Briefings

Anglo-Scottish Differences

Anglo-Scottish Differences
Written by Philip Towle

The contrast between the ways in which English and Scots voted in the EU Referendum is in part explained by geopolitical and demographic factors. Before King James united the English and Scottish thrones the Scots looked to France for help against the more powerful English. Nationalists keep the memory of these tensions alive; as Moray McLaren the Scottish writer put it, ‘The English who, though they are our nearest neighbours, are in many respects more distant from us than those more geographically distant, are the most surprised by this trait in us…Why dispute about the past? What is the good of it?’[1] Today for many Scots the EU has replaced France as a balance against English predominance and as a source of finance. Scottish roads have long featured signs saying they were upgraded with EU funds. The English, by contrast, see Brussels as a source of interference and as sucking money out of the country. Historically Europe with its aggressive rulers and fanatical ideologies has been a source of problems rather than help.

Malta apart, England is the most densely populated country in Europe, twice as heavily populated as Germany, four times as populated as France and over six times as densely populated as Scotland. Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish Nationalists, complained that Scotland was under-populated. 420 people live in each square kilometre in England compared with 69 in Scotland and population density affects everyone’s life in England but particularly in the Southeast. If immigration into the United Kingdom had continued at the same rate, estimates suggested that the British population would reach 80 million over the next decades, most of them living in England. Even at the height of Scotland’s prosperity with the oil boom it did not attract the same inflow.

The consequences are arguments between government and local English groups which fight housing and other developments in their village or town. More widely, the most popular civil groups are those which protect historic houses, birds and woodlands against development. The Woodland Trust’s advertisements warn that the ‘nation’s treasures’ or ancient forests are threatened as ‘never before’. The Council to Protect Rural England stresses the psychological benefits of rural tranquillity and the threats from Development to the Green Belt. Yet, development is necessary because of economic change and the growing population. New housing is demanded because house prices in the South East have outstripped incomes making it hard for young people or those doing vital but poorly paid jobs to afford houses there. England’s roads are the most crowded in Europe with delays and queues, yet opposition grows when roads are expanded or new ones built bringing noise and pollution. People can drive for miles in Scotland without seeing another car, an experience which is rare in England.

Of course there are other reasons why people voted either to remain within the EU or for BREXIT. But polls show the English are not xenophobic as the Remain campaigners often suggest, they just have different problems and geopolitical and contrasting historical perspectives from their Scottish neighbours.

Philip Towle

[1]  Moray McLaren, The Scots, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1951, p. 8.

[2] ‘Europeans fear wave of refugees will mean more terrorism, fewer jobs’, Pew Research Centre, 11 July 2016.

About the author

Philip Towle