Constitutional reform

Constitutional reform

Controversy or Consensus on how the UK should be governed?

It is arguably important in any democracy that there is a measure of agreement with and support for the constitutional rules that are in place. This chapter analyses public opinion on two constitutional issues which have become the source of debate: electoral reform and how the different parts of the UK should be governed. This chapter highlights the shifts in public opinion on these subjects over time and identifies a growing divergence in attitudes between England and the devolved nations, between supporters of different political parties, and between Leavers and Remainers.

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The constitution has become an increased source of political division

Conservative and Labour supporters have drawn apart from each other in their attitudes
towards how the UK should be governed. Equally, Conservative and SNP supporters are
now further apart in Scotland, as are DUP and Sinn Féin identifiers in Northern Ireland.

  • In 2011 24% of Conservative supporters in England said that Scotland should become
    independent, as did 25% of Labour supporters. Now only 16% of Conservatives express that view, compared with 30% of their Labour counterparts.
  • While 74% of Conservative identifiers think that the laws for England should continue to be made by Westminster as now, that view is shared by only 52% of Labour identifiers.
  • While 82% of SNP supporters now back independence, up from 51% in 2012, at 5% the proportion of Conservative identifiers who do so is little changed.
  • And while the proportion of Sinn Féin identifiers who back Northern Ireland being part of the UK has fallen from 37% in 2010 to just only one in ten (10%) now, at 94% support among DUP identifiers is undiminished.

A majority of opposition party supporters now favour changing the electoral system

Support for introducing proportional representation in elections to the House of Commons is
at its highest level since the survey began, primarily as a result of an increase in support among Labour party identifiers.

  • Around half of the public (51%) are now in favour of introducing proportional representation for Westminster elections, up from 27% in 2011 immediately following the alternative vote referendum.
  • For the first time a majority of Labour supporters (61%) are in favour of electing MPs using proportional representation (PR). At the time of the alternative vote referendum in 2011 only 27% held that view.
  • Now 69% of Liberal Democrat supporters are in favour of a switch to PR, up from 46% in 2011.
  • Conservative party supporters remain in favour of the status quo – only 29% support changing the system.

Increased support in Scotland for Scottish independence and in Northern Ireland for Irish reunification

Support in Scotland for Scottish independence and in Northern Ireland for Irish reunification
has increased in recent years, particularly among supporters of nationalist parties.

  • Just over half of people in Scotland (52%) favour independence, up from 23% in 2012, when the UK government agreed to the independence referendum that was held two years later.
  • Only one in four (25%) of people in England think that Scotland should be independent,
    unchanged from 2012.
  • Support in Northern Ireland for Irish reunification has increased from 14% in 2015 to 30% now.
  • In contrast, those in Britain who support Irish unification has fallen from 52% at the time of the Good Friday agreement in 1998 to 41% now. In contrast, 49% believe now that Northern Ireland should be part of the UK, compared with 26% in 1998.

Brexit has played a role in shifting attitudes towards the constitution

Some Remain voters appear to have reacted to being on the losing side in the EU referendum
by now wanting to change the rules under which the UK is governed.

  • 73% of pro-European Labour supporters back a change to proportional representation,
    compared with 52% of Labour Eurosceptics. 
  • 65% of Remainers in Scotland now back Scottish independence, up from 44% in 2016.
  • In 2016, 64% of people in Northern Ireland who voted Remain were in favour of being part of the UK. Now only 37% are.

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