The ‘Tinman’ referendum – the EU debate in Scotland is lacking heart

By Russell Gunson Director of IPPR Scotland and Mark Diffley Director of Ipsos MORI Scotland

It has been striking that, while many of the UK-wide polls on the EU referendum show a closely fought race between Remain and Leave, ahead of the 23rd June, opinion in Scotland seems resolutely and consistently in favour of staying in the EU.

If the outcome across the UK as a whole is on the knife-edge than it currently appears to be then it is possible that votes in Scotland may make the difference one way or another.

While many have viewed voters in Scotland as more Euro-friendly than voters in England, we wanted to find out if this was really the case. So, Ipsos MORI and IPPR Scotland undertook a series of focus groups across Scotland to get under the skin of the polls and find out what is motivating Scottish voters in this referendum.

We are two organisations with no position on the EU referendum, but with a keen interest in getting a more detailed understanding of what Scots are thinking as the vote approaches.

What we found was incredibly revealing and could be very important to both sides of the debate as we enter the last the two weeks of the campaign.

Firstly, despite the polls in Scotland showing Remain ahead of Leave, our work shows that this support may be soft. We did pick up on support for Remain, and it is likely that Remain supporters will stick with the ‘devil they know’, but even Remain supporters are largely negative towards the EU. This could mean that support for Remain may potentially weaken in Scotland as we enter the last two weeks of the campaign.

Equally, it is clear from our work that people see the EU referendum as of lower importance than the Scottish independence referendum. Voters do not feel as passionate and see this vote as a vote of the ‘head’ rather than a vote of the ‘heart’. Furthermore, most voters we spoke to, perhaps surprisingly, did not see Scottish independence as a major influence over how they will vote in two weeks’ time.

Overall, we found ten key factors that will influence voters in Scotland in advance of the EU referendum and in the final days of the campaign. These included a lack of European identity in Scotland, strongly felt arguments around immigration on both sides of the debate, and what was described as the scaremongering of both the Remain and Leave campaigns, meaning voters felt they could not trust the information they were getting from both campaigns and from the media more generally.

It seems, therefore, that unlike the Scottish independence referendum, this vote will be more of a ‘tinman’ referendum. The arguments in Scotland are lacking heart, and while polls may show support for Remain in Scotland, this support is potentially weak and may be difficult to translate into turnout on the day.

It is clear that whichever way Scotland, and the UK as a whole, votes on the 23rd June there is no real love affair with the EU in Scotland, and that voters want a new relationship to be built with Europe whether we vote to remain in or to leave the EU. The question in Scotland is whether support for Remain in opinion polls holds to the day of the vote, and indeed whether Remain supporters, in particular, feel passionate enough to turn out and vote. We will find out the answer to that question in just two weeks and whichever way it goes it is clear, however voters feel, that this referendum will have profound implications for the UK, for Scotland, and for our place in the world.