Why English euroscepticism could doom the Union

With Scottish voters far more pro-European than their English counterparts, the increasing doubt over EU membership could shift the odds in favour of independence.

A UKIP victory in the 2014 European elections could prove a game-changer in shaking up Scotland's independence referendum, putting the Yes camp back in the race, leading academic expert Charlie Jeffrey told the IPPR at the launch of a new report on Englishness earlier this week.

Many Scots say that if Britain seemed likely to leave the EU, they could change their minds about independence. Polling suggests this could erode the current steady lead for the pro-Union campaign and turn the referendum into a neck-and-neck race.

Jeffrey said that a UKIP victory in the 2014 elections, and increasing pressure for an in/out referendum in the political and media reactions to this, would create a sense that Britain's membership is in doubt, just a few months before the independence vote next September.

Professor Jeffrey, who heads the University of Edinburgh's politics department, is one of the co-authors of the new IPPR report England and its two Unions, which shows that there are increasingly divergent views of the EU north and south of the border, with English voters becoming more strongly eurosceptic and taking the prospect of exit very seriously, while most Scots believe that the benefits of EU membership outweigh the disadvantages.

The Future of England survey 2012 showed English voters saying they would vote to leave the EU by 50% to 33% in a referendum on the UK's membership. By contrast, a February 2013 poll showed Scots would vote to stay in the EU by 53% to 34% in a referendum on UK membership, while EU membership in the event of an independent Scotland was supported by 61% to 33%.

The IPPR report notes that many Scottish voters say that the prospect of the UK leaving the EU could shift their vote in a 2014 independence referendum. A May 2013 panelbase survey found attitudes to independence tied 44% both for and against "if the UK was looking likely to withdraw from the EU", compared to an otherwise steady lead for the pro-Union campaign.

Most polls find almost a third of voters favouring independence and a majority against. "Euroscepticism elsewhere in the UK could potentially narrow that gap if the Scots feel they could be dragged out of the EU against their will ... English Euroscepticism may be as much of a challenge for the UK's union as is Alex Salmond", says the report.

British eurosceptic politicians in both UKIP and the Conservative Party have tended to be strongly pro-Union. Nigel Farage has been emphasising his ambitions to expand in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. He told the Belfast Telegraph this week that he hoped to create a Dublin branch too.

The IPPR report shows that this Unionist perspective is not shared by the most anti-European voters. A strong sense of British identity is associated with more pro-EU attitudes, while the strength of English identity is strongly linked to Eurosceptic views. Those who say they are 'English not British' would vote to leave the EU by an overwhelming 72% to 17%, and those who are 'more English than British' by 58% to 28%. Those who are more British than English would vote to stay in by 45% to 37%

While UKIP want to end one Union and save another, there are English majorities for the Union with Scotland and, currently, for leaving the EU too, but that ticket is unpopular in Scotland.

Uncertainty over the EU had previously been difficult territory for Alex Salmond, as a claim to hold legal advice saying that an independent Scotland would not have to reapply for the EU unravelled. Increasing uncertainty about UK membership of the EU makes that a less potent charge, and could put the boot on the other foot. The issue also presents a potential "two unions" dilemma for pro-European Scots who support Alistair Darling and the 'Better Together' campaign.

There are currently Scottish majorities for staying in the UK and staying in the EU too. But this is not in Scottish hands. Only if the rise of English euroscepticism is checked would Scots be able to choose both unions for themselves.

David Cameron and Alex Salmond watch the Wimbledon men's final. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era