An ‘indy’ England is becoming a Tory ‘thing’. But all that glitters isn’t gold.

Map of England with the English flag and Boris Johnson
Steve Topple

A survey has revealed that support for “English independence” among Tory voters is almost 50/50. It may serve to throw fresh light on the case for Scottish independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom as a whole – just as the SNP is saying it will withdraw from UK institutions like the House of Commons if the Westminster government continues to block a second independence referendum.

But does the rise of English independence support also show the increasing hard line, right-wing nationalism that exists in the now oddly named “Conservative and Unionist Party”? Or a deeper problem in England?

The “English independence” question

The National reported that a YouGov poll showed that Tory voters were split on the idea of English independence. The survey asked the question:

If there was a referendum held tomorrow on England becoming an independent country and this was the question, how would you vote? Should England be an independent country?

The National wrote:

The independent YouGov poll organised by YesCymru, the non-party campaign for an independent Wales, suggests the end of the Conservative and Unionist Party is nigh, given that a massive 49% of Tory supporters want independence for England.

The 49% figure is based on people who answered “don’t know” or refused to respond being removed. For Tory voters, the overall results on the question of English independence were as follows:

  • Yes – 40%.
  • No – 42%.
  • Don’t know – 16%.
  • Refused to say – 2%.
Disunited

Including Labour and LibDem voters, 35% of total respondents said yes once don’t knows were removed. And opinion on the break-up of the United Kingdom remains divided across the rest of the nations. Recent survey results show the following support (with don’t knows removed):

So the question of how united the United Kingdom is, is still unanswerable. But YouGov’s data on English independence threw up some interesting results.

Data drilling

The majority of Labour and Lib Dem voters did not back English independence. Most people who voted remain in the EU referendum didn’t support it, either. But there was a clear demographic that did. As YouGov found when it removed the don’t know responses, the majority of people who answered “yes” to the question of English independence voted for Brexit. Also, as age increased so did support for it, with over 65s split 48% in favour of English independence to 53% against. YouGov also showed the results by social grade. This is a standard measuring system which breaks people down into the following socioeconomic groups:

  • AB: “Higher & intermediate managerial, administrative, professional occupations”.
  • C1: “Supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative, professional occupations”.
  • C2: “Skilled manual occupations”.
  • DE: “Semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupation

The YouGov polling showed the splits were as follows:

  • ABC1 – 28% yes, 72% no.
  • C2DE – 44% yes, 56% no.

Also, the further north in England you went the more the support for English independence increased. But YouGov’s survey perhaps underscores a broader trend seen in England over recent years: the switch of working class voters to the Tories.

What is ‘Englishness’?

Back in 2014, the identity of ‘Englishness” was a UKIP one. Research from Cardiff University found that 23% of English people surveyed thought the party was best in answer to the question “Which party best stands up for the interests of England?”. 60% of UKIP supporters identified as “English” over “British”; the figure for the Tories was 50% and for Labour 37%. Meanwhile, the majority of UKIP supporters were aged 55 and over. The split by social grade was 53% ABC1 and 47% C2DE.

But since UKIP’s demise, many of these people have been voting Tory. As The Canary previously reported, voters in the lowest social grades (that is, the poorest people in the UK), had been moving away from Labour since Tony Blair was PM. But the issue accelerated from 2015 onward. Based on Ipsos Mori research, in the 2015 general election the voting percentages were as follows:

  • C2s: 32% Tory, 32% Labour, 19% UKIP.
  • DEs: 27% Tory, 41% Labour, 17% UKIP.

By 2017, UKIP had collapsed and the split was:

  • C2s: 45% Tory to 41% Labour.
  • DEs: 38% Tory to 47% Labour.
The swing continues

But also, as Ipsos Mori noted, the warning signs of a DE swing to the Tories were already there. It said:

while Labour had a four-point lead among C2DEs, and increased its vote share among this group, this was eclipsed by the 12-point increase for the Conservatives. This is… the Conservatives’ best score among C2DEs since [1979].

Moreover, it was the best voting record for the Tories in DEs since Ipsos Mori began polling in 1974. The problem for Labour essentially being that the DEs who voted for UKIP in 2015 didn’t swing back to Labour. Then in the 2019 election, the Tories won majorities in the C2s (47% to 32% Labour) and DEs (41% to 39%). This represented Labour’s worst ever Ipsos Mori result in DEs.

Now, the YouGov question of English independence has shed more light on the issue.

The “left-behinds”

Cardiff University wrote in 2014 that UKIP supporters:

while classically right wing on social issues looked distinctly ‘old Labour’ on economic issues, often favouring an active role for the state. As with other new parties of the right in Europe, UKIP appears to be mobilising the ‘left-behinds’, ill at ease with social change and economically insecure. There may also be an echo here of discussion in earlier decades about ‘working class conservatives’ whose support for the Conservatives appeared contrary to what were assumed to be their class interests.

It continued:

Arguably the Conservative Party was most successful in the Thatcher era in mobilising working class conservatives, attracting support from those who had bought their own council homes and who increasingly worked, and consumed, in the private sector. The bases of UKIP’s support – ex-Conservative, and more working class and more economically interventionist than remaining Conservative supporters – may suggest that working class conservatives in an economically more precarious era are now switching to UKIP.

And as The Canary previously wrote, this disillusionment that moved working class voters to UKIP:

in part… [also] drove Brexit. The poorest people know the system doesn’t work for them. They also know that the system is under strain – they see it in their everyday lives. A change, no matter what it was, seemed good.

Many of these people clearly thought in 2019 that Boris Johnson had the answers.

Dissolve the union?

So, now Brexit is partly done and dusted, are working class people still looking for reasons why their lives are, as Cardiff University noted, so “precarious”? Polling from Lord Ashcroft in 2019 showed that Tory voters who also voted for Brexit overwhelmingly thought that Scotland and Northern Ireland benefited more from being part of the UK than England did from their union with it. They also believed (by 54%) that “England subsidises Scotland / Northern Ireland financially, and I’m not happy with that”. That’s a statement which Channel 4 FactCheck couldn’t verify is accurate either way.

Maybe an independent England is the next manifestation of working class anger at the system. But as with all voter swings to the right wing, people’s frustrations are misplaced. Because while the dissolving of the United Kingdom is for many people a positive thing, it will probably cement Tory power in England. What is a distinctly corporate capitalist problem – the built-in inequalities of the system – won’t be resolved by leaving England to the behest of those that like the system the way it is.

Featured image via Flickr – Chatham House / Wikimedia 

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  • Show Comments
    1. In the long term it might be the only way. English will see the separate Scotland, Wales & Ireland doing a bit better than than them, often simply because their governments are more left or centrist leaning. It is only then that the English might rise up, especially as zoomers age & continue to struggle in zero hours contract jobs whilst living in private rented properties.

    2. So The Canary has it’s tongue permanently lodged in the SNP’s backside over the issue of Scottish Independence, but the notion of English independence is Right wing Nationalism….
      Steve shows his typical socialist disdain for the working classes in this article yet again with the assumption they’re all thick and don’t understand the implications of such a proposal. It’s easy to see why Labour has been abandoned by the working classes and is unlikely to be out of power for a generation.

      1. I’m assuming you are in favour of English independence, which – given the weird trajectory of the Conservative Party of late – is looking increasingly likely. This would suit the SNP and others who are weary of the black hole that is Government from Westminster (nothing much of interest beyond the M25 event horizon). But if English independence is not Right wing Nationalism – Brexit applied at the local level – what is it?

        I’m also assuming your last sentence is some sort of Freudian slip.

      2. Regardless of the Freudian slip, your use of the trope ‘ typical socialist disdain for the working classes in this article yet again with the assumption they’re all thick and don’t understand’ does not reflect anything about the article itself. The National reading age of Ukania is ‘9’. Before the 1980s it was ’12’. English independence is laughable since the UK and its AKA Great Britain is, essentially an ‘imperialist’ notion. Where ’empire’ = ‘ponzi’ scheme; as soon as it stops expanding the creditors begin to circle.

        Beware the sunrise ; )

      3. As a thick working class socialist I can tell you why Labour have declined so much, its because the electorate do not decide elections any more, they get told who has won before voting starts. Name me one left leaning political commentator ? Name me one program which rams right wing rhetoric down our throats? Now do the same for right wing !!

        Next time we will discus our free independent press and how they really are on our side
        And how we pay people what they are worth which explains nurses pay and stock traders pay

        But anyway thanks for the laugh I needed cheering up this morning

    3. Perhaps, this is an indication that people are beginning to question what the myth of Britain/UK actually connotes. The terms Britain/UK are frequently conflated with “England”and, indeed, “England” is often used by the ruling group and its media as a synonym for Britain/UK. Perhaps, what the Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire, calls ‘contientization’ is occurring. This is a growing awareness that something people had thought of as ‘fact’ is, in reality a myth or construct established to get their loyalty and which has drifted into their exploitation and disempowerment.

    4. I suspect that left wingers in England are not keen on separation because they know that, without the left wing voters in Scotland and Wales, they have no chance of a Labour administration in the foreseeable future if England becomes independent. Of course, if Ireland unifies, the tories will lose the (expensive) support of the DUP.

      1. I think you should distinguish between ‘left wingers’ and the Labour Party. I agree with what you say, when applied to the Labour Party, but, I think that ‘left wing’ covers a far wider and more insightful group of people who have stopped voting for Labour and are decreasingly likely to vote for it, for a variety of reasons. In Scotland, people have the options of voting SNP or Green, and, indeed, a fairly sizeable tranche of socially conservative Labour voters, see attractions in the Conservative Party because it’s ‘unionism’ has been more consistently held, and, perhaps, more sincerely held. Recent opinion polls indicate that so where between one third and one half of Labour voters in Scotland support independence. So, it is unlikely that Scotland will return any more than 1 MP in the medium future. In that context, Starmer’s stance is profoundly undemocratic and left wing people in England increasingly see that. Labour politicians are relying, increasingly, on fallacious ‘straw man’ framings of Scotland or on frankly insulting, condescending and colonialist attitudes, such as, during the leadership campaign, when Lisa Nandy expressed approval of the way the Spanish police dealt with supporters of Catalan independence.

        More people in England are seeing that the case for English independence is worth examining, but, because of Labour’s vague and wilfully biased definition of ‘nationalism’
        they have left this field open to the right wing extremists to define what England and English are.

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