Should Scotland Have a EU Referendum Veto?

Last Tuesday the Scottish Parliament held a debate on ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’. Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Europe and International Development, reiterated a call made months earlier by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that any UK exit of the EU (increasingly referred to as ‘Brexit’) should be subject to vetoes by each of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The SNP have attempted to carve out a specific angle on the issue of a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The SNP argue that it would be wrong for Scotland to be taken out on the back of English votes, if a majority of Scottish voters wished to remain in the EU. Wales’ Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones has said he considers the proposal of multiple vetoes ‘worth considering’.

Politically, this is grist to the mill of a SNP narrative that stresses what it considers to be the distinctive outlooks, preferences, and values of Scotland. But how much truth is there in the notion that Scotland’s views on the EU are different from those in England and other parts of the UK? The results of our recent survey suggest the difference is not all that great.

Views on UK EU strategy 2

The graph above shows people’s attitudes towards Britain’s relationship with the EU in each of the constituent parts of the UK. Whilst there are fewer people in Scotland (22%) than in England (31%) who think the long-term strategy should be to leave, it is apparent that just as many people in Scotland (46%) as in England (43%) think that our long-term strategy should be to remain in the EU but work to reduce its powers.

Whilst Scotland may be a little less euro-sceptic it is certainly not euro-philic. Only 11% of respondents in Scotland think that the UK’s strategy should be to work for a EU with more powers, broadly the same proportion as in England (9%), Wales (11%) and Northern Ireland (13%).

These results will, in truth, not come as a surprise to those familiar with previous research on Scottish public attitudes. The pattern of responses is similar to that on previous Scottish Social Attitudes surveys that have asked the same question.

On the specific issue of Nicola Sturgeon’s call for multiple vetoes on ‘Brexit’, our survey suggests that people across the UK do not back this proposition. Clear majorities in England (68%), Northern Ireland (60%), and Wales (64%) disagree with the First Minister and believe that an overall majority of the votes cast across the UK as a whole should determine the future of our relationship with the EU.

In Scotland the balance of opinion is more evenly divided, but even so a majority are opposed to the First Minister. Fifty-five per cent favour a single UK-wide count while 45% back the First Minister’s proposition. Within Scotland those who feel closest to the Conservative party are least supportive of the proposition (19%), whereas, as we might anticipate, those closest to the SNP (60%) are far more supportive. However it is those who feel closest to the Greens who are most supportive (78%), while just 40% of Labour and Liberal Democrat identifiers back the idea.

Similarly, 61% of ‘Yes’ voters support the First Minister’s veto proposition, but just 32% of ‘No’ voters do so.

It appears that on some issues at least many across these islands, including in Scotland, still think the UK should take decisions as a single political unit. The First Minister has more work to do to persuade people otherwise.

This research was funded by the ESRC and carried out by a team comprising of Dr Jan Eichhorn, Dr Daniel Kenealy, Richard Parry, Prof. Lindsay Paterson (all Social Policy) and Alexandra Remond (Politics and International Relations) at the University of Edinburgh. Detailed findings, methodological notes and written analyses, as well as sign up links to dissemination events can be obtained here.

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About the author

Daniel Kenealy is Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Government. During 2013-14 he was expert adviser to the Scottish Parliament's Europe and External Relations Committee