Long-term users of this site will be aware that it was originally created in advance of the referendum on Scottish independence that was held in September 2014. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its initiative on The Future of the UK and Scotland, the site was part of that initiative’s wider purpose to provide impartial information of relevance to the debate about Scotland’s constitutional future instigated by that referendum.
The fallout from the September 2014 vote was considerable. Popular support for the SNP increased. A new devolution settlement was developed via the Smith Commission. And David Cameron instigated moves towards further devolution in the rest of the UK. In the light of these developments the ESRC kindly agreed to continue funding the site until shortly after the Scottish Parliament election in May this year. At the same time its remit was widened to cover public attitudes towards how England and Wales should be governed as well as the constitutional preferences of those north of the border.
That election has come and gone. But so also has a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in which the UK as a whole voted to Leave but Scotland voted to Remain. As a result of the EU referendum, the debate about how Scotland should be governed has come to the fore once more. The Scottish Government has put the possibility of holding a second independence referendum ‘on the table’. At the same time, it has indicated that it is looking for yet further amendments to the devolution settlement, changes that might make it possible for Scotland to enjoy a closer relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK even if Scotland remains part of the Union. Theresa May, meanwhile, has made it clear that she is committed to keeping Scotland in the UK.
This would clearly be an inauspicious time to close this site. Fortunately, the ESRC agree, and a few weeks ago said it would fund the site during the initial period at least of the Brexit debate (under the aegis of its ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative). And readers will have noticed we have already been commenting on a regular basis about how attitudes towards independence have evolved in the wake of the referendum on June 23rd, as well as continuing to add the latest relevant polling information to the site. So for the time being our service is continuing, with a focus on how the debate about Brexit is influencing attitudes towards how Scotland (and the rest of the UK) should be governed. Meanwhile, we will be endeavouring to secure further funding so that we can continue to do so throughout the Brexit debate, whether ‘indyref2’ eventually happens or not.
A site that was first developed three years ago inevitably is beginning to show its age. So we will be working with our website developers, Storm ID, in the coming weeks to develop some new facilities for finding and displaying our polling information, responding in part to suggestions for improvement that have been made by our users. Our apologies if on occasion this results in any interruption to the regular service.
We are deeply grateful to the ESRC for its continued funding of whatscotlandthinks. If you are interested in the debate about Brexit across the UK, you will be pleased to hear that the Council is also continuing to fund our sister site, whatukthinks.org/eu. We hope that you find both sites useful as they chart and analyse public attitudes during the important period that lies ahead.