During the EU referendum campaign, there were two camps of Leave voters – the official campaign, which advocated Brexit as a means of leaving red tape behind and trading with the world, and the Ukip-backed Leave.EU, which focused on immigration. The leaked Home Office documents showing plans to end freedom of movement suggests that when it came to defining Brexit, the latter camp won out.
Ukip has long claimed to speak for an unheard majority in Britain. But in fact, this only extends as far as the border with Scotland. Voters did elect one Ukip MEP in 2014, but that was a high point. When Ukip achieved 14.1 per cent of the vote in England in 2015 (and 13.6 per cent in Wales), it managed just 1.6 per cent in Scotland. In 2017, the party received just 0.2 per cent of the Scottish vote while achieving nine times that across the entire country. Why?
In Revolt on the Right, the political scientists Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin say that “Euroscepticism”, “hostility towards immigration” and “populist dissatisfaction with established parties” are key motives in explaining UKIP’s support.
Seven in ten voters in England said they wanted immigration decreased either a little or a lot, according to British Election Study 2015 data (Wave 6), as did 67.5 per cent of Welsh respondents. But looking at Scotland, only 54.9 per cent said they wanted immigration to fall.
And as for populist dissatisfaction with democracy, the BES data tells us that dissatisfaction with UK democracy was higher amongst 2015 Ukip supporters (71.3 per cent) than supporters of the main three parties. However, the data shows that Scottish voters were actually more dissatisfied than the English and Welsh.
Now compare that to the high proportion of SNP voters dissatisfied with UK democracy (76.9 per cent) and you’ll notice something interesting. In terms of dissatisfaction, Scottish voters are in tune with Ukip ones, but given the SNP’s anti-Westminster stance, it is likely they voiced that dissatisfaction of UK democracy through the SNP. Obviously, both parties are incredibly different, but they have seemingly both gained support from similar sentiments. On top of that, a more competitive party system in Scotland, where voters have a larger choice of alternative parties such as the SNP and Scottish Greens, may have made Ukip less appealing as a challenge to the mainstream.
It can also be argued that Ukip is the de facto “English National Party”. Take 2014’s Future of England Survey for instance. On who “best stands up for England”, the report said that in 2014, English voters put Ukip as their top-choice, with “none of the above” coming second. But in Scotland, 45 per cent of Scottish respondents felt that the SNP best stood up for them, with UKIP on 0.8 per cent. Of this, Professor Alisa Henderson, of the University of Edinburgh, has said: “Ukip is clearly playing a role as a defender of the national interest that in Scotland is fulfilled by the SNP.” Again, the parties are far from similar, but they have been performing similar functions in voicing discontent.
Finally, there is Nigel Farage,the former leader who presided over his party’s greatest success. BES data reveals him to be significantly less popular in Scotland than in England and Wales.
So what does this mean for Brexit? There is a tendency to equate Leave voters in Scotland with those in England and Wales, but the failure of Ukip suggests controlling immigration is unlikely to have the same populist appeal as it does in the former countries of the UK. The Westminster government currently drafting immigration legislation to be imposed on Scotland should bear these differences in mind.
Richard Wood is a political research Masters student at the University of Aberdeen and Media Director at TalkPolitics.