Is Scotland Really Keen on the EU?

Posted on 26 February 2016 by Ian Montagu

The EU Referendum race is hotting up. Last Friday evening, over an ‘English dinner’ in Brussels, David Cameron secured what he considered to be a successful renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership of the European Union. But subsequently there has been considerable political division on the issue within Tory ranks, with a number of senior members nailing their colours to the Leave mast.

Opinion polls suggest that the public are also split on the issue. Our latest poll of polls says that, across Britain as a whole, 53% of voters wish to remain in the EU, whilst 47% support a Brexit. But what do we know about Scottish attitudes towards the UK’s membership of the EU? How do they compare with attitudes south of the border?

Four polling companies (Panelbase, Survation, YouGov and Ipsos MORI) have both conducted polls of referendum voting intentions in Scotland and undertaken equivalent polling across Britain as a whole. On average these companies’ four most recent Scottish polls have put support for Remain at 68%, with only 32% backing the Leave campaign. But when at the same points in time these four companies polled across Britain as a whole, on average they put Remain on 50%, Leave on 50%.

This contrast supports the accepted wisdom that a majority of Scots are likely to vote for Remain on 23 June, whereas the result across the rest of Britain remains in doubt. But does this mean that Scotland is, on the whole, markedly more Europhile than the rest of Britain?  Not necessarily so. In our most recent analysis paper on the depth of Euroscepticism in Britain, based on NatCen’s 2015 British (BSA) and Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) surveys, we report that, despite the large difference in referendum voting intention, Scottish attitudes towards Europe may actually be not so dissimilar from those across the rest of Britain after all.

Since the early 1990s BSA has regularly asked people what they think Britain’s long-term policy towards the EU should be by presenting respondents with five options ranging from leaving the EU altogether all the way to forming a single European government. While in the most recent survey only 22% say Britain’s long-term policy should be to leave the EU, as many as 43% say that Britain should remain in the EU but reduce the EU’s powers. Taken together these figures suggest that nearly two-thirds (65%) of British voters would like the UK to be less intertwined with the EU than it currently is. In other words, Euroscepticism across Britain is widespread, as indeed BSA has consistently found to be the case in recent years.

But what about Scotland? SSA has asked exactly the same question of its respondents since 1999. It has consistently recorded lower levels of Euroscepticism than its sister British survey. However, the most recent (2015) survey puts the level of Euroscepticism in Scotland at 60%. This is the highest level ever recorded by SSA (as recently as 2013, only 48% fell into the sceptical category) and is just five percentage points behind the level recorded across Britain as a whole.

How can we explain the big difference in referendum voting intentions on the two sides of the border when the level of Euroscepticism is apparently much the same? The answer may lie with the relative strength of party cues being given north and south of the border. South of the border voters are faced with a Conservative government and party that is clearly split on the issue. In Scotland, in contrast, the now dominant and largely united SNP have made membership of the EU a central feature of their vision for an independent Scotland – albeit while wishing to retain the UK’s existing opt-outs on such issues as the single currency and border controls.  So even though voters in Scotland may not necessarily be especially ardent fans of Brussels after all, the vision of ‘independence in Europe’ promoted by the SNP seems to be shepherding them towards the Remain camp.


A version of this blog was first published by The Scotsman.


Ian Montagu

By Ian Montagu

Ian Montagu is a doctoral student at the University of Strathclyde and was previously a Senior Researcher at ScotCen Social Research. Ian has a particular interest in political attitudes and social equality, and is currently researching associations between attitudes towards the European Union and other areas of public policy.

14 thoughts on “Is Scotland Really Keen on the EU?

  1. We are voting as the United Kingdom and we will remain or leave as the United Kingdom. It is known that 60% of Scots are Eurosceptic but it may not translate into voting intentions. Scots should realise that they are getting much greater devolution as many of the powers returned to Britain will be going to Holyrood and others to Westminster. Report

  2. English speaking countries beneficies to be in EU as they are attracting US, Chinese, Japanese companies who tries to enter in EU market from an English speaking based.

    They obviously don’t speak German French or Italian, etc…

    If London leave EU, Edinburgh and Dublin will become the new London for those companies.
    Ireland got his impressive growth in the last 20 years exclusively because of this status. London is the most expensive city of Europe exclusively because of this status.


  3. One hundred years ago we were the most powerful Nation on the Planet ….bar none!!

    We founded the USA, Canada, Australia and India why are we so incapable of going it alone!?Report

    1. because following the american inspired distruction of our empire and the left wings distruction of our industry , revision of our education system to promote hatred for our past instead of pride , the distruction of our sense of identity and promotion of muliticultralism that followed it , large scale immigartion and a generation that has grown up with all the above considered the norm and membership of the EU all their lives , people simply knon NO better Report

  4. “Workers of the World, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” — Karl Marx.

    “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” — Groucho Marx.

    “I believe Britain will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union” — David Cameron.

    “English, Scots, Irish or Welsh – Feel free to join me in deciding which of the above statements you find the most convincing!” — (Me – I said that) Report

  5. What I want to know is will the Scots vote to leave the Union in another referendum (assuming that they vote to remain but overall the UK wants to leave) when it is pointed out to them that 65 per cent of their trade is with England, and only 18 per cent with the E.U. They would be mad if they did!Report

  6. these people should look more closely at facts only two countries contribute financially to the EU Germany and U.K. France and the rest do not contribute they just take. all the years we have been in the E U twenty two times this country has tried to change certain elements twenty two times they have turned us down do you think they will be fair now not likely. After the first referendum I told every one I knew it was just a ruse that it was only for trading. it is the only way they could take every thing away from us by stealth. Also the migrant issue this country is the most densely populated country in the world per square meter of land. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO CHANGE IT ALL.Report

  7. The problem with the Scots is that they do not now what they want.
    Be part of the UK on not.
    If they want they also expect the UK government to carry on subsidising their economy.
    Want trident Not sure.
    Personally I would cut them adrift and let them go their awy.Report

    1. The problem with the English is that they do not now what they want. Be part of the EU or not. If the want to leave they also expect the European Union to carry on allowing them access to the single market and all the bits they like whilst not playing the game on anything else. Personally I would cut them adrift Report

  8. What I cannot understand is why Scotland would want to be shackled to the ‘bordering on Dictatorship/ EU’ rather than going it alone in company with England, Ireland and Wales, with their present devolved powers and more freedom but also with the security of being part of the British Isles defences. They will still be covered with Trident even in the EU, would not have the Trident based in Scotland but would also lose the jobs associated with the Trident base. Do they really hate the English that much to cut off their noses spite their face. How the Scots have changed since I was sent up there in 1944 with the British Army to defend their land.Report

    1. There was a common foe in 1944 that was opposed in Paris, Moscow, Sydney, Washington, Toronto, Wellington as well as in London and Edinburgh. Trident does not defend us as anybody in the military will testify – it is a colossal wste of money which only 7 other nations in the world can be bothered to have. The defence jobs are being reduced year on year and to say that the base will close if we give up Trident is just not true, we will still need a conventional defence.
      One last point: we certainly do not hate the English, we have much in common. What we detest is the extremist, right-wing xenophobic element of most right wing Englanders who think they are still the world’s top dogs. We reject Tory policies, look at last year’s election resultss: one MP from 59. Report

      1. we don’t think were top dogs precisely the opposite that is why we want to leave the EU , since we lost the empire we simply wont to be an independent country going into world power retirement and be and act a little more like sensible countries like Norway .not be pushed around by counties we spend most of the 20th century saving, even though none of them except France was a democracy.

        It’s the British government who thinks we still have empire “we pull are way in the world etc”etc .its the British elite who still think that we matter to the USA they finished with us when they destroyed our empire
        it’s the British elite who have vested financial interests in the EU and are quite happy to sell our sovereignty over the last 40 years to any one that wants it !
        At the end of the war we had a world class aircraft industry, steel industry, car industry and the commonwealth to sell to as well as the rest of the world including Russia .
        Now we have nothing !not even our sovereignty ,you want to leave the union to remain in an undemocratic commission, well i have no objections if you want to told what to do by someone with a German accent instead of an English or Scottish one then why not , but why should we in England ?

    2. England may not wish to remain in the EU (or to put it more accurately the British press doesn’t wish to remain in the EU). But of the others, polls are showing a majority wish to remain not just in Scotland, but also in Northern Ireland and Wales. If Scotland leaves it would certainly not be long before Northern Ireland went. That is certain.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *