Why did Wales vote to leave the EU and Scotland vote to remain? Richard Marsden and Penni Bestic argue that to answer this question we need to examine how the Welsh and Scottish people perceive their turbulent national histories, and how this informs their sense of belonging.
One of the shocks of the Brexit referendum was that, while Scotland voted emphatically to stay in the EU, Wales voted out. This demolished the received wisdom aligning Euro-scepticism with the political Right, since Wales as a whole has tended to lean Left since the early twentieth century. The result also surprised commentators because Wales has been the beneficiary of so much EU funding. To some it looked like the turkeys had voted for Christmas.
That, of course, is a gross over-simplification of an outcome which resulted from a complex set of inter-related factors. Various suggestions have been put forward to explain the Leave vote as a whole, including wealth inequality, an educational divide, young vs. old, the influence of the right-wing print media and a trans-national revolt against established elites. These would all have had a major influence on the result in both Wales and Scotland. However they don’t tell us why these two nations, which claim a dubious Celtic kinship and which occupy similarly devolved positions within the United Kingdom, voted differently.Sign in to read more
Richard Marsden is a lecturer in history at the Open University. His research and teaching focus on national identities in Britain and the ideological uses of the past from the eighteenth century to the present day.
Penni Bestic has been a political activist in Wales since the 1970s. In recent years she has developed a scholarly interest in the relationship between history and national identity in Wales.