A Force For Good activists celebrating the 200th birthday of the Union Bridge across the River Tweed on 26 July 2020.
A constant refrain from the Scottish nationalists is:
"The United Kingdom left the EU even though Scotland voted to Remain. That means we left the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people, and against our will, and that is so unfair. Why should we have to do what England wants all the time just because England is much bigger than Scotland?"
On the face of it they are not correct. There were over 1 million "Scottish people" who "wished" for Brexit and who voted for it, and who were delighted that it came to pass.
But even if we accept their exclusive definition of "the Scottish people" as being precisely only those 1,661,191 who voted to Remain, they are still wrong in their statement that Scotland voted to Remain. This is because we were not voting for Scotland to Remain or Leave. Scotland was not a member nation of the EU!
The member nation was the United Kingdom and at the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, we were voting as the United Kingdom and for the United Kingdom as one political nation-state.
It was a UK-wide vote. We were not voting as separate countries. The UK is not a Federal State. Votes were not considered to be "Scottish" or "English" or "Welsh" or "Northern Irish" votes.
The UK is a Unitary State. We were voting as one country – the United Kingdom.
Everyone's vote counted equally, regardless of where you were from in the UK (or even in Gibraltar). They were all put into the same British pot, added up and the overall winner was chosen.
But having said that, let's try to see it from their point of view. And by so doing, let's break the votes down per constituent country and show that even through their frame of viewing things it could easily have gone the other way.
That is, the United Kingdom could have remained in the EU even though England voted to Leave. England could just as easily have been – to paraphrase the words of the Scottish nationalists – "kept in the EU against its will" because of the votes of Scotland!
We will do a worked example to illustrate our point. But first, here is how the votes, per country, fell on that day:
United Kingdom Result
Leave: 17,410,742 (51.89%)
Remain: 16,141,241 (48.11%)
Total Votes: 33,551,983
Winning margin for Leave: 1,269,501
England (and Gibraltar)
Remain: 13,266,996 Leave: 15,188,406
Winning margin for Leave: 1,921,410
Remain: 772,347 Leave: 854,572
Winning margin for Leave: 82,225
Remain: 1,661,191 Leave: 1,018,322
Winning margin for Remain: 642,869
Remain: 440,707 Leave: 349,442
Winning margin for Remain: 91,265
OUR WORKED EXAMPLE demonstrating that Scotland could have kept the UK in the EU against the wishes of England!
In this example, we'll move the votes around but we won't change the overall number of votes cast in each constituent part of the UK. In each case, we'll move Leave votes to Remain.
How many should we shift?
This is just an arithmetical exercise, based on no particular social or political evidence. However, we want to use a factor which will allow us to shift a consistent proportion of votes from Leave to Remain in each constituent country.
For the sake of this example, we'll move votes from Leave to Remain in proportion to the percentage of the overall UK electorate which each constituent country represents.
In 2016, according to Wikipedia, the total Electorate in the UK (and Gibraltar) at the 2016 EU referendum was 46,524,120. (Note 1)
Of this, England (and Gibraltar) represented 39,005,781 (83.84%) (Note 2)
Scotland represented 3,987,112 (8.57%)
Wales represented 2,270,272 (4 .88%)
Northern Ireland represented 1,260,955 (2.71%)
Therefore, let's change the voting figures from Leave to Remain in line with those percentages. As we emphasise, we are applying this factor merely because it presents itself as a consistent measurement which we can use in our hypothetical example simply to illustrate our point. There is no political reason for using it and we acknowledge that there may be other factors which could be used.
So to begin:
At the 2016 referendum in England, 13,266,996 people voted for Remain, while 15,188,406 voted for Leave. This meant the winning margin for Leave in England was 1,921,410. Given that the electorate in England is 83.84% of the overall UK electorate, let's shift 83.84% of the winning margin (divided by 2) from Leave to Remain. That is [1,921,410 x 83.84/100] divided by 2 which is 805,455 votes. That now gives 14,072,451 for Remain and 14,382,951 for Leave. England is still voting Leave but with a much closer margin of 310,500.
In 2016 in Wales, 772,347 voted for Remain and 854,572 voted for Leave. This meant the winning margin for Leave in Wales was 82,225. Given that the electorate in Wales is 4.88% of the overall UK electorate, let's shift 4.88% of the winning margin (divided by 2) from Leave to Remain. That's 2006 votes, now giving 774,353 for Remain and 852,566 for Leave. Wales is still voting Leave but with a slightly closer margin of 78,213.
In 2016 in Scotland, 1,661,191 voted Remain and 1,018,322 voted for Leave. This meant the winning margin for Remain in Scotland was 642,869. Given that the electorate in Scotland is 8.57% of the overall UK electorate, let's shift 8.57% of the winning margin (divided by 2) from Leave to Remain. That's 27,547 votes, now giving 1,688,738 for Remain and 990,775 for Leave. Scotland still votes Remain but with a higher margin of 697,963.
In 2016 in Northern Ireland, 440,707 voted Remain and 349,442 voted for Leave. This meant the winning margin for Remain in Northern Ireland was 91,265. Given that the electorate in Northern Ireland is 2.71% of the overall UK electorate, let's shift 2.71% of the winning margin (divided by 2) from Remain to Leave. That's 1,237 votes, now giving 441,944 for Remain 348,205 for Leave. Northern Ireland still votes Remain but with a higher margin of 93,739.
We now have the situation where the total votes of
REMAIN in our worked example are:
Northern Ireland: 441,944
Total Remain in worked example: 16,977,486
LEAVE in our worked example are:
Northern Ireland: 348,205
Total Leave in worked example: 16,574,497
In this example (and the total of all votes remain the same as they were in 2016) the UK has now voted to Remain in the EU by 402,989.
And note, the UK has voted to Remain in the EU even though England and Wales voted to Leave!
Indeed, the winning margin for Remain in Scotland alone of 697,963 (without even having to include Northern Ireland on top) has been enough to keep both England and Wales in the EU!
Our point is that the votes could have been distributed in such a way that the Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland – or Scotland alone – could have kept the UK in the European Union, even though England and Wales voted to Leave.
If that had happened, some English nationalists could then equally have said, in the manner of the Scottish nationalists with whom we began this article:
"The United Kingdom remained in the EU even though England voted to Leave. That means we were kept in the EU against the wishes of the English people, and against our will, and that is so unfair. Why should we have to do what Scotland wants all the time, even though Scotland is only a fraction of the size of England?"
That could easily have happened! Yet, that is the nature of living in the United Kingdom, and having UK-wide referendums. That's the deal we accept as being part of the UK.
Sometimes when we are part of the UK we all get what we want, and sometimes we don't.
Sometimes all parts will vote similarly – as we did at the 1975 Common Market referendum – and sometimes we may vote differently, as we did at the 2016 referendum.
And sometimes when we are part of the UK, some people in Scotland will get what they want, at the same time as other people in Scotland don't get what they want. For example, there were over 1 million happy Leavers in Scotland on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016!
In any case, the point of a Union is not to ensure that you get your way all of the time! The purpose of a Union, any union, is to facilitate and enjoy the benefits of association which accrue from working together.
Within the context of the United Kingdom it is wrong for the Scottish nationalists to claim that a larger part will always democratically get its way. Indeed, within the UK, a smaller part has potential to exercise power over a larger part, and in some cases to be the decisive power.
That can also be considered a benefit of being in Union!
1. In our example above we shifted 805,455 votes from Leave to Remain in England. However, a shift to Remain in England equivalent to around the winning margin of the 2016 Remain vote in Scotland (say 640,000) – while everything else remained exactly the same – would still have delivered a Leave majority in England, but it would have meant a final UK result of Remain. (It would mean the result in England was 13,906,996 Remain and 14,548,406 Leave – but in the entire UK it would mean 16,770,742 Leave and 16,781,241 Remain.)
Obviously in reality, such changes are not possible without everything else changing in different ways, but we give the above examples for illustrative purposes only.
2. It was Scottish and Northern Ireland Votes which Tipped the Balance for Leave
In the event, on 23 June 2016, over a million people in Scotland voted Leave. In that sense, it could also be said that it was the Scottish and Northern Irish Leave votes which swung it for the UK to Leave! Consider the figures:
Leave - 17,410,742
Remain - 16,141,241
Majority = 1,269,501
Scotland for Leave - 1,018,322
Northern Ireland for Leave - 349,442
Total = 1,367,764
1. See the box entitled "Results by United Kingdom constituent countries" at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_2016_United_Kingdom_European_Union_membership_referendum#Results_by_United_Kingdom_regions
2. Gibraltar had a registered electorate of 24,119 at the 2016 referendum according to
but for the sake of simplicity we include the Gibraltar electorate in the figure for "England".
3. Further reading on Scotland and the EU at our article AFFG Interviewed by Major European Newspaper
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