Unique survey compares Scottish and English attitudes to Foreign Policy


Findings from a first of its kind survey comparing public attitudes in England and Scotland concerning traditional foreign policy questions will be shared at an event today hosted by the Scottish Global Affairs Council at the University of Glasgow.

The ’Good Global Citizens’ Scottish and English Attitudes to Foreign Policy’ survey also measured support for feminist foreign policy ideals. This research was undertaken by academics at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada.

Comprehensive attempts to measure British citizens’ views of foreign policy are relatively rare. Even more rare are surveys that make meaningful comparisons of the international outlooks of people based in Scotland and England.

In late 2022, the project team fielded a survey aimed at better understanding the foreign policy attitudes of the Scots and English.

Questions considered how Scots perceive the world compared to England, on core postures such as the propensity to engage militarily or redistribute wealth, and opinions on Brexit and the decision to maintain nuclear weapons.

The survey also explored views on the Scottish Government’s decision to adopt a feminist outlook on international affairs, in line with countries such as Germany. This entails a commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, environmental sustainability, and human rights over more traditional foreign policies, favouring security and economic interests.

Key findings include:

  • "The UK needs a strong military to be effective in international affairs" was agreed by 68% of English respondents, with 58% of Scots feeling the same.
  • SNP supporters are less militaristic than other Scottish residents: only 51% of the former agree with needing a strong military compared to 61% of the latter.
  • Scottish and English publics both offer broad support when asked new questions measuring support for feminist foreign policy goals, with seven in 10 respondents in both nations agreeing "The UK should not sign trade agreements...unless the agreement protects the environment."
  • An indistinguishable 35% of Scots and 31% of English respondents agree that "The UK should be more willing to share its wealth with other nations, even if it doesn’t coincide with our political interests."

Professor Thomas Scotto, Project Investigator at the University of Glasgow, said:

"The 1998 Scotland Act declared foreign affairs reserved to Westminster; however, the Scottish Government increasingly engages in what is often called "paradiplomacy". The term refers to actions taken by subnational governments, be it Scotland or Quebec in Canada, to advance regional interests that differ from those of the national government.

"How Scots feel about the Scottish Government’s approach and whether their attitudes are distinct from their English counterparts has been difficult to judge, because most British polling includes small Scottish numbers. To overcome this, we decided to facilitate a specialised foreign policy-focused poll that oversampled Scots.

"Overall, whilst differences do exist between English and Scottish attitudes towards foreign policy, such differences are matters of degree than direction. The SNP differentiates itself by championing feminist foreign policy objectives, and these policies are supported by their supporters. That said, our polling demonstrates a clear majority of UK voters also are supportive, suggesting that elements of Scottish paradiplomacy are ripe for adoption by UK parties seeing votes in the next UK general election."