The English favour a hard line with Scotland – whatever the result of the Independence Referendum

Press Release
19 August 2014 01:00–20 August 2014 00:59

New research shows that people in England want a hard line to be taken with Scotland, whatever the outcome of the independence referendum on 18th September. The views of English voters are not only starkly at odds with those of the Scottish Government regarding what should follow from a Yes vote. They also contradict the unionist parties about what should be the consequences of a No victory.

These are among the key findings of the latest Future of England Survey 2014 (FoES), the authoritative survey of English opinion on constitutional issues undertaken by researchers at Cardiff University and the ESRC Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change, based at the University of Edinburgh.

The survey consulted a representative sample of 3695 adults in England; it was undertaken in late April 2014 by the polling agency YouGov. The research is part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Future of the UK and Scotland work to inform the debate about constitutional change. 

English views on ‘Yes’ scenario
FoES found the English opposed to Scottish independence by a 3 to 1 margin (59% No; 19% Yes). Should the Scots vote Yes, however, then:

  • English voters oppose by more than 2 to 1 the idea, proposed by the Scottish Government, of Scotland sharing the pound. Only 23% agree with the proposition that ‘An independent Scotland should be able to continue to use the pound’, while 53% disagree.
  • There is only limited English support for the idea that the rest of the UK (rUK) should support an independent Scotland in applying to join the EU and NATO. Barely a quarter (26%) agree that ‘The rest of the UK should support Scotland in applying to join international organisations like the EU and NATO’, while 36% disagree.
  • People in England overwhelmingly reject the Scottish Government’s claim that Scottish independence will improve relations between England and Scotland. Only 10% of the FoES sample agree that ‘Relations between England and Scotland will improve’ following a Yes vote; more than five times as many (53%) disagree with the statement.
  • More people in England (36%) than not (29%) agree that the UK’s standing in the world will be diminished if Scots vote for independence.
  • The only significant support for the Scottish Government’s vision of a post-Yes relationship between Scotland and the remaining UK concerns the border between an independent Scotland and England. An overwhelming majority (69%) of survey respondents agree that 'People should be able to travel between England and Scotland without passport checks' if Scotland votes Yes; only 13% disagree.

English views on ‘No’ scenario
With the No camp remaining ahead in all the polls, however, English attitudes in the event of a No victory are arguably more important. Strikingly, the views of people in England contradict some of the key proposals for the future of Scotland put forward by the main pro-union parties.

  • By an overwhelming margin of more than five to one, English voters agree that, following a No vote, ‘Scottish MPs should be prevented on voting on laws that apply only in England’. (62% agreed with this proposition, only 12% disagreed.) Last year the McKay Commission, which was set up by the UK Government to look at this issue, set out proposals for a version of ‘English votes for English laws’. Yet - and clearly working against the majority view in England - both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have explicitly ruled out implementing the McKay Commission proposals.
  • By a margin of more than four to one, voters in England believe that levels of public spending in Scotland should be reduced to the UK average following a No vote. Some 56% of respondents agreed with this proposition, while only 12% disagreed. Against this background the commitment of the three main pro-union parties to continue funding a post-No Scotland via the Barnett formula appears inconsistent with public opinion in England.  (Note: In 2012-13 identifiable public spending per capita in Scotland was £10,327, compared to the UK average of £8,940. Reducing levels of public spending in Scotland to the UK average would imply cuts of well over 10% in public spending north of the border.)
  • Voters in England are also inclined to support greater autonomy for a post-No Scotland than do the pro-union parties. For instance, 42% of people in England support the idea that ‘The Scottish Parliament should be given control over the majority of taxes raised in Scotland’, something that only 25% disagree with.  This would appear to place people in England at the maximal end of the various proposals that have been put forward for further-reaching Scottish devolution, and significantly beyond the modest reform proposals put forward by the Labour Party.
  • Neither do the pro-union parties propose the devolution of more than limited elements of welfare, whereas 40% of English voters agree that the ‘The Scottish Parliament should be given the power to decide its own policies on welfare benefits’ (while only 26% disagree).
  • Voters in England are also inclined to be pessimistic about the future of the union even after a No vote in Scotland. Some 37% agreed with the proposition that even after a No vote, ‘Scotland and England will continue to drift apart’, whereas only 21% disagreed.

Party breakdowns
There are some significant differences between the supporters of the different parties in England as to what should happen following either a Yes or No vote in Scotland’s independence referendum, with Conservative and UKIP supporters consistently favouring the toughest line.

  • FoES found the English opposed to Scottish independence by a 3 to 1 margin (59% No; 19% Yes). UKIP supporters are most open to Scottish independence. 33% answered ‘yes’ (as compared with less than 20% among Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters).
  • 69% of Conservative supporters and 64% of UKIP supporters are against sharing the pound. The equivalent figure for Labour supporters is 46% and for Liberal Democrat supporters 49%.
  • Just over half of Conservative (52%) and UKIP (51%) supporters are against rUK support for an independent Scotland’s EU and NATO membership. By contrast Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters are more likely than not to favour rUK lending its support on Scotland’s EU and NATO membership.
  • More people in England (36%) than not (29%) agree that the UK’s standing in the world will be diminished if Scots vote for independence. Strikingly though, and uniquely among the major parties, more UKIP supporters disagree (44%) than agree (30%) that the UK’s standing will be diminished. UKIP supporters appear more comfortable with the consequences of Scottish independence than the other parties.
  • Should Scotland vote no then 81% of UKIP supporters are in favour of preventing Scottish MPs voting on laws that apply to England only as compared to 73% of Conservative supporters, 67% of Labour supporters and 52% of Liberal Democrat supporters.
  • Around 70% of UKIP and Conservative supporters are in favour of reduced levels of public spending in Scotland, compared with a bare majority of Labour (50%) and Liberal Democrat (54%) supporters.
  • UKIP supporters were most likely to believe that England and Scotland will continue to drift apart even following a No vote.

Researchers' Comments
Commenting on the research, Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University said:

“Given the consistent No lead in all recent opinion polls, there has been surprisingly little scrutiny of what the pro-union parties are promising after a No victory.

“Scotland has been promised that it can maintain its current advantageous position in terms of per capita public spending, and that there will be no change in the status of Scottish MPs at Westminster.

“But English voters clearly do not support this.

“There is strong English support for reducing levels of public spending in Scotland to the UK average – a development that would lead to savage cuts in public services north of the border. There is also overwhelming English support for limiting the role of Scottish MPs at Westminster.

“The question for Scottish voters is whether they can rely on pledges about the consequences of a No vote, when such pledges do not seem to be supported in the largest and most politically important part of the union? The truth of the matter is that the English appear in no mood to be particularly accommodating however the Scots choose to vote in their independence referendum.”

Professor Charlie Jeffery of the University of Edinburgh said:

“It is striking how tough people in England are on Scotland whatever the referendum outcome. There appears to be little appetite for the Scottish Government’s vision of independence amid continuing partnership with the rest of the UK on the pound, Europe and NATO. If anything the message appears to be: ‘vote Yes by all means, but if you do, you’re on your own.

“But if Scots vote No, there’s something similar at play. Here the message is: ‘by all means have more devolution, but you can’t then have the role at Westminster you do now, and don’t expect any funding to flow northwards from England’.

“Interestingly UKIP supporters are among the toughest of the lot. They appear to have little time for defending the UK so clearly proclaimed in their party’s title. They are the least opposed to Scottish independence, the most likely to disagree it would reduce the UK’s standing in the world, and the most likely to think England and Scotland will still drift apart if the Scots vote No.

“As their party matures, UKIP supporters look less and less like supporters of the UK’s independence and more and more like England’s national party.”


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