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National identity plays a key role in voters’ views on Europe

29 April 2014

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How British people define their national identity will influence voting patterns in the forthcoming European elections, producing widely differing outcomes across the UK, research suggests.

A study shows that the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) electoral appeal is much stronger in England than in Scotland or Wales, with Scots significantly more in favour of staying in the European Union than voters in England.

How British people define their national identity will influence voting patterns in the forthcoming European elections, producing widely differing outcomes across the UK, research suggests.

A study shows that the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) electoral appeal is much stronger in England than in Scotland or Wales, with Scots significantly more in favour of staying in the European Union than voters in England.

The research has been carried out by the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh, working with Cardiff University and the think tank, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

European Parliament election outcomes typically differ widely across EU member-states, with domestic political factors producing widely divergent outcomes. The study shows that England, Scotland and Wales are also likely to produce very different outcomes in the European election on 22 May.

The research suggests that UKIP is challenging Labour for first place in England with the Conservatives trailing in third place. Labour has a clear lead in Wales over UKIP, who are just ahead of the Conservatives. In Scotland the Scottish National Party and Labour are tied for the lead at just over 30 per cent, while the Conservatives and UKIP are vying for a distant third place at around 10 per cent.

Across the three countries, UKIP’s support varies widely. In England it is nearly at 30 per cent, in Scotland it is at 10 per cent, and at 20 per cent in Wales. The Liberal Democrats are the lowest placed of all the main parties everywhere.

European Election Voting Intentions

The research also finds that, within England, UKIP support is much stronger among those with a mainly English rather than British identity:

European Election Voting Intentions - National Identity

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University and co-author of the study, said: "Although UKIP’s name – the UK Independence Party – suggests it is aimed at those with a British identity, our research shows that it is the party of choice for those who identify as being more English than British."

When people in England were asked which party and which political leader "best stands up for the interests of England", UKIP and Nigel Farage both came out on top at over 20 per cent. By contrast only three per cent of survey respondents in Wales identified UKIP as the party that best stands up for Welsh interests, and only one per cent in Scotland as the party that best stands up for Scottish interests.

Stand up for interests

The nations of Britain also hold different attitudes towards membership of the European Union. Survey respondents were asked how they would vote in a referendum on EU membership. England was the most Euro-sceptic, with more respondents favouring leaving the EU than staying. In Wales respondents leant marginally in favour of remaining in the EU, while in Scotland opinion was more clearly in favour of continued EU membership.

Voting intention

A clear majority of those in England who identify themselves as only or mainly English were for withdrawal from the EU. By contrast an equally clear majority of those in England who feel only or mainly British favour remaining part of the EU. Euroscepticism in England is clearly associated with Englishness and not Britishness. There was no significant relationship between patterns of national identity within Scotland and Wales and attitudes towards EU membership.

EU Referendum

Professor Ailsa Henderson, head of Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh and co-author of the study, said: "We now have clear evidence that national identity plays a key role in voters’ views about Europe. It will affect the choices people will make in the May 22 elections and, in England, the way people would vote in any referendum on EU membership. These effects vary across Britain, with ‘Scottish’ and ‘Welsh’ identifiers backing entirely different parties from ‘English’ identifiers".

Professor Wyn Jones said: ‘There is now a significant chance that UKIP will top the European election poll in England. However, while UKIP are also currently on course to win an MEP in Wales, if the results of this research were repeated on 22 May, they would likely not win an MEP in Scotland. Such a result would highlight the political differences between the nations of Britain. Moreover the strength of UKIP’s popular support in England, draws on something which even they appear to have not fully recognised: the extent to which the party has become the champion of an increasingly politicized sense of English identity."

Glenn Gottfried, from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said: "Attitudes to Europe vary significantly across the nations of the UK. The English are the most Eurosceptic, while the Scots are the most positive about Britain’s membership. These differences in outlook between England and Scotland could have an impact on the Scottish independence referendum. A strong performance by UKIP in May’s European elections might encourage Scots into the Yes camp if they read it as a signal that England may vote to leave the EU in a future in-out referendum on Europe."

Related links

Wales Governance Centre

Institute for Public Policy Research

Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change

 

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