What happens if England votes no and Scotland votes yes to the EU?

If England pulls Scotland out of the EU against its will, the independence cause could be re-energised.

In the next five years, Scotland could be holding two referenda on its relationship within two unions. First, the Scottish people will determine their fate within the United Kingdom when they vote on independence in 2014. If they vote to remain within the UK then they could possibly be voting in a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Polling trends indicate that Scotland will choose to stay within the UK. Polls on Britain staying within the EU, however, are showing mixed results. A more in-depth look shows Scotland and England are much divided on continuing EU membership. If a referendum is held a possible scenario could see England pull an unwilling Scotland out of Europe.  If this does happen could it be the catalyst for a second wave of Scottish nationalism?

Last weekend, polling commissioned by the FT showed that convincing the British public to support EU membership could be an uphill struggle. Were an in-out referendum held tomorrow, 50 per cent would vote to leave, with only 33 per cent opting to stay in. Meanwhile, ahead of the independence referendum, Alex Salmond has placed much emphasis on an independent Scotland joining the EU. It seems rather unusual that a politician in Britain is using Europe in an attempt to attract voters. The issue of European membership, however, isn’t as toxic in Scotland as it is in England. A second poll conducted at a similar time by Ipsos-Mori on Scottish attitudes towards an EU referendum shows that, while not overly enthusiastic about Europe, the Scottish seem to be less eurosceptic than the rest of Britain. Roughly 50 per cent of those polled said they’d vote to remain within the EU, while 34 per cent would vote to leave – the inverse of the FT’s poll of the entire British public. Given such evidence it isn’t inconceivable to think that if an EU in-out referendum does happen, Scotland could vote to stay in, while the rest of Britain votes to leave. But even if the Scottish become less enthusiastic about continuing EU membership, how easily could the English – along with Wales and Northern Ireland – pull Scotland out of Europe?

Using the 2011 AV referendum turnout figures as a proxy for a potential EU membership referendum, we can see that the Scottish only make up about 1 in 10 voters in the British electorate. The English, with their overwhelming voter power, won’t have to disagree to a large extent with Scotland to force a "Brexit". Below are a few hypothetical results showing that England can easily take Scotland out of the EU, despite a large Scottish vote in favour of staying in.  

The numbers show that unless the margin of difference between in-out votes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is exceptionally close (between 1-2 per cent ) it looks likely that Scotland’s EU fate is entirely out of its own hands. The number of votes needed from Scotland to stay in increases dramatically as the in-out margin becomes wider in the rest of Britain. Even if Scotland votes in favour of staying in by two to one, 52 per cent of the rest of the British electorate is all that’s needed to force an EU exit. In fact, even if every voter in Scotland chose to continue EU membership, it would only take about 56 per cent of the rest of Britain to vote for withdrawal to take Scotland with them.

Anyone with a bit of arithmetic can easily point out this balance of voting power. This possible scenario, however, shows that Britain could be voting on more than just EU membership. England pulling a pro-European Scotland out of the EU could have immense political consequences  for years to come. For Scotland to vote to stay within the UK, only to have England take it out of the EU against its will, could re-energise Scottish nationalism.

This might be exactly what Alex Salmond needs to keep his dream of independence alive for future generations. Any Westminster government would be unlikely to allow an immediate second referendum but nationalism can have persistence. In Canada, the Québécois overwhelmingly voted against independence in 1980. But by remaining determined they were able to achieve a second referendum 15 years later. In 1995, independence was extremely close with 49.42 per cent voting 'yes'. If Scottish nationalism is strengthened by England pulling Scotland out of the EU, when most Scots would rather stay in, we shouldn’t necesarily expect the uncertainty over Scotland’s future to end in 2014.

Glenn Gottfried is research fellow at IPPR

David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond attend the Drumhead Service on June 25, 2011 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.

 

Glenn Gottfried is research fellow at IPPR

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Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories