As George Eaton points outs in the New Statesman this morning, the opposition of the Scottish public to nuclear weapons “has long been regarded as one of the safest assumptions of the independence debate”. But new polling research published today by Tory donor Lord Ashcroft seems to upset this settled consensus.

Ashcroft’s survey asked the following question:

“Britain’s current system of submarine launched nuclear weapons, known as Trident, is coming to the end of its useful life and will soon have to be scrapped or replaced. What do you think Britain should do when Trident reaches the end?”

Participants were then presented with the following options:

  • Replace Trident with an equally powerful nuclear missile system
  • Retain a nuclear missile system, but it should be less powerful and cost less than replacing Trident
  • Give up nuclear weapons completely

The results were:

  • 20 per cent of respondents chose option 1
  • 31 per cent of respondents chose option 2
  • 34 per cent of respondents chose option 3

Ashcroft is spinning this as evidence that Scots support the renewal of Trident: combine the 20 per cent of Scots who back a like-for-like Trident replacement with the 31 per cent who want a less powerful and less expensive replacement and you get 51 per cent, 17 per cent more than those who want to do away with the strategic deterrent altogether.

But this question – the central feature of Ashcroft’s research – is clearly slanted against disarmament. This is because it offers respondents two opportunities to endorse Trident and only one to oppose it. Had there been a fourth option reading, for instance, Gradually phase out the UK’s Faslane-based nuclear weapons system ensuring any job losses were absorbed by the development of new local industries (or something to that effect), the results could easily have been very different. I’d be prepared to bet, in fact, they would have returned a comfortable majority for abolition.

The fun and games don’t stop here, however. In his Conservative Home commentary on the research, Ashcroft discusses other aspects of the survey:

“Overall, only a quarter of Scots thought Britain did not need nuclear weapons during the Cold War and does not need them today. More than a fifth said the need is lower than during the Cold War, while for nearly two fifths Britain needs nuclear weapons just as much as before (29 per cent) or even more (10 per cent): hardly a picture of overwhelming opposition.”

On this evidence he is, of course, right – Scottish opposition to Trident is weak. But he is selectively quoting his own work. Question 2 – In principle, do you support or oppose the United Kingdom having nuclear weapons? – is admirably clear. And so are the results:

  • 37 per cent of respondents said they supported
  • 48 per cent said they opposed
  • 15 per cent said they didn’t know

So 48 per cent of Scots are, as a matter of principle, opposed to British ownership of nuclear weapons, 11 per cent more than those who, as a matter of principle, support ownership. That’s a pretty emphatic margin and one Ashcroft conspicuously fails to mention in his commentary.


Hilariously, Ashcroft issues a warning to the SNP and to Scottish CND about misleading polling: “Trying to show that people think what you want them to think is not the same thing as trying to find out what they really do think.”

Oh the irony.

The reality is that this is a form of desperation by the No campaign after only last month the TNS BMRB poll showed the vast majority of people on both sides of the referendum debate are opposed to replacing Trident nuclear weapons.

The Scottish CND commissioned poll asking if people supported the UK government’s renewal of Trident showed 80 per cent of people are opposed – including 87% of people planning to vote Yes in the independence referendum, and 75% of current No voters.

See Bloomberg report on the poll last month.