Why Scots’ support for EU membership is going down

One of the most interesting findings (to this burd anyhow) of a recent poll on independence was that fewer Scots now support membership of the EU.  In 2008,  40% of people polled wanted the UK to continue to represent Scotland’s interests in the UK, after independence and a further 40% wanted to be a separate member of the EU – a clear majority then in favour of some way of continuing with EU membership and only 13% wanted to leave the EU altogether.

When the poll was repeated at the end of February, 39% wanted the UK to continue to represent an independent Scotland in the EU but support for “independence in Europe” had fallen to 29%.  Meanwhile, support for leaving the EU altogether had risen to 21%.

The question is why?  What could behind this shift away from one of the cornerstones of the SNP’s approach to independence?

No doubt, the reasons are multifarious and complex.  But a press hostile to the EU and almost non-existent broadcast media coverage of what goes on in Brussels and Strasbourg plays a role.

Take this splash from Monday’s Daily Express.  It forms part of its recently launched campaign to persuade (“get”) Britain to leave (“out of”) the European Union.  “From now on, our energies will be directed to furthering the cause of those who believe Britain is Better Off Out…. After far too many years as the victims of Brussels larceny, bullying, over-regulation and all-round interference, the time has come for the British people to win back their country and restore legitimacy and accountability to their political process.”

Oh boy.  Thus, the headline on Monday screamed:  “Now EU bans plastic bags”.  Only it hasn’t.  Compare and contrast the treatment of the same story in Der Spiegel, which produced the headline – Bagging It: EU Wants to Reduce Plastic Shopping Bag Use.  A very different proposition, I’m sure you’ll agree, so which is right?

Well, the story is that the EU is exploring how to reduce the usage of thin, single usage plastic bags.  A report has been prepared considering a range of options and – funnily enough – it has concluded that the option to ban their use altogether has already been discounted, partly because it would be a “blunt instrument” but essentially because it would conflict with international trade law and internal EU market rules.

Clearly the Express piece is nonsense and highlights the appalling misinformation that some press sources in the UK propagate about the EU to whomever is unfortunate enough to read their blatts.  This is because of their own editorial peccadilloes which are often politically hostile to EU membership or at best, agnostic.  The sort of scare stories which appear in too many newspapers, and have done for some years now, are one reason why support for the EU is falling in Scotland.

Another reason is the lack of coverage at all.  Some might recall some recent wittering by me about a European report into the gender pay gap and the measures being proposed to tackle it.  Yet, it received zilch coverage from the mainstream media.  So I asked a European Parliament official about it.

Not for the lack of trying, was the response.  To coincide with the publication of that report, a debate was hosted by Europe House in London.  About 80 journalists were invited – social affairs correspondents, women’s pages editors, magazine editors – journalists you might have thought would be interested in the gender pay gap in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

Not a single one turned up.  Hence, no coverage.  All they had to do was stagger across London (most of them) and still they couldn’t find the time or inclination.

Increasingly – like many – the European Parliament is turning to social media to get its message out, especially in the UK.  For that same debate, an #EUwomendebate Twitter hashtag was created and used in the run up to the event.  Two Twitter walls were built inside the room of the debate and attendees received wifi passwords, encouraging participants to tweet using the hashtag. Approximately 250 tweets appeared on the wall during the debate, with several people joining the debate online.  The result?  45,000 people reached through Twitter.  Other social media, such as blogging and Facebook, were used as well.

According to the same official:  “this should give us food for thought: the people speaking that day (just ahead of the consultation on quotas for company boards was announced by the European Commission) are the ones with some real power to change things for women but old media is not going to stir unless it’s a sex or money scandal. So if I want to inform women about what is being done for them in Europe (totally one-sidedly, you could argue) I have to go to women citizens journalists directly. Isn’t this a sad state of affairs?”

That consultation is now underway and there is a real chance that the European Parliament will vote for compulsory female quotas in the boardroom.  Which would explain some of the blethers a few months ago from big business about how they are all working hard to improve women’s representation. It was clearly an attempt to head off the prospect of legislative compulsion.  Too late, I hope.  Scotland has nothing to crow about on this issue, as evidenced by the rather excellent detective work by Kenneth Roy at Scottish Review.

This is actually an exciting time for European matters, especially for those of us who care about gender equality.  We should be lobbying our representatives in the European Parliament and responding to this consultation – whether or not we support the proposals for compulsion – but how can we when barely anyone who is PAID to cover this sort of news cannot be bothered to do their job and inform the public?

No doubt, once big business shifts from its torpor and pokes the media, we will get a rash of negative headlines and scare stories on this.  It will be news then and yet another opportunity for the media to improve people’s view of what goes on in Europe will have been lost.  As usual, we will be invited to see the worst side, especially if, like the Express, news outlets take licence with the verity.

And yet, given the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, it has never been more important for us to understand the workings of the European Union and to receive information about the good it does for Scotland and many people living here.  Shame we cannot rely on the fourth estate to provide it.



16 thoughts on “Why Scots’ support for EU membership is going down

  1. Voted NO in 75 and would do the same again as our fears then have come to fruition.

  2. This was an interesting and thoughtful post. I’m based in Brussels and interact with the EU institutions on a regular basis. Popularity for the EU is going down I believe nearly everywhere not just in Scotland. But there are different reasons for that not just silly and untrue articles from the London based press. (Also sad to read here comments about the ‘gravy train’ – we are just talking about civil servants here the vast majority of whom are rather hard working and committed like officials at councils all round Scotland, in Edinburgh and so on. (Equally, the issue of the auditing is a red herring – the EU’s accounts simply cannot be fully verified because so much of the actual spend is devolved to Member States i.e. not in Brussels.)

    All of this should not mean we don’t criticise or take a critical approach to the EU. As everywhere there is room for improvement. There are increasingly challenges that perhaps the European project cannot meet as it clearly it has been impossible to establish a European body politic indeed it might not even be in anyone’s interest to create such a body. In other words it could be ‘Europe’ has gone in many areas as far as it can.

    Certainly monetary union has largely failed. (By the way that does not mean in anyway that the euro is a basket currency – check the markets!!) But as the post intelligently says important issues e.g. the gender gap in pay and representation. There is also good work on the environmental side. These are programmes and policies where it makes sense to work at a supranational level. Sure it can be a trading bloc, but as soon as you put a trading bloc in place you need standards, enforcement, common approaches, policies in other words…… you need a European Union!

    • Gordon. if the issue of the auditing is a red herring, why have various reports into abuse of the expenses system in Brussells been spiked? Also, why was the UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen blocked from becoming a vice chair of the Budgetary Control comittee, did her previous role as a whistleblower count against her?

      You cannot wave away auditing as a red hering, when there are concerns at the running of these organisations – which are not transparent. Also, the gravy train comment is more aplicable to the MEP’s, and to the Commissioners.

      Lastly, i didn’t say the Euro is a basket case – I said it was on the verge of being one. If you don’t believe me, prehaps you should speak to the many ordinary people who’s lives have been bligted, or visit the many empty building sites up and down Spain. The currency markets haven’t helped these people. Indeed the people i spoke to in Malta nearly two years ago wish they hadn’t voted to join the euro.

      • I’m against the system of expenses used by the MEPs. It’s not good and it should be reformed. But it does not call the whole system or EU project into question. I’m also happy that the expenses systems have become more transparent for MPs and MSPs. But careful, the auditing and the expenses systems are two different things. And why Marta Andreassen was blocked I do not know but I suspect it was also partly because she was a UKIP MEP and UKIP has few friends or allies in the Parliament rightly or wrongly.

        Of course the auditing is an incredibly important issue. But if you read the audit reports the emphasis or rather problem is on EU spending in EU Member States i.e. not in Brussels and not with the Brussels civil servants but rather civil servants in EU Member States like France, UK, Greece….etc. So when I say it is a red herring it is at least in very great part a misleading discussion taking us away from the real questions to which I refer to in my first post made in turn to Burdzeyeview’s interesting and measured piece.

        Regards basket case – wasn’t sure what you really meant. Certainly agree the euro is in crisis or rather monetary union is in crisis and perhaps never should have been undertaken. I speak to ordinary people all the time and I see what the problems are but these were also caused by governments and banks (the empty building sites in Spain were at least in part down to the 2008 credit crunch which originated in the City/New York and in the US real estate market surely? In addition, I would stress again that the euro hasn’t lost significant value in the currency exchange and nor is it likely to in the near future.

        To return to Burdzeyeview’s original post I agree that it has never been more important to know more about the workings of Europe. Its a shame the Scots do not get to hear more about this.

  3. Well, where do you want me to start?

    Growing awareness of the gravy train at the heart of the EU and the Euro-parliament – which singularaly dwarfs anything thrown up by the expenses scandal of nearly 3 years ago. Awareness of the lack of basic auditing in most EU institutions – the European Commission has not had an audit fully signed off since before 2004. The complete and utter arrogance of the leaders of the EU, EU officials and the leaders of the big nations when things go wrong and the realisation that our leader should not be treated in the disgusting and ram-rod disrespectful manner that Brian Cowen was treated by the French & German leaders when Ireland voted against the Lisbon treaty.

    That’s before I get to the endemic bending of EU rules, the most serious of which has seen the Euro on the verge of becoming a basket case currency.

    All of these issues are of much more importance than the relatively silly stories that crop up in the newspapers owned by The Digger and Britains Pornographer in Chief.

    Of course it could just be that people realise that we wouldn’t be as independent as we would like to be under the EU.

    • I agree Allan: the gravy train issue is the main one for me with the EU and the lack of auditing in particular. That is a truly shocking state of affairs given the amount of money involved and especially in the present financial climate.

      Your other point, how independent would Scotland actually be is a highly valid one as well.

  4. I wonder what are the chances of UKIP gaining the most number of MEPs in the 2014 Euro parliament election?

  5. mmmh ! No one asked me if im still for Scotland being part of Europe! Yes of course i am!
    The UKs unions small boundaries are far to small and insular for me ! I want to be part of a bigger robust and more diverse and multi cultural Scotland and i cant get that from the out dated united kingdoms pro American policies! but i believe with time and patience and good collaboration around the negotiating table i can achieve these things and more for my country and people in Scotland by being part of a much stronger and fairer Europe! I believe in wealth and education being dealt and distributed fairly! I believe in Scotland and i believe in Europe !

    • I think if you look at the situation in Libya the EU very much adopted pro-American policies. You will also find that when Palestine elected Hamas the EU followed the US line by rejecting the democratic result and cutting aid to Palestine.

  6. “Clearly the Express piece is nonsense and highlights the appalling misinformation that some press sources in the UK propagate about the EU to whomever is unfortunate enough to read their blatts.”

    Why is it not illegal to print lies?

    Seriously, free speech should not extend to the freedom to spread misinformation. Just think how much better society would be if organs such as the media and political parties were legally obliged to only tell the truth (for a start, Scotland would already be independent…) At the very least, such stories of dubious factualness should have to be headed “COMMENT”. I mean, we can say that people should know not to believe everything they read, but the logical conclusion to that is that people can’t trust anything they read, and have no way of asserting what the truth is without doing the investigating themselves. In which case, there’s no point in paying journalists to do it.

    In some ways, that last bit is already reality, hence why people turn to the internet to get news from their own trusted sources, rather than paying for newspapers that are increasingly becoming Opinionpapers.

    • The Express is just following tradition. It used to be pro-Empire and anti-German, now it’s anti-EU. Most Express readers take the paper because they think the same way.

      • But I don’t see why it should be allowed to feed their ignorance with more ignorance, at least not under the banner of “newspaper”. Perhaps we should have a legal definition of what a newspaper is – and very few of our papers would meet the standards necessary, even if they were pretty low.

        Truth is as precious as water, and the mainstream media are a desert.

  7. Best thing I ever did was visit the EU Parliament and speak to some of the commission civil servants. It is a well run efficient and above all democratic institution demonised by a propaganda press here.

    • Mmm, democratic? I don’t recall getting the opportunity to vote for the commissioners or the EU President.

      Perhaps you could explain the state of the accounts?

      The EU should simply be a trading bloc – nothing else. I do not trust the SNP when it comes to Europe, with promises of allowing the electorate to decide after independence whether we join or not.

      Why leave one union to join another?

      • Barbarian – we won’t get to decide after independence whether we’ll get to join or not, because you can’t join a club you’re already a member of.

        We would be able to decide for ourselves if we wanted to stay in it, though. With Croatia about to join and Iceland in the process, the EU is coming closer and closer to meaning “Europe minus Norway and Switzerland”.

      • Doug, do you honestly believe that we will be given the option? I don’t believe it for one second. The SNP at present is united for one reason and one reason only – to achieve independence. Once that happens, then the dissenting voices and polarisation of views will emerge.

        It’s easier to stay out in the first place than try and get out later. I don’t want Scotland subsidising Greece, Spain, Italy and who knows who else, because that is what will happen if we join, all in return for “a place at the top table”. Salmond for EU President? I’ll bet that is what is on offer.

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