In its new white paper on economy of independence, the Scottish Government has made it clear that returning to the EU is central to its vision of how Scotland can thrive outside the UK. Rather than simply being a question of whether Scotland should be part of the UK, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon framed the choice facing the country as “being outside the UK but inside the EU” rather than “being in the UK, but outside the EU’.

In short, any future independence referendum will be as much about Brexit as Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.

This, perhaps, is not surprising. Ultimately, in the June 2016 EU referendum, Scotland voted 62% to 38% to remain in the EU. Surveys suggest that support for being part of the EU is even higher. Meanwhile, from the SNP’s point of view, the Brexit referendum result was the clearest illustration yet of their claim that Scotland, as part of the UK, is at risk of having its “democratic wishes” overturned by less progressive voters. south of the border.

The question of whether Scotland would be able to rejoin the EU if it left the UK was much debated during the 2014 independence referendum (the “yes” side said it would, the “no” side said it wouldn’t). At the time, there did not seem to be a strong link between voters’ attitudes towards the EU and their attitudes towards independence. In accordance with The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey49% of voters with a skeptical attitude towards the EU (that is, they believed that the UK should leave the EU or that the powers of the EU should be limited) voted for independence. Only slightly fewer – 44% – believe that the EU should remain at least as powerful as it was voted in the same way.

This pattern was also reflected in the way people in Scotland voted two years later in the EU referendum. In accordance with British Election Researchthe level of support for Remain among those who voted for (62%) two years earlier was virtually the same as among those who voted against (60%).

Since the early 1990s, the vision of Scottish independence has been the vision of EU independence. Yet there was always an element of support for the party that wanted to avoid both the constraints of EU membership and the constraints created by being in the UK.

What has changed since 2016

After the Brexit referendum, some voters began to reassess their attitudes towards independence in light of the decision to leave the EU. As the SNP expected, some of those who voted against in 2014 and remained in 2016 switched to supporting independence. But this was balanced by some who voted Yes in 2014 but left in 2016, switching in the opposite direction to support Scotland remaining in the UK.

The level of support for independence in the EU did not change immediately after the referendum. But a connection between the attitude towards independence and support for EU membership gradually emerged. By 2017, Scottish public sentiment found that 49% of those who favored remaining in the EU also favored independence, compared to just 41% who supported leaving.

A poll on the EU exit referendum could reveal how the next Scottish independence referendum will go.

By the time of the 2019 poll, when it became clear that the UK was heading for a “hard” Brexit, the gap between the two groups had widened significantly. Now 65% of Remain supporters were in favor of independence, while their Leave counterparts were only 43% of the same opinion. This surge in support for independence among Remainers was enough to push the overall level of support for Yes to over 50% in the polls.

Meanwhile, the final implementation of Brexit has seen the gap between Remain and Leave supporters widen even further. Just over a quarter (26%) of those who currently support leaving said they would vote for independence in the latest Scottish Social Sentiment Survey, conducted at the end of 2021. Two thirds (67%) of Remain supporters expressed this view. In contrast to the position eight years ago, the attitude towards the EU is now an integral part of the constitutional debate in the minds of voters.

Of course, all this does not mean that Scotland will vote for independence in the event of another referendum. The country is still divided on the issue. But it helps explain why Sturgeon seems to be passionate about the constitutional debate over Scotland’s relationship with the EU, as well as its relationship with the UK.