I’ll have what she’s having: Scots share PM’s vision for Brexit deal

  • New research reveals for the first time what Scottish voters want from the UK government’s Brexit negotiations
  • Scots have similar expectations of Brexit to voters across Britain, but are more willing to accept freedom of movement if it means keeping free trade
  • Scottish voters show little appetite for special Brexit deal

Despite voting very differently in the EU Referendum, a new report from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) reveals that when it comes to the UK government’s Brexit deal Scottish voters have largely similar expectations to voters across Britain as a whole.

Scots want the same Brexit as rest of the country

The NatCen survey, carried out as part of the ESRC-funded What UK Thinks project, found that Scottish voters almost unanimously support keeping free trade with the EU after Brexit but that they are less keen on maintaining freedom of movement. In this their views are similar to those of voters across Britain as a whole and to the stance taken by the UK government, but are at odds with the Scottish Government’s support for freedom of movement.

  • 93% of Scots are in favour of maintaining free trade with the European Union after Brexit, slightly higher than the 88% across Britain as whole who support this.
  • 64% of Scottish voters want EU immigrants to be treated in the same way as non-EU immigrants, only slightly lower than the 68% of Britons who say this.
  • Similarly, 72% of Scottish voters think that British people who want to move to EU countries should have to go through the same processes as non-EU migrants. This is much the same as the 70% of British voters who are in favour of this.

While Remain voters in Scotland are much less likely than Leave supporters to back immigration control, a half or more are in favour of ending freedom of movement:

  • 82% of Leave voters want EU immigrants to be treated in the same way as non-EU immigrants. 53% of Remain voters agree.
  • Similarly, 86% of Leave voters think that British people who want to move to EU countries should have to go through the same processes as non-EU migrants. 61% of Scottish Remain voters agree.

However, on other issues voters in Scotland want to retain existing links with the EU, much as voters in Britain as a whole wish to do:

  • Three-quarters (75%) of voters in Scotland say British mobile phone companies should have to adhere to EU regulations that limit the cost of calls made while abroad; 71% of people in Britain take the same view.
  • Three-quarters (75%) of Scottish voters want Britain to continue to follow EU regulations on the quality of water at beaches, largely the same as the 73% of Britons who agree.
  • Less than one in three (31%) people in Scotland think that farmers should no longer have to follow EU regulations on the use of pesticides, much the same proportion (35%) as across Britain as a whole.

But Scots more willing to trade immigration control for free trade

However, voters in Scotland are rather more likely than voters across the whole of Britain to accept that people from the EU should be allowed to come to the UK to live and work in return for British companies being able to trade freely in the EU.

As many as 61% of Scots say that Britain should ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ allow free movement of people in return for free trade with the EU, compared with 54% across Britain who say this. Only 37% of Scottish voters say that it ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ should not, compared with 44% of voters in Britain.

Little appetite for a distinctive deal for Scotland

One possible alternative to Scotland leaving the EU “against its will” put forward by the Scottish Government is that Scotland may be able to secure a distinctive deal with different rules on immigration and free trade from the rest of the UK. The survey reveals that there is relatively little support for this: almost two-thirds (62%) of Scottish voters think that after Brexit the rules on trade and immigration should be the same in Scotland as they are in the rest of the UK.

However, significant minorities would support making it easier for businesses and people to come to Scotland compared to the rest of the UK:

  • Around a third (34%) of Scots say that after Brexit the rules on trade should make it easier for an EU company to do business in Scotland than in England and Wales; just 2% believe they should make it harder.
  • A quarter (25%) say that rules on immigration after Brexit should make it easier for someone from the EU to live and work in Scotland than in England and Wales; only 12% think they should make it harder.

The report’s author, Professor John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow at NatCen, said:

‘Much of the debate about Brexit in Scotland has assumed that voters north of the border want a much softer Brexit than do voters in the rest of the UK. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s demand for a second independence referendum rests on such an assumption.

‘However, this first systematic study of attitudes towards Brexit in Scotland shows that for the most part voters on both sides of the border want much the same outcome – free trade, immigration control and retention of much of the consumer and environmental regulation currently afforded by the EU.

‘This means that on immigration in particular voters in Scotland seem to be more in tune with the stance taken by the UK government than that adopted by the Scottish Government. Indeed, it seems that even amongst those who voted Yes to independence in September 2014 there is a limited appetite for having a more liberal regime on EU migration in Scotland than there is in England and Wales.

‘If this picture is correct it is far from clear that concerns about Brexit are likely to change the minds of many voters about the merits or otherwise of independence – so long, of course, as the UK government succeeds in delivering both free trade and immigration control.’


The findings will be published at an event in the Scottish Parliament today, more detail here. For more information, a copy of the report or to arrange an interview with Prof Curtice contact:

Sophie Brown: Sophie.Brown@natcen.ac.uk 0207 549 9550 or 07734 960 069 or
Leigh Marshall: Leigh.Marshall@natcen.ac.uk, 0207 549 8506 or 07828 031850


NatCen Social Research interviewed 859 people living in Scotland between 5 February and 2 March 2017, either via the internet or over the phone. All respondents were originally interviewed as part of the random probability face-to-face 2015 or 2016 Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey. The data have been weighted to take account of differences between the composition of the sample and that of the original SSA sample, as well as to ensure that it matches the known demographic characteristics of the population. After weighting 66.5% of the sample said that they had voted to Remain, compared to the actual result of 62%. 52% said they voted No to independence in September 2014, similar to the 55% who actually did so.

A Britain-wide survey was also conducted at exactly the same time as the Scotland-only survey. It interviewed 2,322 people who were originally interviewed as part of the random probability face-to-face 2015 or 2016 British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, using the same methodology as the Scotland-only survey.

NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.

The ‘What UK Thinks: EU’ website can be accessed at www.www.whatukthinks.org/eu. It provides a comprehensive collection of polling and survey data on attitudes in the UK towards Europe, data on what the rest of Europe thinks about the EU, and impartial commentary and analysis on the evidence of the polls. In addition, the ‘What Scotland Thinks’ website provides a comprehensive collection of polling data on attitudes towards how Scotland should be governed, together with impartial commentary. Both sites are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of its initiative on ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’.

The UK in a Changing Europe initiative – www.UKandEU.ac.uk – promotes independent, rigorous, high-quality academic research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the European Union. It provides an authoritative, non-partisan and impartial reference point for those looking for information, insights and analysis on UK-EU relations.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965 and funded mainly by the UK Government. In 2015 it celebrated its 50th anniversary.

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