Nigel Farage speaks during a public meeting held in the Sage building on April 23, 2014 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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
Show Hide image

After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.