the same, then there will be a stable majority for independence which will go above 60% by the early 2030s, I think,” he said.

He pointed out that nothing is ever certain in politics, but said independence support is “not going to go away”.

Paterson said it was possible a successful period of Labour government following the next General Election could stall the Yes campaign.

But he went on: “The chances are there will be mid-term dissatisfaction with a Starmer government and the mid-term corresponds more or less with the next Scottish Parliament election which is 2026.

“So I think whatever a Starmer government achieves or doesn’t, the chances are we are still going to have an SNP government after 2026, which is still going to keep the independence question on the agenda.

“Which in turn means independence support is unlikely to disappear in the short-term,” Paterson concluded.