Scottish Referendum Raises Risk of British EU Exit

If Scotland secedes, a majority of voters in the rump United Kingdom may well elect to leave the European Union

The flag of Scotland, March 27, 2009
The flag of Scotland, March 27, 2009 (Underclasscameraman)

Despite waning Euroskepticism, the possibility of Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom later this year could still put the country on a path toward leaving the European Union.

An Ipsos MORI poll that was released on Thursday showed a 54 percent majority of Britons in favor of remaining in the European Union. When the pollster asked the same question in November 2012, just 44 percent said they backed continued membership compared to 48 percent who said they would rather get out.

Two other polls published in March by YouGov also showed most voters in favor of staying in the bloc.

British prime minister David Cameron has promised to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union if he is reelected next year.

However, a referendum on Scottish independence that is due to be called in September could yet lead to a British exit from the European Union. Scottish voters tend to be more enthusiastic about membership of the body than their counterparts in England and also appear to be warming to the prospect of secession. While polls show most Scots still in favor of remaining part of the United Kingdom, a TNS survey released earlier this week found the gap between the two sides had narrowed to a 9 percent low, down from 22 points late last year.

Cameron, who has so far largely shied away from campaigning to preserve the union, recognizing that his Conservative Party is unpopular north of the border, nevertheless urged Scots to remain part of the island nation on Thursday. “We want Scotland to stay,” he said during a visit to Glasgow, the region’s largest city. “We are all enriched by being together. Scotland puts the ‘great’ into Great Britain. Together we are a United Kingdom with a united future.”

Politically, Scotland’s secession would not disfavor Cameron’s party. The Conservatives hold just one of Scotland’s 59 seats in the national parliament. The opposition Labour Party, by contrast, has 41. Without Scotland, it would be hard pressed to win a majority in the rump United Kingdom.

But it would also raise the chances that the remainder of the country votes to leave the European Union in a referendum that is expected to be called in 2017 — provided the Conservatives win the 2015 election. Euroskepticism is strongest in England. When Ipsos MORI asked only Scots in February how they would vote in a European referendum, 53 percent said they wanted to stay in compared to 34 percent who said they preferred to leave.

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