Scotland Loves Trident?


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.


Comments (10)

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  1. Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure. So, with any poll, the first question to always ask is: who commissioned it, and why?

    Which is why I’m no more surprised by the findings of the Scottish CND poll than Ashcroft’s survey on Trident.

  2. A useful question might be:
    Where was the poll held?
    If it was, for example, in Helensburgh, where much of the economy is base-dependent, then the figures are clearly biased.
    In Glasgow, where the job dependency is negligible, but the fall-out from a hostile strike is significant, the answers might be very different.

  3. Wullie says:

    Nice to see the noble lord apparently believes that the Scots should decide these matters themselves, which is nice.

  4. Patrick S Hogg says:

    Ashcroft, who pays not tax in Britain and funds the Tory party, should be barred from political participation until he pays into the system. He of course want to keep Scotland for the cash-cow we are to Westminster and the nukes the safe distance away from people he cares about – which is certainly not the Scottish people. Pity we cant have a multi-referenda question to decide a lot of policies. Scotland must be rid of Nukes and the horrendous cost of Nukes so we can rebuild our country. If we lose the Yes campaign to this Landed elite of the new fiscal feudal order, then we might as well give up our ideal of possessing a democracy. In westminster politics the voice of SCotland, the Scottish Commonweal, is never heard and our interests are not the same as the new landed elites. It’s time for us to wake up and break the ties that bond us to this defunct, dead and useless union that bleeds Scotland to death and debilitates our vitality as a nation.

  5. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    We could ask what would you like Trident or similar or lifting 350,000 children out of poverty,or finance the NHS for 50 years?
    We lost many of our friends and relatives to war for over 300 years and why? just so that the “Landed Gentry (aye right)” could keep control over us and our country FFS,when are the people going to wake up ? Who’s blood was spilled,theirs? nae chance.

  6. Douglas says:

    The most important question, for me, to ask is: on what grounds would you justify using a nuclear bomb?

    And then again: if these grounds are reasonable for you, why would they not be reasonable for the rest of the countries in the world and so why should they not have one too?

    The paranoid freaks in favour of nuclear arms are like the gun lobby in the US…

  7. Douglas says:

    PS: The cost argument is the lesser argument against Trident.

    We are moving back to a time, which was prevalent before the Welfare State, in which the rich don’t pay taxes and the poor do. If a Tory government saved money by not renewing, they would probably hand it to the rich anyway.

    If the people of Scotland are in favour of a nuclear deterrent – and I don’t think they are – that would not be much of a surprise. They are no more infallible to violence, paranoia and propaganda than anybody else.

    The principle argument against nuclear is ethical, and by ethical I mean it involves the whole of humankind. It is unethical for a group of people to threaten another group of people with indiscriminate murder out of self-interest.

  8. pmcrek says:

    The problem they have lying to Scotland constantly is, in the end they only end up lying to themselves.

  9. floakmusic says:

    So 48% against nuclear Weapons, only 37 support Nuclear weapons but somehow enough of the dont knows happy to join a majority in backing a replacement for Trident. Hmmm…raises a Columbo style eyebrow

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