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Europe matters, so does Scotland

Europe matters, so does Scotland

David Cameron’s humiliation over the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker for the presidency of the EC is profoundly embarrassing for the UK and deeply damaging to its prospects of remaining in the EU after his reckless commitment to an in/out referendum planned for 2017. Cameron’s 26-2 drubbing could also have a seismic impact on the outcome of the independence referendum. The timing couldn’t be worse for the No campaign. Described by Tory MPs as “a bad day for Europe”, it was the day too when a union in decline deployed tactics that did not enhance our negotiating position vis-à-vis reform, but kept Cameron’s options open as he focuses on the 2015 General Election and struggles with UKIP; the nightmare scenario in which growing English nationalism, anti-Europeanism, a dislike of immigrants and foreigners and a series of carefully selected distractions, substitutes for progressive, decent and relevant politics.

Many of our European colleagues will have been aghast at the breathtaking arrogance of our PM and the contempt in which many of his MPs and supporters hold the EU. There is something slightly nauseating about Cameron’s behaviour, given we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, and are members of an EU that has ensured peace, solidarity and stability for nearly 70 years. In addition, David Cameron is in danger of forcing many Scots to vote Yes if they value membership of it.

How safe is Scotland in the hands of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Recent research by the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change, University of Edinburgh, working with Cardiff University and funded by the ESRC, has identified three issues which could influence how Scots might be further alienated from a union in decline. The voting intentions of UKIP, national identity and European voting intentions and in/out voting intentions by nationality all provide powerful insights into the changing nature of UK politics.

The study, published in April 2014, shows that UKIP electoral appeal is much stronger in England than in Scotland or Wales, with Scots significantly more in favour of staying in the EU than voters in England.

Across the three countries, UKIP support varies; in England, it’s nearly 30 per cent, in Wales, 20 per cent; in Scotland, only 10 per cent. The research also finds that within England, UKIP support is much stronger among those with a mainly English rather than British identity. Voting intentions for the European elections show that 42 per cent of voters who were English only, or more English than British, were UKIP as against 19 per cent voting UKIP who were British only, or more British than English. These figures are significant.

Overall, in terms of the impact of national identity on voting intentions, of those voters feeling English only, or more English than British, 24 per cent voted Labour, 22 per cent, Conservative and 7 per cent, Liberal Democrat, as against UKIP at 42 per cent. This suggests, overwhelmingly, that UKIP is mainly the party of choice for those who identify as being more English than British and could usefully be called the English Independence Party! This has serious implications for any in/out vote on EU membership where England has the largest number of voters and anti-European sentiment is more linked with Englishness than Britishness.

When people in England were asked which party and political leader “best stands up for the interests of England”, UKIP and Nigel Farrage came out on top, at over 20 per cent. In sharp contrast, only 3 per cent of Welsh voters identified UKIP as the party that best represents Welsh interests and only 1 per cent in Scotland. In Scotland, UKIP poses a real threat to the interests of Scots because of our membership of the Union, especially in relation to the EU.

Survey respondents were also asked how they would vote in a referendum on EU membership. Only in Scotland was opinion more clearly in favour of continued membership. England was 37 per cent in favour of remaining, 40 per cent for leaving and 22 per cent wouldn’t vote or don’t know. Scotland’s intentions were 48 per cent in favour of remaining, 32 per cent for leaving and 20 per cent wouldn’t vote or don’t know. Significantly, the EU referendum vote by national identity in England shows that those voters who were English only, or more English than British, voted 26 per cent to remain but a staggering 55 per cent opted to leave!

Professor Wyn Jones said: “Such a result would highlight the political difference between the nations of Britain. Moreover, the strength of UKIP’s popular support in England draws on the extent to which the party has become the champion of an increasingly politicised sense of English identity.”

For Scots thinking about our own referendum there are real indications that England may vote to leave the EU in a future in/out referendum, possibly in 2017. For Scots, attracted by the common sense benefits of EU membership, will we have to leave the Union to retain our membership of the EU? Or will sanity prevail and the rise of English nationalism, the growing influence of UKIP and anti European sentiment be contested and contained by the traditional unionist parties, especially Labour. That only leaves the other burning question of whether Labour can win in 2015. To be continued.

Have a good break.

Read the most recent article written by Henry McLeish - People in Scottish Labour have to realise no one owes them a living any longer

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