Brexit '˜will not be constitutional game changer' for SNP

Leaving the European Union is unlikely to be the catalyst that leads Scotland to vote for independence, a new analysis has suggested.

A report by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank concluded that Brexit will not be the “constitutional game changer” many in the SNP are hoping for.

Nicola Sturgeon’s party has consistently argued for Scotland’s position in the EU to be protected following the referendum in June 2016 which saw a majority of Scots vote against Brexit - despite the UK as a whole voting in favour.

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The differing results north and south of the border has led to the prospect of an IndyRef2 dominating the political agenda in the last year.

Hundreds take part in a pro-EU march to the Scottish Parliament in July 2016, days after the EU referendum which delivered a UK-wide majority in favour of Brexit. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/JP License

But academics at King’s College London found that many Scots do not share the SNP’s firm pro-EU agenda.

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“Many voters in Scotland (and in particular SNP supporters) chose to remain in the EU despite not being convinced that leaving would be particularly harmful for the economy,” wrote Ian Montagu in the report, Brexit and Public Opinion.

“Essentially... those in Scotland with relatively Eurosceptic attitudes were more likely to vote Remain than their counterparts across the rest of Britain, and that this effect was particularly pronounced amongst those who supported the SNP.

Hundreds take part in a pro-EU march to the Scottish Parliament in July 2016, days after the EU referendum which delivered a UK-wide majority in favour of Brexit. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor/JP License

“Despite the result of the EU referendum it appears that underlying Scottish attitudes towards Europe do not differ greatly from those observed elsewhere in Britain.”

The report examined data from the recent British Election Study as well as focus groups organised by ScotCen social research. It noted a majority of voters in Scotland wished to maintain free trade with the EU, while ending freedom of movement – a position also held by the majority of voters elsewhere in the UK.

Research undertaken in October 2017 suggested that support for retaining free trade stands at 90 per cent in Scotland, compared with 88 per cent across the UK as a whole, while the equivalent figures for ending freedom of movement are 59 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.

The report added that although voters in Scotland appear to be more likely than voters south of the border to accept freedom of movement in return for free trade (63 per cent compared with 53 per cent), a majority believe that post-Brexit rules on both trade and immigration should be the same in Scotland as they are across the rest of the UK.

“All of this suggests that, despite the differential referendum result in Scotland, leaving the EU may not represent the constitutional game-changer that some expected,” Montagu added. “The prevalence of Euroscepticism in Scotland, coupled with attitudes towards the shape of Brexit that correspond more closely with those of Westminster than Holyrood, hint at an electorate that may not reflect the resolutely pro-European outlook of the SNP.

“Even more crucially, it appears that the very people required to change their minds in order to push support for independence over the 50 per cent mark – those who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum, and Remain in the EU referendum – may not be so attached to the EU as to be willing to break up the Union with the rest of the UK to retain Scotland’s EU membership.

“According to the latest Scottish Social Attitudes data, even amongst unionists who voted Remain there exists a high degree of relative Euroscepticism – despite not wanting to leave the EU outright, 66% of this group wished to see a reduction in the EU’s powers. This suggests this group values the Union with the UK more than they value their links to the EU.”

Brexit minister Michael Russell said: “The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly – by a 24-point margin – to remain in the European Union.

“Short of continued EU membership, which the people of Scotland want, the best outcome for Scotland and the UK is continued membership of the single market and customs union – something underlined by the leaked UK Government analysis showing the likely hit to the economy in all post-Brexit scenarios.”