All of Scotland’s local authorities voted to stay in the EU, with 62 percent of voters backing Remain. James Mitchell traces support for the EU back in time, explaining that the initially tepid enthusiasm increased considerably as the EU became more closely associated with trade union rights. Nicola Sturgeon has already taken steps to secure continued engagement with the EU, while Brexit presents particular challenges for Scotland’s Tories.
The Brexit vote provides further evidence of the divergence of Scottish and British politics. Devolution has been described as a ‘fragile divergence machine’ for public policy and has been a robust divergence machine for public expectations and preferences. The potent image feeding the sense of divergence is the monochrome map of Scotland (see below) showing all 32 local authority areas voting to Remain in the EU above a very different image of the rest of the UK.
Figure 1. Map showing the results of UK’s 2016 EU referendum by council
The different ways that the EU has been framed over the long haul best explains this divergence. In the 1970s, Scots were unenthusiastic about European integration but as the UK grew more sceptical, Scotland became more supportive. The European Community/Union came to be framed in positive terms in Scotland.
This reframing was led by a range of organisations and individuals. Scottish local authorities found the European Commission more receptive than UK central government. The Scottish Trade Union Congress, particularly under the leadership of Campbell Christie, regarded the European Community as a friend of trade union rights. This shift also occurred in the Labour Party and Scottish National Party. By the time of devolution, opinion had shifted decisively.
Margaret Thatcher’s euroscepticism only served to confirm this trend. The eurosceptic wing of the Scottish Tories was almost invisible. The European question did not feature in the last Scottish Tory leadership contest. Latent anti-EU sentiment lacked a significant Scottish political voice. After the 2011 Holyrood elections there was only one Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) who openly opposed EU membership. Elite opinion had either swung behind the EU or was otherwise engaged. UKIP failed to attract much support, perceived in Scotland as an unvarnished version of Margaret Thatcher’s English nationalism.
The culmination of this positive framing came during the independence referendum. Both sides agreed that EU membership was in Scotland’s economic interests. Immigration was not an issue other than each side insisting on the importance on free movement in the EU. Again, the issue had long been framed differently north and south of the border.
The Scottish First Minister has adopted a twin track approach following the EU referendum. She seeks to limit the damage from Brexit and pursue the goal of independence. She has created a Standing Council on Europe, chaired by Glasgow University’s Vice Chancellor and including a former Judge on the European Court of Justice and a former head of the UK Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service. Her priority is to secure Scotland’s EU relationship and she has urged other parties to support the initiative.
While few doubt that Brexit constitutes a ‘significant and material change in circumstances’, one of the conditions in the SNP’s recent manifesto to trigger a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon struggles with whether it meets the second: ‘clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option’ of a majority in Scotland. An independent Scotland within the EU would confront similar challenges faced by Ireland. The EU vote may ‘create a golden opportunity for proponents of Scottish independence’, as suggested by one of the leading campaigners against independence during the 2014 referendum, but Brexit creates new problems for the SNP if the UK insists on hard borders with EU member states.
But it is the Scottish Tories, fresh from replacing Labour as Scotland’s second party, who have most to fear from Brexit. Brexit has placed Ruth Davidson, Scottish Tory leader, in an uncommon and uncomfortable position. She is instinctively oppositional and struggles when forced to defend a position. Her party failed to support the First Minister in establishing the Standing Council. Labour’s Scottish leader lambasted the Tories for doing more to undermine the UK union by removing a key pillar in the case for the UK union and opening up the possibility of a second independence referendum. But Dugdale and her deputy are split over the future of Jeremy Corbyn and unlikely to be able to capitalise on the Tories’ discomfort.
Both Labour and the Tories need a response to Brexit given the emphasis placed on the UK being a member of the EU during the independence referendum. In time honoured tradition, Labour has resorted to exploring a federal solution with little sense of what this means. Federalism has been the evasive screen drawn over constitutional conundrums for over a century by various parties in the UK.
The Tories’ European problems have finally arrived in Scotland. The rise of the Scottish Tories in Holyrood includes six Tory MSPs, a fifth of the total, supporting Brexit. Davidson insists that the UK market is more important to Scotland than the EU and argues that a hard border between an independent Scotland inside the EU and the rest of UK would seriously damage Scotland, but she ignores the corollary that a hard border between the UK and the EU would also be damaging for the UK. Brexit makes a second independence referendum more likely.
Brexit is set to dominate politics over the coming years. Regardless of Scotland’s constitutional status, the SNP want a deal with the EU that ensures free movement and access to the single market. Labour and especially the Scottish Tories are caught between wanting a soft border for economic reasons and a hard border for political reasons. They find themselves in a very uncomfortable place.
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Note: This article was originally posted at UK in a Changing Europe and it gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
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James Mitchell – Edinburgh University
James Mitchell is Director of Edinburgh University’s Academy of Government. You can find him on Twitter @ProfJMitchell.
Scotland receives EU funding in grants and regeneration monies, the SNP is vehemently anti British and saw the EU referendum as an opportunity to further its aims to pursue the Scottish independence agenda and encouraged its supporters to vote remain, so it is no surprise that it overwhelmingly voted to remain. The suggestion that EU employment law initiatives had anything to do with it is a fallacy at best.
I believe that it is best that Scotland goes it alone and I hope that our decision to leave the EU is the catalyst.
All my experiences of Scotland and its people are positive and I wish them all the best.
Scotland is currently receiving a higher proportion per head than any other area of Britain which goes to fund all their voter friendly initiatives. As they would cease to receive higher subsidies per head than the rest of the Union and the price of oil continues to decrease, it would be interesting to see how they fare economically.
your comments are as xenophobic and devoid of realism as ever
1) what money Scotland receive from England is nothing more than Scottish taxes and proceeds being sent back
once independent, the difference would be that Westminster is not the middleman again
as Brexiteers like to put it : Scots’d have “taken control back” of their own money
except that unlike Brexiteers slogan, this is TRUE
2) oil prices have moved back up for several months already
currently stable at around $50-$60 a barrel and expected to reach $70 by end of 2017, with forecasts of $80-$90 before 2020
3) Scotland is certainly more mindful of a regulated economy and the intervention of the State in it, than England (ruled by its rich blue blood oxbridge toffs)
it’s telling that all Brexiteers assumption in regards to a prosperous future involved the bonfire of all social and environmental legislation of the past 2 decades (while promising the moon in regards to funding of social schemes)
the famous “Economist for Brexit” of Dr Minford even advocated the unilateral abrogation of tariffs by the UK (and the subsequent decimation of industrial and agricultural sectors)
And you are as predictable as ever.
I cant be bothered discussing anything with anyone whose fall back position is to accuse those they disagree with of being xenophobic (racist, little Englander etc.) or any of the other pejorative slurs that they can think of, its pathetic and boring.
Brilliant response Starbuck.
“your comments are as xenophobic….”
Shame on you Starbuck…. !
…. for trying to damn Karl with the debate-killing charge of “xenophobia” – despite the fact that Karl says:
“All my experiences of Scotland and its people are positive”
1) You seem content that the Scottish Government should exist without English subsidy. Good !
3) You seem to support a “regulating” and “interventionist” Government. Good luck to you.
It should be instructive to the English (and Welsh, N. Irish, and Scots) to see a proper socialist government in action.
I am confident that the English (and others) would reject it wholeheartedly (along with “rich blue blood oxbridge toffs”.)
“All Brexiteers” have NOT assumed a “bonfire of all social and environmental legislation of the past 2 decades”.
Brexiteers HAVE assumed that future British Governments will be free to add OR subtract to such legislation. i.e. BRITISH democracy not foreign.
I called Karl xenophobe and delusional because that’s very much an accurate description.
but that could just as well apply to you Jules
here is a sample of Karl’s past contributions
“Issuing visas would just increase the number of people coming to Europe and should not be contemplated.”
“Economic migrants trying to enter the EU illegally are not Europe’s responsibility, regardless of which route they choose and they continue not to be Europe’s problem even if they successfully enter the EU illegally.
As long as the EU provides a safety net and a welcome of accommodation, food, clothing etc.migrants seeking a different life will continue to come here.
They need to be deterred from trying to come here”
“There is no comparison between Spaniards living here and Brits living in Spain, Brits are highly unlikely to be in Spain looking for work, they will have retired there or are self sufficient and not claiming welfare benefits.”
“Not all migrant workers are a net gain to the economy and it is misleading to claim this.,
it depends what work they are doing and whether or not they are paying tax, also, what benefits (such as tax credits) are supplementing their earnings. They will be using the NHS, school places, public transport etc., none of which they have contributed to. They could be receiving child benefits, housing benefit, maternity payments etc. etc.”
“As if they haven’t inflicted enough damage on Europe with their “come one, come all” approach to immigration, which as resulted in hundreds of thousands of migrants picking and choosing which country they would like to move to.”
birds of a feather flock together, indeed …
According to SNP Government figures for 2014-15
Scotland’s deficit per person was £3,000
England’s deficit per person was £1,000