Vote “Leave” get “Yes” free

Generally, the status quo has the upper hand in referenda. However, in the wake of the global financial crisis and subsequent recession, the anti-incumbency trend might not just be contained to first-order elections, with voters punishing governing parties of all stripes for letting economic misery occur on their watches. It could be that this trend extends to the far more fixed and aggregate level. For example, in the Scottish Referendum, Better Together warned against Labour voters acting on this anti-incumbency impulse to end Tory rule permanently, as opposed to just temporarily at Westminster General Elections.

However, for a voter it is perfectly rational: if given the chance to either a) end something unpleasant for at least five years, with the possibility of it returning or b) end it permanently, any Rational-Choice model would dictate the latter. Many in the Scottish media laughed at a recent intervention by the UKIP Leader that he could persuade Scots to vote Leave. There have also been comparisons between the ‘Yes’ movement in Scotland in 2014 and UKIP and the wider Brexit campaign.

The English voter who was told to not vote for UKIP in May if they really wanted a referendum, and instead, vote Conservative, now has that chance to vote in that referendum.

Presumably, they will vote Leave.

The English voter who wants to leave the EU now finally has the chance to vote in the EU referendum.

Presumably, they will vote to do so.

The English voter who dislikes the EU and the Union between Scotland and England now has the chance to kill two birds with one stone. They can grant the SNP’s wish by voting to leave the EU. If enough English voters vote likewise, England will vote Leave. Assuming Scotland votes to remain, this situation would almost certainly trigger another Scottish independence referendum. This time, surely, the Scots would vote ‘Yes’.

‘Yes’ persuaded Scottish Labour voters that independence would be a permanent guarantee against Tory rule; Leave could persuade English voters that leaving the EU would bring with it a permanent absence of SNP MPs and Scottish influence as a whole.
If such a rational ejector seat option exists, England could vote to leave for domestic reasons.

However, that only deals with those English voters who dislike both Unions. What of those voters who quite like the EU? Would such voters be willing to sacrifice the EU to free England?

The Mayor of London spoke of the costs of leaving the EU as being as lower than even. Therefore, it is not hard to see why English voters might even see Brexit as a low cost way to end Scottish intrusion into the affairs of England. In fact, lukewarm ‘In’ voters sick of the SNP and a perceived over-generosity to Scotland might even switch to Leave. That would be tactical voting in spirit, but strategic, definite and final in outcome. Such voters willing to end one Union for the greater goal of destroying another is plausible.

The EU referendum might be fought on very non-EU issues.

* Michael Cooke is the writer's pen name. He is an economic and EU policy analyst within local government with a Master's degree in EU Governance. The identity of the author is known to the LDV team.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Little Jackie Paper 14th Oct '15 - 2:46pm

    I asked this on another thread, but it seems relevant here.

    Is Scotland actually all that massively pro-EU? I’ve not spent meaningful time in Scotland for some time and I’m probably out of date. But when I was there the best I could say is that it was less anti – candidly, not all that much less.

    Incidentally, if the supposedly hated Conservatives have a Tory PM backing an IN vote, how would that do down in Scotland? Of course the really interesting one would be England voting to stay in the EU, with the Scots voting out!

  • Maurice Leeke 14th Oct '15 - 4:14pm

    Were Scotland to vote to remain in the EU, and England were to vote to leave, would a second referendum on the 1707 Union be necessary ?

    Surely the SNP would claim that the Scottish people had spoken and they would continue in the EU, leaving England to leave both Unions.

  • Alfred Motspur 14th Oct '15 - 5:58pm

    Little Jackie Paper, if you’re ready to trust the polls again, then yes: Scotland is decisively “all that massively pro-EU”. The last GB-wide poll (ICM, 9-11 Oct, base of 174) put 58% remain and 28% leave in Scotland: that’s more for remain and less for leave than any other region in Great Britain. The last Scottish-wide poll (TNS, 9-30 Sept, base of 1037 (16 yo+)) instead put it at 47%/18%.

    I think, on-the-whole, polling evidence quite clearly indicates that Scotland has a very small minority of eurosceptics and will vote resoundingly in favour of the EU (but undecideds could still make a difference) 🙂

    I agree with the article (and plenty of Lib Dem seniors) that a ‘Leave’ vote in the UK would inspire a ‘Yes’ vote in Scotland, but I think the article probably overestimates the amount of English individuals who would prefer an independent Scotland, and would therefore vote to leave the EU on that basis. Before the Scottish Referendum, YouGov found that 81% of English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters wanted Scotland to remain part of the Union.

    And although it’s arguable that such polls were taken before the SNP gained almost every parliamentary seat in Scotland, I think most voters outside of Scotland realise that the SNP is largely impotent in terms of power, so the “permanent absence of SNP MPs and Scottish influence as a whole” might not be a factor in the calculation of undecided voters in the EU referendum. Most voters also probably realise that an independent Scotland would also mean Tory rule for generations, and a trigger for calls for independence from Wales, the North and many other regions of the UK; I think there are more people opposed to that than in favour.

    I wouldn’t therefore be too worried about the impact of voters outside of Scotland who would vote ‘Leave’ just “to kill two birds with one stone” and break up the Union with Scotland. The worry of two unions, and not just one, breaking apart will probably be more of a benefit to the pro-EU campaign than to the Eurosceptics. Not, of course, that such scaremongering should really be at the forefront of this campaign.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Oct '15 - 6:40pm

    Michael Cooke | Wed 14th October 2015 – 2:33 pm “The EU referendum might be fought on very non-EU issues.”
    Most referendums are. For instance when President De Gaulle held a referendum on the reform of the Senate the electorate voted to get rid of the President and succeeded.

  • Denis Loretto 15th Oct '15 - 12:31pm

    Thank you ,Alfred Motspur, for a very measured and persuasive piece. I think the resentment towards the SNP (and to some extent Scotland ) ,which unfortunately had a big influence upon the May general election result, was based purely on the fear that they would call the shots in a parliament with Labour as the biggest single party. As it has turned out, Alfred is right to point out that the large SNP presence in the House of Commons is largely reduced to chuntering on about more powers for their devolved parliament. They are not seen as any threat to the English and I do not see this as an important factor in the European referendum.

  • No-one should think that an independent Scotland would quickly and easily be admitted into the EU. It could be vetoed by Spain or any other country keen to avoid encouraging secessionist groups.

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