Friends and neighbours? Journal poll reveals our feelings about links to other countries

As the Commonwealth Games highlights one grouping of nations, the Journal’s weekly poll asks people how they feel about our links to other countries

Prince Imran the CGF President speaks during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
Prince Imran the CGF President speaks during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games

The United Kingdom is unique in being a member of two of the largest associations of countries in the world - the European Union and the Commonwealth - and also a union of four nations that have linked but distinct histories.

Being a member of the Commonwealth gives Britain an association with 53 countries around the world with an estimated population of 2.3bn, while the EU brings together 28 member states and more than 500m people.

The union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland makes the UK the sixth largest economy in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and one of the biggest militaries on the planet.

Yet two of those associations are being challenged like never before. Next month the people of Scotland will vote on whether to end three centuries of history and break from the rest of Britain.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images A general view during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
A general view during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
 

Meanwhile, the UK’s membership of the European Union has never been more in doubt, with UKIP winning the largest share of the votes at this year’s European elections and the Conservatives set on giving the country a referendum on EU membership if it stays in power next year.

To gauge public opinion on those three associations of nations, we asked people in both the North East and the rest of the country how they felt about the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth, the UK’s membership of the EU and the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The exclusive Other Lines of Enquiry North poll, using the company’s in-house Panelbase service, asked people to rank their feelings to each as either very positive, positive, neither positive nor negative, negative or very negative. (There were also some “don’t knows”).

How do you feel about the UK's membership of the Commonwealth?

As might be expected in the middle of the “friendly Games”, that poll showed great liking for the Commonwealth, with more than 50% of people surveyed in both the country and the North East saying they were either positive or very positive about the organisation.

Only 8% of people nationally and 7% in the North East felt either negative or very negative about the Commonwealth.

Such a positive rating hasn’t always been the case. The Commonwealth - largely an attempt to maintain the historic links of the British Empire without the negative connotations of colonialisation - might be supposed to be built on shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, but those values have often been tested.

Recent years have seen suspensions for both Nigeria and Pakistan over human rights issues, while Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003 over its suspension (which many felt came too late).

How do you feel about the UK's membership of the European Union?

The opening of this year’s games saw a protest over alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka, though the Glasgow games has fared far better than the last time the competition came to Scotland, when many African and Caribbean boycotted the 1986 Edinburgh games over UK sporting links to South Africa.

If our poll shows widespread support for the Commonwealth, the opposite could be said over British membership of the European Union.

Nationally, only 28% of people were either positive or very positive about the EU while 45% were either negative or very negative. (Similar sentiments were recorded in the North East poll.)

Such sentiments will almost certainly inform the run-up to the next General Election, with the Conservatives trying to counter the threat to its right-wing vote from UKIP by talking tough on things like benefits and the free movement of people around the continent.

But what our poll also shows is that of the three groupings of nations, the most positive vote was for the contined United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How do you feel about the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

The last 20 years has seen Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all get their own administrations and the separate identities of the four members of the UK has always been recognised in their individual teams for football and rugby.

The Team GB that was so successful in the London Olympics has split into the four separate home nations at the Commonwealth Games, but while the Scots prepare for their independence vote, 64% of people nationally and 60% in the North East felt either positive or very positive about the union.

Only 9% nationally and 8% in the North East were either negative or very negative about staying together.

Our poll did not isolate Scottish voters and so can’t give any indication of how people will vote in September’s referendum.

Alex Salmond and the SNP might have been hoping to get a boost in nationalist fervour from the Commonwealth Games and Scottish success has seen the Saltire flying, but it has also been noticeable how much the (mostly) Scottish crowd has supported English competitors (the old days of “anyone but England” certainly haven’t made into the Commonwealth Games).

The next few weeks will decide the future of the UK and the next few years whether or not we stay in Europe. It is not inconceivable that the Commonwealth could be tested when the head of the organisation, the Queen, is no longer around.

Whether we are better together - in the UK, in Europe and in the Commonwealth - is very much up for grabs.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer