Nigel Farage speaks during a public meeting held in the Sage building on April 23, 2014 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Election success for Ukip in England could encourage Scottish independence

A strong performance by Farage's party could signal to Scotland that England may vote to leave the EU in a future in/out referendum. 

Anyone who ever said European elections aren’t interesting might want to reconsider that thought. While the latest polls show eurosceptic parties on course to make significant gains across the EU, new polling commissioned by IPPR and the universities of Edinburgh and Cardiff shows that next month’s outcome will likely differ as much between Britain’s home nations as it does between the EU member states.

European Election Voting Intentions, April 2014 (%)

Party

England

Wales

Scotland

Labour

30

39

31

Conservative

22

18

12

Liberal Democrats

11

7

7

Plaid Cymru/SNP

--

11

33

UKIP

29

20

10

Other

8

6

6

N of respondents

2846

793

782

In England, Labour is facing fierce competition from Ukip to finish first, with the Conservatives falling well into third place. Ed Miliband's party has much to be pleased about in Wales where it commands a resounding 19 percentage point lead over Ukip, which is battling the Tories for second. In Scotland, the SNP is running neck-and-neck with Labour to finish on top, while Ukip lags far behind.

Despite the "UK" in its name, Ukip is swiftly becoming the de facto English National Party - where at the moment it can count on nearly one in three votes. Its appeal, however, isn’t nearly as strong among Welsh and Scottish voters. In Wales, one in five voters intend to vote Ukip, while in Scotland support dwindles down to only one in 10 voters. Even though Ukip considers itself a British-wide party, the research shows English identity accounts for a large chunk of its support. Those who identify more strongly with England than Britain are more than twice as likely to support Ukip than those who more strongly identify with Britain.

European Election Voting Intention by National Identity, England, April 2014 (%)

 

English only/More English than British

Equal English & British

British only/More British than English

Labour

24

25

33

Conservative

22

31

18

Liberal Democrats

7

10

19

UKIP

42

26

19

Other

6

7

10

N of respondents

943

1160

546

Differing views between the home nations aren’t just restricted to next month’s European election. It’s very clear there are mixed feelings regarding the UK’s membership of the EU. When asked about a possible EU referendum, the Scottish view Britain’s membership much more favourably with a 16-point lead for "in", while in England  the "outs" lead by three points. In Wales, those desiring to remain also share a narrow lead.

Voting Intention in ‘In/Out’ EU referendum (%)

 

England

Wales

Scotland

Remain

37

39

48

Leave

40

35

32

Wouldn’t vote/Don’t Know

22

26

20

N of respondents

3695

1027

1014

Again, the data suggest that English identity is closely associated with an individual’s opposition to the EU. Those who see themselves as solely or mostly English are more likely to vote to leave the EU in a potential referendum while those seeing themselves as only or mostly British are more likely to vote to stay in. This contradicts attitudes in Scotland and Wales where national identity seems to have no impact with how one would vote in an in/out referendum.

EU Referendum Vote by National Identity in England (%)

 

English only/More English than British

Equally English & British

British only/More British than English

Remain

26

39

55

Leave

55

37

29

Wouldn’t Vote/Don’t Know

19

23

17

N of respondents

1171

1508

667

These differences in outlook towards the EU show that next month’s election could have a potential impact on the Scottish referendum debate. A strong performance by Ukip could signal to Scotland that England may vote to leave the EU in a future in/out referendum and possibly push more Scots into the "yes" camp.

Labour and the Conservative parties must also be cautious with how they choose to challenge Ukip. Striking a more eurosceptic tone to chase Ukip voters might simply play into the hands of Scottish nationalists. With the Scottish referendum less than four months after the European contest, Alex Salmond will certainly be watching next month’s election campaign south of the border.

 

Glenn Gottfried is research fellow at IPPR

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.