In the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016, the results per constituent country were as follows:

  • England: Remain 46.62%, Leave 53.38%
  • Scotland: Remain 62.00%, Leave 38.00%
  • Wales: Remain 47.47%, Leave 52.53%
  • Northern Ireland: Remain 55.78%, Leave 44.22%
  • Gibraltar: Remain 95.9%, Leave 4.1%

(Note that in 1975, the situation was reversed!)

England and Wales both voted to leave by similar majorities. Northern Ireland and Gibraltar have very particular circumstances. The particular London result can be explained by demographics, wealth, education, etc. But that still leaves a huge difference between England (almost 7% lead for Leave) and Scotland (24% lead for Remain). What is the cause of those differences?

Some possible explanations that I can think of:

  • The Scottish people have a different identity and see the EU as an ally against Westminster?
  • The Scottish electorate matches more the profile of the Remain-voter than of the Leave-voter w.r.t. wealth, education, etc.?
  • The Scottish economy is more dependent on being part of the single market?
  • The Scottish PM, Nicola Sturgeon, led a successful and convincing pro-EU campaign?
  • Something different yet?

What is the cause of the discrepancy between Scottish and English-Welsh results in the Brexit referendum?

  • 1
    Scotlond directly received a lot of benefits from being a part of the EU - greater trade, benefits for agricultural industries etc, that they are now set to lose. That, more than anything else as I see it, is why they wanted to remain.
    – user7754
    Jun 29, 2016 at 22:33
  • 3
    @Thomo So did Wales, Wales received lots of net subsidies, yet Wales voted to leave. Same for Cornwall. So I don't think that's it.
    – gerrit
    Jun 29, 2016 at 23:27
  • 1
    Yes, but Scotland obviously saw it as more beneficial to keep those subsidies. As an outsider, it seems like the vote for Brexit (that's a horribly word, really) was based largely on fear-mongering regarding immigration and not really that well though out. Cornwall voted to Leave, but still wants to keep the 60 Million pounds per year in subsidies. My brother was mentioning some breakdown of leave/remain by age demographics which was quite interesting, I'll have to see if I can dig them up.
    – user7754
    Jun 29, 2016 at 23:38
  • 3
    I have no data to support it, but I guess that the nationalist anti-EU sentiment ("they are deciding for us") plays naturally a greater role in England (which dominates politically the UK due to demographics) than in Scotland. In Scotland, for more people that slogan translates into "either London or Brussels decide for us", which is not quite as moving as the former version.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 19, 2016 at 19:49
  • 2
    @SJuan76 Hmm, and in the Shetland's it's "Either Edinburgh or London or Brussels decide for us"? ;-)
    – gerrit
    Oct 19, 2016 at 22:16

1 Answer 1


I'm sure many of the factors you mention are relevant, but I think the main reason is much simpler:

  1. Scotland voters are very heavily weighted towards being Labour, SNP, or Liberal Democrat voters (i.e. the "left" of the political spectrum) whereas voters in the rest of the country are more likely to be Conservative voters (the "right" of the political spectrum).
  2. The "left" are more likely to be pro-EU and the "right" are more likely to be anti-EU.

Here is a map (source) of the 2015 general election results showing how stark the contrast is:

  • Light yellow = SNP
  • Dark yellow = Liberal Democrats
  • Red = Labour
  • Blue = Conservative

enter image description here

And here is one from the 2010 general election (source) showing a similar contrast:

2010 General Election Results

And finally, the EU referendum results (source). In Scotland the correlation is obvious, but even looking at the rest of the UK, you can see a fair amount of overlap between the few parts of England and Wales that voted remain, and those that voted non-Conservative.

  • Yellow = Remain
  • Blue = Leave

enter image description here

Here's some more evidence that there was a correlation between what party you voted for in 2015, and how you voted in the EU referendum (source) (in order: Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Green, SNP):

enter image description here

A majority of those who backed the Conservative in 2015 voted to leave the EU (58%), as did more than 19 out of 20 UKIP supporters. Nearly two thirds of Labour and SNP voters (63% and 64%), seven in ten Liberal Democrats and three quarters of Greens, voted to remain.

The correlation between political party and EU preference is apparent in the parties themselves too. The Conservatives were divided on the EU and provided the loudest voices in the Leave campaign, along with UKIP. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the SNP were almost unanimously in favour of Remain.

That leaves the question of why Scottish voters are far less likely to vote Conservative, but I won't address that as it would make the topic too broad.

EDIT in response to this comment:

What about the reversal of the 1975 referendum mentioned in gerrit's answer? – hkBst 4 hours ago

The situation back then was different. The 1975 referendum was to remain in the EC which had a narrower scope than what is now the EU. Free trade was a more prominent component, whereas now political integration and socialist ideals have become bigger issues. At the time, Labour was more Eurosceptic than the Conservatives:

In the 1970s and early 1980s the Labour Party was the more Eurosceptic of the two parties, with more anti-European Communities MPs than the Conservatives. In 1975, Labour held a special conference on British membership and the party voted 2 to 1 for Britain to leave the European Communities.

  • Interesting. Pity that the "How Britain Voted" statistic does not include a bar for people who didn't vote at all in 2015 GE, but did vote in the referendum. That's a larger number than Greens or SNP.
    – gerrit
    Jun 30, 2016 at 10:11
  • What about the reversal of the 1975 referendum mentioned in gerrit's answer?
    – hkBst
    Aug 1, 2016 at 15:37
  • @hkBst I edited in a couple of paragraphs to address that.
    – JBentley
    Aug 1, 2016 at 20:06

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