Reading between the lines: party cues and SNP support for Scottish independence and Brexit
Scotland’s future within the European Union (EU) played a prominent role in the 2014 independence referendum. The story goes that latent supporters of independence voted to stay within the UK to maintain EU access. Defeated, Scottish leaders declared the referendum a once-in-a-life-time event only repeated if conditions substantially changed. With the UK now facing a chaotic exit from the EU, proponents of Scottish independence have suggested that a second referendum may occur after Brexit negotiations are completed. Faced with a consensus among Scottish party leaders in supporting EU membership, those hoping for a second independence referendum, we argue, looked to alternate sources of information that saw Brexit as an opportunity to create the conditions that would spur a second referendum. Using panel data from the British Election Study, we examine whether Scottish voters voted tactically to leave the EU. We argue that Scottish National Party voters were likely to interpret statements on the conditions for a second independence referendum as an implicit signal to vote “Leave.” The results have important implications for the role of referendums in representative democracy, strategic voting, and the importance of intra-party division on individual vote choices.