When it comes to the EU referendum, there are varying regional perspectives within the UK. Differences in public opinion between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland could have post vote implications for the UK.
Many public services in the UK are devolved. A large majority of decisions about them are made by the Parliament in Scotland and by the Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland. Since inception their ability to influence wider society and economic wellbeing has increased and will continue to do so. Consequently any considerations of the impact that the EU has upon public services needs to consider devolved issues and public services.
On 18 September 2015 the people of Scotland voted in a referendum to remain as part of the UK. Although the focus of the referendum was independence, the matter of Scotland’s place in the EU became a point of debate and ultimately contention.
A white paper released by the Scottish Government in 2014 argued there are many advantages of EU membership for Scotland. These include: Scotland’s considerable influence in the EU including the lobbying of strategic priorities, participating in the Europe 2020 growth agenda and being involved in reforming the EU.
In February 2016, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was quoted as describing Scotland’s removal from the EU (against its will) as being 'democratically indefensible'. This is dependent upon Scotland voting to remain in the EU if, say, the UK votes to leave. It is feasible that the consequences of the EU referendum could be to trigger a further referendum in Scotland.
One of the most important factors when considering the relationship between the EU and Northern Ireland is its border. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has a land border with a Eurozone country (Ireland) which means much of its trade relies on this relationship. Northern Ireland benefits from EU programmes, such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which the Northern Ireland Assembly suggest has brought a total investment package of over €513m. Although in 2012 Open Europe claimed that Northern Ireland is a net loser with structural funds. The think-tank’s research suggests that for every £1.58 Northern Ireland pay in, they get £1 back.
The Welsh Government takes a firmly pro-European stance, citing the benefits Europe has on the Welsh economy and how its approach to policies are closely aligned with those of the EU.
In 2012, the Welsh Government launched a specific EU strategy which expressed the metrics of the benefits to EU membership. It argued that 200,000 jobs existed as a direct result of the EU.
According to data from Open Europe’s 2012 report, Wales benefits to a greater degree from EU funding than any other part of the UK. In 2015/16 the Welsh local government received £48.1m in EU grants. According to Open Europe, this makes West Wales one of two net beneficiaries of EU structural funding in the UK, Cornwall being the other.
Using these funds, numerous assets and initiatives have been funded, including community centres that have been built in many parts of Wales. Daniel Evans, a professor at LSE, has said that this helps make the EU tangible in Wales. He argued that as EU funded buildings bear the EU symbol with a placard it stands as symbols of EU ‘benevolence’. This is one of the many reasons he cited for such a positive perception of the Union in Wales.
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