The Scottish Referendum: the View from Wales

Published: 20 August 2014

Roger Scully of Cardiff University takes a look at attitudes in Wales towards the possibility of their fellow devolved nation leaving the UK.

With only four weeks to go until Scotland votes on independence, the referendum is attracting steadily growing interest across the rest of the UK. But what do people elsewhere think? In Wales, for instance – what are attitudes towards the possibility of their fellow devolved nation leaving the UK?

At least three points emerge from the available evidence. The first is that the Welsh don’t want Scotland to vote Yes. Several polls have asked about this. All of them show strong majorities – of 3 to 1 or more – of people in Wales preferring that Scotland votes No in the referendum. On this point, attitudes in Wales are near identical with those in England: polls in both nations show that the clear and consistent majority preference is for Scotland to stay within the union.

The second key point is that, in the event that Scotland were to vote Yes, there is a divergence in attitudes between Wales and England. The English are distinctly more likely to favour a hard-line approach than people in Wales, on issues like whether Scotland should be able to retain the pound as its currency or whether the remaining UK should support Scotland in applications for membership to organisations like the EU and NATO. The Welsh tend to a notably more accommodating and less confrontational attitude towards Scotland.

The third, and perhaps most interesting, point which is clear from the various polls conducted on Welsh attitudes concerns the implications for Wales if Scotland did decide to pursue independence. What difference would it, or should it, make for how Wales is governed if Scotland is no longer part of the UK? Put simply, the Welsh don’t seem to see any great implications. For instance, when asked in a May 2014 poll by YouGov whether they thought Wales should be an independent country, only 14% of respondents said Yes, while 72% said No. (These figures are very much in line with long-term trends in Wales concerning support for independence). When the same sample were asked for their views in the event that Scotland had voted to leave the UK, then things remained almost wholly unchanged: the proportion favouring Welsh independence in that hypothetical context increased only very marginally (to 16%), while the overwhelming majority (69%) remained opposed. Devolution within the UK has been the ‘settled will’ of people in Wales for a decade of more. There is no sign yet that Scottish independence would do anything to change that.

The Welsh don’t want Scotland to leave the UK. But for most people in Wales, what is truly fundamental is what we might call the M4 union – that between London and Cardiff. Scottish participation in the UK is desirable, but not essential, to most people in Wales.

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