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

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder