Brexit Divides Scots as More Warm to Economics of Independence

(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has entrenched divisions among voters in Scotland, though more are warming to the economic argument for pursuing independence from the U.K., according to new research.

The latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 41 percent of respondents thought the economy would improve by breaking away from England and Wales compared with 26 percent in 2014, the year Scotland voted in a referendum to remain in the three-centuries-old union.

The data showed that support for independence had aligned with Brexit, with people who want to stay in the EU now more likely to back leaving the U.K. Euroskeptics, meanwhile, are more likely to back Britain’s governing Conservative Party in Scotland at the expense of the Scottish National Party, a trend that was borne out in last year’s general election.

A majority of Scots voted against Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum and the semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh has been pushing to stay in the single market and customs union. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed to go back to the people on independence once the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is known.

“Sturgeon anticipated that Brexit would increase support for independence,” John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University in Glasgow and co-author of the report by the National Centre for Social Research, said in a statement. “Instead, Brexit has made both independence and the SNP relatively less popular among those Scots who are not very enthusiastic about the EU, even if they did vote to remain.”

The publication of the survey comes two weeks after an SNP commission set out the case that Scotland should look to emulate small, better-performing economies such as Denmark and New Zealand as the nationalists try to build momentum for independence again. Plans include eventually transitioning to a new currency and an open door for immigrants.

The National Centre for Social Research’s findings were based on interviews with 1,234 people over the Scottish voting age of 16 conducted between July 2017 and February 2018.

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