In just a few days time, the people of the European Union will go to the polls to select their new MEPs. Having just returned from a trip to the Irish Republic, it’s very clear that attitudes there are very different from those in Scotland. In Dublin for example, the streetlamps are festooned with posters with pictures of the various candidates and their assorted parties. Come back to Edinburgh and, by contrast, you would hardly think an election was actually taking place.
Even allowing for the economic turmoil of the past few years, the Irish have embraced the EU in a way which the peoples of Great Britain have not. Nonetheless, there were many posters which appear to be indicating that enough was enough when it came to economic austerity. That appears to be a common enough attitude across many of the member countries. Euroscepticism appears to have been growing, something borne out by the latest YouGov survey.
That survey confirms a trend lately been building up a head of steam for some considerable time. People across the European Union have been becoming increasingly distrustful of the established political parties and individual politicians in particular. It’s perhaps a surprise that the swing away from the establishment – and indeed support for Europe – looks as though it has been even stronger in France than it has been in parts of this country. Support for the National Front there has grown even more strongly than support for UKIP in England.
The poll did not look at Scotland separately. In recent days, the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has posted that his party will do much better north of the border than anyone had predicted – even taking one of the seats on offer. Few of the pundits agree with him. But there is some concern that the turnout in Scotland may be very low – the focus of so many people and parties is much more on what will happen in September rather than in May.
However what happens in Brussels and Strasbourg is important in determining our future. The evidence from the YouGov survey is that the next European Parliament could well have a very different make up to anything we’ve seen before, with many more politicians being elected from minority parties. However, the analyst to study the results of the survey feel confident that there isn’t a surging tide of nationalism or of anti-EU feeling. Rather, votes for minority parties are being interpreted much more as protests against their politicians at home.
Speaking to people in Dublin, there does appear to be a growing sense of optimism about the future. They can see changes taking place around them – the amount of construction is a good indicator both of economic activity and of confidence. There is no evidence that people there now want to leave the European Union. Few were willing to admit that they would vote for a Eurosceptic party – but several suggested that this year’s result could be closer than anyone would previously have imagined.