Scotland and the EU referendum – some home truths about the statistics

After a pre-referendum foray in which I declared my (losing) hand I’ve shied away from any substantive comment on Brexit. I didn’t like the decision but it’s a done deed, we’re a democracy and we live with the consequences.

The SNP of course have not wanted to live with the consequences and the six months since the referendum have been full of their agitation on the EU to the exclusion of almost anything else, apart from a New Year ’s Day launch of the first minister’s baby box scheme. The previous number one priority of education has disappeared into the maybe capable but certainly dull hands of John Swinney. And, in a slightly curious act of timing, the season of goodwill was punctuated by the pre-Christmas launch of their how-we-can-stay-in-when-everyone-else-leaves paper Scotland’s place in Europe.

Nicola Sturgeon’s – record length – five-page foreword to that document starts with the words that have formed the justification for all the SNP’s absorption with the subject:

On 23 June, the people of Scotland voted categorically and decisively to remain within the European Union

which reflects their consistent refrain that they are uniquely placed as a nationalist political party to represent the entire country.

A detailed look at the statistics tells a slightly different story.

Votes cast



Votes cast as a percentage of the total electoratebrexit-votes-cast-as-percentage

All figures are taken from the Electoral Commission web site and are rounded to the nearest whole percentage.

A sample of SNP voters, or at least people who said they voted SNP in the 2015 general election, claimed in a Lord Ashcroft exit poll (p. 6) that they voted as follows:

  • Remain 64%
  • Leave 36%.

To summarise the key features of the statistics for the points I’m making here:

  • there is no majority of the electorate as a whole either in the UK or Scotland for either option presented in the referendum
  • once differential turnout/non-voters are taken into account, the differences between the UK and Scotland are not that great
  • allowing for the margin of error of the Lord Ashcroft poll, SNP voters are no more nor less enthusiastic for the EU than the rest of the Scottish electorate.

Although many don’t accept my view, I’ve argued before that on the existential issues our British referendums test, the percentage of the whole electorate who vote for a proposition is as important as, perhaps more important than, the percentage of those who actually vote.

If you can accept this argument, the critical issue in relation to the Scottish statistics is that given the chance only 42%, a minority, of the total Scottish electorate voted for Remain: 58% either voted Leave or couldn’t be bothered to vote at all.

Where does that leave ‘categorically and decisively’? Well, here’s an example, a straw in the wind perhaps. It’s a comment about an article entitled Nicola Sturgeon: ‘I’m not bluffing about indyref2’ on The Scotsman website yesterday. I’ve paraphrased it as it’s not written in words I’d use. But if you want to check my faithfulness to the original, it’s the comment by ‘Neverendumdidlydumb’ timed at 11.17 p.m. on 8 January:

Senior SNP activists claimed that grassroots members of the party are said to be horrified at the approach taken to the EU by the first minister, as so many despise the EU, even more than the English. Apparently the feedback from the party’s recent ‘National Survey’ was appalling with lots of vitriolic responses mocking them, which is why the results are not being made public. Senior people have apparently urged caution on the first minister about another independence referendum … Some think she is reckless and that could destroy the party.

Well that, as they say, is not my problem. But it would fit perfectly with what a more subtle look at the statistics tells us than the first minister’s categorical and decisive claim. And it may also tell us that, in the short term at least, her ambitions in relation to both the EU and a second independence referendum are doomed to failure.

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5 Responses to Scotland and the EU referendum – some home truths about the statistics

  1. weesandysays says:

    Any chance of including a link to the Scotsman comment as I and no doubt others would not have any idea of finding it for ourselves ?


    • Roger White says:

      It’s easy enough if a bit of a fiddle – go to the link above for the article in The Scotsman. Click on the button top right of article that says ‘Have your say’ then just search the comments (they’re in date/time order) until you find it. Thanks.


  2. Sam Duncan says:

    Two things strike me. First, they’re still pulling this “the people of Scotland voted to remain” scam. No, with the best will in the world (and I admit again that I voted “leave”), they did not. They voted for the UK to remain, but lost. Maybe that means they’d vote to remain themselves at any cost, including the end of the UK, but that vote has never been held.

    It’s within the SNP’s current power to call it. Which brings me to the second point: they’re quite clearly terrified of another referendum. Their criterion, as they’ve said all along, was “fundamental and material change” to the status of the UK. Well, that – as they also keep telling us – is what we have. So bring it on. I’d rather not go through all the hassle again, but I’m not scared. Methinks the lady doth protest a little too much when she saith, “I’m not bluffing”. That’s exactly what she’s doing. She knows they’d lose again. And that, especially after investing so much of their credibility in the idea that Scotland prefers the European Union to the British one, it would finish them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scotched earth says:

      With the greatest of respect, Sam, I disagree: a second independence referendum *must* be opposed:

      1. The result is not guaranteed. Us Unionists have been through the mill once, I doubt many wish to go through it again: many of us might decide to stay home if ‘winning’ means only fighting the same fight every 2 or 3 years until we give the ‘right’ answer.

      2. If Sturgeon loses IndyRef2, she might resign as FM but she won’t go away any more than Salmond has (some speculate that he is jockeying to return as SNP leader)—and the SNP didn’t go away after either the 1979 or 2014 referendums. The behaviour of the SNP after the 2014 referendum, Remain extremists after the 2016 EU one, and Democrats after the Trump victory, shows that we have a real issue with elements not accepting democratic results. As well as the perennial problem of unscrupulous people whose only object is power, we now have generations of spoilt brats who throw tantrums when they don’t get their way—an unedifying sight in a toddler but very disturbing in an adult.(*)

      3. A second independence referendum will go a long way to establishing a constitutional precedent of short intervals between referendums with major constitutional impact—IndyRef2 will pave the way for EUref2; which, win or lose, will pave the way for IndyRef3 and EUref3, then 4, 5, etc. N.B. Apart from other matters, this will ruin our economy: businesses can adapt to Britain being in or out of the EU, and with Scotland in or out of our Kingdom—but they can’t cope with legal uncertainties caused by repeated constitutional referendums.

      4. Far better to call for a second Devolution referendum, as provided for by Part 2A, Section 63A (3) of the Scotland Act 1998 c.46.(†) This has none of the constitutional implications of IndyRef2—it’s been 20 years, a decent interval; it’s proved an expensive failure(‡);and, unlike indy and EU referendums, it’s harmless regardless of result. If nothing else, it will keep the SNP busy protecting their phoney-baloney jobs. (A referendum is not the only means of ending Devolution: the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty means Westminster can end it with a statutory instrument any time it chooses; but nothing prevents campaigning to end Devolution by referendum and statute simultaneously.)

      5. Associating the SNP with the failure and consequent ending of Devolution will bury them not only for a generation but a lifetime—and quite possibly for *ever*.

      Furthermore, it was the wrong Devolution model, and Holyrood’s existence prevents us from enjoying a much, *much* superior alternative. All Britain once enjoyed genuine devolution (until progressively eroded over the course of the 20C), with our various burghs/boroughs running themselves, even their own constabularies, hospitals, and until 1911, welfare as well. A system of highly autonomous local government that resembled the oft-touted Swiss model—but is tried, tested and absolutely *British*.(§)

      Finally, the Scottish Assembly does not have legislative competence to call a referendum, as ‘(b)the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England’ and ‘(c) the Parliament of the United Kingdom’ are reserved matters, according to Schedule 5, Part 1, Section 1 of the Scotland Act 1998 c.46.(||) Only the most craven cowardice on the part of Westminster could allow it to pass the various stages—including Royal Assent—unchallenged. Were the SNP then to proceed with an *illegal* referendum (as Catalan separatists did in 2014), the Unionist strategy should be to boycott the glorified opinion poll, whilst demanding Westminster suspend the Holyrood assembly for such an illegal usurpation of power. (Note that Westminster suspended Stormont in 1972 then abolished it in 1973; since its re-establishment in 1998, it has been suspended four times so far. If we can do that in NI in the face of various angry men with guns, how much easier will it be in pacific Scotland? Nats are irritating but—bless!—they smash teacakes not kneecaps or skulls.)

      (* For further information: ‘The Trouble With Day Care’ (Psychology Today):
      ‘A generation of ‘little savages’ raised in nurseries as daycare is linked to aggression in toddlers’ (Daily Mail):
      ‘Daycare generation are now the students throwing tantrums over safe spaces’ (The Conservative Woman):
      ‘Why Social Justice Warriors Are So DEMENTED’ by Paul Joseph Watson (YouTube): )
      This amendment being introduced by the Scotland Act 2016, c.11, Part 1, Section 1: )
      (‡ Holyrood was created to settle Nationalist aspirations and to devolve power to a more localised level; it has singularly failed in both these aims, instead promoting Nationalism while power is more centralised than ever, and continues becoming ever more centralised.)
      (§ For further reading, see Lord Stoddart, Lords Hansard, at column 1309:
      Cf. Local Government Act 1888 and Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 (text reproduced in appendix))


      • Sam Duncan says:

        Fair and comprehensively-argued points, and never let it be said I’m not open to persuasion. I certainly agree that Holyrood itself, regardless of majority, is a barrier to greater devolution of power, which is one reason I opposed it back in ’97 (in many areas it’s actually created a greater concentration of power, pretty much as I expected), but I think bypassing or weakening it will still be a hard thing to sell to the wider electorate, not to mention the unionist parties themselves. Too many of them see it, understandably if misguidedly, as a good idea gone awry, and I fear you’d see a lot of our allies on the wrong side of that debate. Even if such a strategy were politically feasible, it would have to be handled extremely carefully for the nationalists not to portray it as a panic measure from “the Westminster establishment” to wrest power from “Scotland”.

        And that’s the problem I have – against, I have to say, my better instincts – with opposing another referendum too vociferously: it allows them to foster the perception that we, the unionists, are the ones who are scared of public opinion, which couldn’t be further from the truth. (This is, of course, why government-by-referendum is so dangerous, but it doesn’t alter the fact.) I remain convinced that the FM absolutely is bluffing with her threats of at least an early rerun, simply because she must know the country isn’t with her.

        Having said that, none of these difficulties is insurmountable, and you do make some excellent points.

        Liked by 1 person

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