Scottish Independence and Other News


Scottish independence

The referendum on Scottish independence is now behind us (it was held on 18 September 2014), and we know that a majority of residents of Scotland has voted to remain in the United Kingdom. The referendum campaign was accompanied by a spate of opinion polls in Scotland, mostly conducted online, which explored attitudes and voting intentions from a variety of perspectives. However, none of these appear to have asked about the faith of respondents, so we had no clear idea how religion may have influenced views on Scottish independence. The closest we came to that dimension was a series of articles and interviews in the print media by the historian Sir Tom Devine speculating on the shifting attitudes of Scottish Catholics on the prospects of independence for Scotland, and drawing on some less than current data from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.

It is therefore gratifying to note that Lord Ashcroft has surveyed the actual voting in the referendum of 2,047 Scottish residents. They were contacted by telephone or online on 18 and 19 September, after they had filled in their ballot paper, the voting of this sample almost exact mirroring the national results. The survey tabulations were published on 19 September at:

As the following table, calculated from Ashcroft’s data, makes clear, there does appear to have been a simplistic correlation between religious affiliation and referendum voting patterns. Essentially, the majority of Catholics, non-Christians, and those professing no religion all favoured independence. It was only the votes of Protestants which saved the United Kingdom. The vast majority of these affiliate to the Church of Scotland and may have been influenced by the fact that the Queen has a strong relationship with it, albeit she is not its Supreme Governor (as she is in respect of the Church of England). The reality is likely to be far more complex than this, as a multivariate analysis of the dataset would doubtless reveal (if it ever becomes available), but these figures suggest that religion cannot be discounted from having some bearing on how people voted. 

% across

No vote

Yes vote




Christians: Catholic



Christians: Non-Catholic






No religion



Church and State

Talking of establishment, ComRes replicated for ITV News on 12-14 September 2014 a question about the official link between the Church of England and the State which it had first posed some three months earlier. Respondents, of whom there were 2,052 in the second online poll, were asked whether the maintenance of such a link was good or bad for Britain. The plurality was undecided on the issue, but, as the table below indicates, more now believe that establishment is bad than consider it good. It seems especially unpopular in Scotland (45%) and North-East England (40%). The full data can be found on pp. 42-3 of the tables at: 

% down

27-29 June

12-14 Sept










Don’t know




Islamic State

The referendum on Scottish independence dominated the news last week, being the most noticed story for 61% of Britons, according to an online poll of 2,260 adults by Populus on 17-18 September 2014. The various manifestations of the Islamic State (IS) crisis in Iraq and Syria, including the murder of British hostage David Haines, were thus pushed down the agenda somewhat, but remained the top story for 13%. However, there have been two new IS-related online surveys by YouGov, as follows:

15-16 September 2014

YouGov replicated a sub-set of questions last asked in its poll of 4-5 September 2014. They were put to a sample of 1,977 respondents. Notwithstanding the intervening murder by IS of David Haines, and the threat to kill another British captive, public attitudes to the IS crisis had only slightly hardened, notably in respect of support for RAF air strikes against IS targets, up from 52% to 54% in the case of Iraq and from 48% to 52% in Syria (where Haines was almost certainly killed). There was overwhelming (70%) opposition to the payment of ransoms to secure the release of British hostages, albeit 63% endorsement for a British military rescue operation to free them. Data tables are at:

18-19 September 2014

The second poll, for The Sunday Times, interviewed 2,126 adults. Relative to the survey of three days before, there had been slight dips in the level of support for RAF air strikes against IS in Iraq (down 1%, to 53%) and Syria (down 1%, to 51%), and the commitment of British and American ground troops against IS in Iraq (down 2%, to 24%, with disapproval on 55%). Data tables are at:

Journal of Contemporary Religion

The latest issue (Vol. 29, No. 3, October 2014) of Journal of Contemporary Religion, published online on 9 September 2014, includes two articles and one book review by members of the BRIN team which may be of interest to readers of this website. The issue can be accessed at:

Ben Clements, ‘Assessing the Determinants of the Contemporary Social Attitudes of Roman Catholics in Britain: Abortion and Homosexuality’ (pp. 491-501) is based on secondary analysis of a YouGov survey of 1,636 professing British Catholic adults on the eve of the papal visit to Scotland and England in September 2010. On the two social issues investigated significant numbers of Catholics held liberal views which diverged from the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the most traditionalist (and socially conservative) among the faithful being found to be men, older people, and frequent Mass-goers.

Clive Field, ‘Is the Bible Becoming a Closed Book? British Opinion Poll Evidence’ (pp. 503-28) utilizes 123 national sample surveys of the adult general population and 35 national and local sample surveys of adult religious populations to study changes in the standing of the Bible in Britain since the Second World War. The analysis proceeds both at topline level and by breaks for gender, age, social class, religious denomination, and churchgoing. Twelve broad conclusions are drawn, with declining allegiance to the Bible visible on various fronts, even among regular churchgoers. In an everyday sense, one interpretation of the data could be that Christianity is becoming decoupled from the holy book on which it is founded. This process is attributed to the waning influence of three principal agencies of religious socialization (Church/Sunday school, state school, parents) which formerly underpinned the Bible’s role in faith and society.

The book review (pp. 555-6) is by David Voas and is of The World’s Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography, by Todd Johnson and Brian Grim (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Charity Brand Index

The Methodist Recorder (12 September 2014, p. 2) reports that Methodist Homes (MHA) has been named the most trusted charity in the UK in 2014 according to the sixth Charity Brand Index published by Third Sector Research on the basis of an online survey of 4,000 adults by Harris Interactive. MHA’s trustworthiness rating stood at 85%, the highest of the 150 charities evaluated in the Index. This is just one facet by which these charities are ranked by the public, other measures including recognition, willingness to donate, effectiveness of media coverage and advertising, attitudes towards the charity’s cause, and understanding of the charity’s work. Unfortunately, the Index is a fully commercial product, the report and dataset costing £1,750, so BRIN is unable to provide further details of results for religion-related charities more generally. However, the top ten charities overall this year are not obviously religious in character; they are listed in the online edition of Third Sector at:

Christmas campaign

The Christmas Starts with Christ 2014 campaign, co-ordinated by ChurchAds.Net on behalf of a consortium of Churches and Christian agencies, was announced on 10 September 2014, with a range of downloadable resources, including posters, radio commercials, and web banners. The campaign officially kicks off on 30 November (Advent Sunday), with churches being invited to hold a Christmas Starts Sunday in December. The organizers hope that 10,000 places of worship will get involved this year.

During the summer (13 June 2014) Christmas Starts with Christ also released statistics of its 2013 campaign, in which an estimated 4,500 churches participated and advertising became genuinely multi-platform. The campaign’s three ‘chat show’ radio advertisements – featuring Mary, Herod, and the innkeeper – were heard by five million listeners. There were 3.55 million opportunities to see a #ChristmasStarts tweet on Twitter. Three ‘thunderclaps’ reached 1.31 million people via social media. The campaign website attracted 139,000 pageviews, 25% more than in 2012 and double the level in 2011. A post-campaign survey by ComRes in January 2014 revealed that 67% of Britons felt the Christmas message had been conveyed effectively by the campaign and 49% acknowledged the advertising had made them think more about the true meaning of Christmas. The ‘2013 – Our Year in Numbers’ summary is at:


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