In this week when the unionist parties are stumbling over themselves to promise better things for Scotland if we vote “no”, it is worth remembering the “Future of England” survey which was carried out last April. But more specifically, the information the survey reveals about UKip voters shows the near impossibility of Nigel Farage’s task when he visits Scotland on 12th September. How can he convince the Scots that the union is the best place for them, given the survey results that we record below?
The “Future of England” survey polled 3,700 adults living in England, and was carried out in April 2014 by YouGov for the University of Cardiff and the University of Edinburgh. It is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Future of the UK and Scotland work, which is intended to inform the debate about constitutional change: (more on this later).
The results attracted a good deal of publicity when they were published in August, particularly for the hostility towards Scotland revealed by the responses. Let’s look at the overall results first of all. On the basis of the weighted results of the survey, 59% were opposed to Scottish independence. If Scotland votes “yes” to independence, then more than twice as many respondents felt that Scotland should not be able to use the pound (53%) as felt it should (23%) – (the balance being don’t knows, or neither agreeing or disagreeing). Again, when asked, in the event that Scotland voted “yes”, whether the rest of the UK should support Scotland in applying to join international organisations like the EU and NATO, 36% of respondents disagreed: while only 26% felt the rest of the UK should support Scotland.
If Scotland were to vote “no”, then there was clearly a strong feeling among English voters that Scotland should still be punished. For example, 56% agreed that levels of public expenditure in Scotland should be reduced to the levels in the rest of the UK, compared with only 9% who disagreed. And 62% agreed with the statement “Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on laws that applied only to England”, compared to 12% who disagreed.
The Guardian, (20th August), put its finger on the resulting problem when they said that the findings of the survey “contradict some of the key proposals put forward by the pro-union parties to offer Scotland further powers if independence is rejected”.
It is worth remembering these “Future of England” key results when the unionist parties try to convince us, this week, that they can actually deliver for Scotland in the event of a “no” vote. And if anything, the problem of delivering on any promises, or half promises, is likely to be even greater now, given that English voter attitudes will almost certainly have hardened further in the light of the recent YouGov poll showing a majority for “yes”.
Now let’s look at the more detailed results in the survey, particularly those relevant to Nigel Farage’s mission to Scotland to persuade us to stay in the union.
The survey asked respondents for their voting intention at the next UK general election. (The survey picked up a large number of UKip intended voters – the number was 415 out of the unweighted sample). What the results tell us about the views of intended UKip voters is particularly interesting. For example, in the event of a “yes” in the referendum, 30% of UKip intended voters felt that “the UK’s standing in the world would be diminished”: this is materially less than the corresponding percentages for voters intending to vote for the other parties – Conservative (41%), Labour (40%), and LibDem (50%). This is consistent with the view that UKip voters regard the standing of the UK as intrinsically relating to England, rather than to the sum of the different parts of the UK. Such an attitude could also partly account for the at first sight paradoxical result that UKip intended voters were somewhat less hostile to Scotland being independent – 52% of UKip intended voters felt that Scotland should not be an independent country, compared with 68% Conservative, 62% Labour, and 68% LibDem.
What is quite clear is that UKip intended voters are intent on punishing Scotland, whether Scotland votes “yes” or “no”. If Scotland votes “yes”, they are only slightly behind Conservative intended voters in feeling that Scotland should not be able to use the pound – UKip 64%, Conservatives 69%, Labour 46%, and LibDem 49%. And, again in the event of a “yes” vote, they, like the Conservatives, disagree that the rest of the UK should support Scotland in joining the EU or NATO: UKip 51%, Conservatives 52%, Labour 29%, and LibDem 31%.
If Scotland votes “no”, then UKip intended voters, again like the Conservatives, are strong in their intent to reduce public expenditure in Scotland to the levels in the rest of the UK: UKip 70%, Conservatives 69%, Labour 50%, LibDem 54%. And UKip intended voters are particularly strong in feeling that Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on laws that apply only to England: UKip 81%, Conservatives 73%, Labour 52%, and LibDem 67%.
Professor Charlie Jeffery of Edinburgh University, (one of the academics behind the survey), summed up the position on UKip when he said, “As their party matures, UKIP supporters look less and less like supporters of the UK’s independence and more and more like England’s national party”: (quoted on Future of UK and Scotland website, 19 August 2014.)
Given this, and given the particular desire of UKip intended voters to punish Scotland in the event of a “no” vote, then Nigel Farage has a hard sell when he visits Scotland on the 12th. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how he can resolve the fundamentally conflicting aims of offering a package to the Scots which would tempt them to stay in: while at the same time keeping his supporters happy. In the light of this conflict, any promises made by Farage should be treated with outright scepticism, rather than just caution.
There is one other important aspect of the survey which should be mentioned: namely, the questions it raises about the role of our universities in the political process. The Future of England survey actually appears to be a very crude instrument. If you confront an English voter with the bald statement “levels of public expenditure in Scotland should be reduced to the levels in the rest of the UK”, and ask their opinion on this statement, without raising the issue of relative need, or explaining that Scotland has subsidised the rest of the UK by around £150 billion over the past thirty odd years, then you are going to get a fairly crude and predictable answer. When you dress that answer up with the authority of institutions like Cardiff University and Edinburgh University, then academia has crossed over a line, and is actually playing a significant, and fairly ham-fisted, role in influencing the political process itself. From a “yes” perspective, the results of this have probably turned out fairly well. But the point remains that the survey has moved from “informing” the debate, as is the ESRC’s stated mission, to crudely influencing the debate: and we should not be funding our universities to act like this.