Divided Kingdom


This report from the UK think tank The Foreign Policy Centre looks at how attitudes towards immigration vary based on demographic differences and voting preferences.

Since Brexit’s inception, immigration has been a hugely dominant theme. Theresa May’s government pledged to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’, a proclamation aimed at capitalising on anti-immigrant public opinion. Yet attitudes towards the issue are far from simple, and closer inspection reveals a nation hugely divided in its views.

Scotland and England vote very differently to each other. Recent referenda have brought this matter to the fore of public consciousness, with both Brexit and the campaign for Scottish Independence shedding light on the extent of divergence between the two electorates. Whilst the independence referendum ended in defeat for the Yes campaign, the process as a whole opened up the political discourse, demonstrating the continued support for progressive, left-of-centre policies north of the border. Immigration is an issue that encapsulates said differences- the Scottish National Party (SNP) promote the idea of Scotland as an inclusive, tolerant nation, and state that they will ‘stand firm’ against the demonisation of migrants and those without British citizenship. The Yes campaign was framed in these progressive terms, with Scottishness celebrated as a civic identity. Such ideas stand in stark contrast to the rhetoric espoused by the Leave campaign in the EU referendum, which emphasised the need to end free movement and regain control over our borders.

With this in mind, the way the respective countries voted in the EU referendum was unsurprising; 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain in comparison with only 46.6 per cent of those in England. It is plausible to assume that, with the issue so central to our decision to leave, Scotland’s vote communicates a much more positive view of immigration and its impact. However, closer analysis of attitudes towards immigration reveals a picture nowhere near as clear-cut. In a research project undertaken by NatCen, Scottish and English participants were asked to rate both the economic and cultural impact of immigration. In spite of the perceived differences between Scottish and English public opinion on the matter, participants from both nations responded almost identically. Such similarities indicate that attitudes towards immigration in the respective countries are not as contrasting as is often believed. Is it in fact other demographic differences, rather than geographical location, that engender division in this area?

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