The `Tinman' referendum: the EU debate in Scotland is lacking heart

Ipsos MORI Scotland and IPPR Scotland conducted three in-depth focus groups in different locations in Scotland with people who were voting each way in the EU referendum, as well as undecided voters.

The `Tinman' referendum: the EU debate in Scotland is lacking heart

The referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is now just two weeks away. In Scotland opinion polls show a clear and consistent lead for those who want to remain in the EU. But the polls do not analyse or explain the deep-seated attitudes of Scots towards the EU, or how important this referendum is for them and for the country’s future. 

Therefore, Ipsos MORI Scotland and IPPR Scotland conducted three in-depth focus groups in different locations in Scotland with people who were voting each way, as well as undecided voters. 

During these discussions we asked participants to tell us about their attitudes to the EU, the extent to which they know about and identify with it, what they thought of the campaigns so far and what the key issues are for them ahead of voting. We identified 10 key factors which are shaping our attitudes:

  1. A vote to ‘Remain’ in the EU will not be made with much conviction 
  2. The rest of the campaign may still change many minds 
  3. The EU referendum is lower key and less important than indyref 
  4. The question of Indyref2 is not a major influence on voters’ thinking 
  5. Scots don’t identify with the EU or see themselves as European 
  6. Both campaigns are seen to be scaremongering voters 
  7. Voters need more (trustworthy) information 
  8. Negativity towards the EU outweighs positivity and is felt with more passion
  9. Arguments to leave the EU are cutting through more than arguments to remain 
  10. Immigration is a key issue for people on both sides of the argument 

Mark Diffley, Director at Ipsos MORI Scotland said:

‘Voters in Scotland are going to the polls in two weeks, facing the fourth significant political decision in under two years. It is clear from this research that, despite the importance of this referendum, Scots feel less passionate and engaged than with previous votes, especially the 2014 independence referendum. It is also clear that the polling evidence that shows a majority of Scots wish to stay in the EU masks some significant dissatisfaction with the institution and a widespread lack of knowledge and identity with what it does. At this stage, however, it appears that such attitudes may not be enough to convince most Scots to back Brexit on June 23rd.’

Russell Gunson, Director of IPPR Scotland, said: 

'It seems the EU referendum is more of a ‘tinman’ referendum in Scotland, lacking heart and lacking passion, especially compared to the independence referendum. While the polls may show significant support for Remain in Scotland, our research shows this support is potentially quite soft, and could therefore weaken between now and the 23rd June.'

Technical details: 

Three focus groups were conducted between 9th and 11th May 2016 in Edinburgh, Perth and Elgin. The Edinburgh group comprised older voters, aged 55; the Elgin group voters, aged 35-54 and the Perth group younger voters, aged 18-34. Recruitment of participants was undertaken face-to-face in each location. In total, 25 participants took part: 15 males and 10 females. Participants were recruited to be broadly representative of their respective age groups, in socio- demographic terms, and to reflect the full range of opinion on the EU – ‘Remain’ supporters, ‘Leave’ supporters’ and undecided voters.

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