British Journal of Sociology, Volume 30, Number 2, June 1979

Opposition to the Common Market in England and Scotland

John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia

In spite of the strong 'Yes' vote in Britain's referendum on joining the European Common Market, one still notes British political figures voicing vigorous opposition to Britain's membership. One would have thought that once the people had spoken, the politicians would have turned to other pursuits. This continued opposition does then raise the question of how durable grass-roots support for British membership has proved to be. Could the politicians be voicing a still-strong popular opposition?

A related question is who does this opposition come from? What sections of the British public harbour the Common Market opponents? In the Parliament both the extreme Left and the extreme Right appear to oppose British membership. Is this true among the population at large? In Scotland the SNP waged a dogged 'No' campaign. Is this sentiment shared by SNP voters? Since the EEC could be very convenient, to an independent Scotland, unequivocal sentiments from Scottish Nationalists could not be taken for granted.

In the present paper an attempt will be made to relate opposition to the EEC not only to demographic variables but also to attitudes on a variety of other social issues and two personality variables important in social psychology -- authoritarianism and achievement motivation. In theory an authoritarian might object to the dilution of traditional central authority that joining the EEC implies. Also, if the EEC is in fact seen as widening the economic opportunities available to Britons, people who themselves are particularly achievement motivated should support it.

Existing research [1] has shown that Conservative voters are more favourable than others to Common Market membership but conservatism of ideology does not predict attitudes either way.


Because of the differing political alignments in Scotland, it was felt useful for this study to cover England and Scotland separately. Because the purpose of the study was to look at relationships with opposition to the EEC rather than to make an exact survey of national levels of opposition, it was decided to limit the survey to the London and Glasgow areas only. In each area the sampling frame included 'dormitory' communities and suburbs as well as the metropolitan area proper. The sample size in each case was limited to 100. Numbers larger than this lead to very little gain in statistical significance and it is of course axiomatic that it is the representativeness rather than the size of'a sample which matters. The method used was cluster sampling. This is the method used by all British public opinion polls, where it generally gives very accurate results.

The questionnaire comprised the ten Wilson [2] Conservatism items, single items on the EEC and Scottish devolution, questions on age, sex, education, occupation and political preference and the two psychological tests mentioned - the Ray [3] scale of authoritarian personality in its short form and the Ray-Lynn 'AO' scale [4] in a form slightly modified to give an exact balance between pro-achievement and anti-achievement items. The survey was carried out in October 1977.


As expected, the level of support for Britain's membership was lower in the Scottish sample-with 50 per cent opposed, 37 per cent in favour and 13 per cent undecided. Even in the English sample, however, the level of support was surprisingly low - with only 55 per cent in favour, 32 per cent against and again 13 per cent undecided. There was no relationship with political party preference in England but in Scotland opposition was significantly associated with SNP vote (chi-squared of 34.05 with eight degrees of freedom).

The reliabilities of the two psychological tests were .66 for authoritarianism and .65 for achievement motivation in England and .71 for both scales in Scotland. A short form of the achievement motivation scale was also constructed using only the most reliable 14 of the original 28 items. Its reliabilities were .73 in England and .72 in Scotland.

In England, the significant correlations with attitude to the EEC were as follows: -.214 with the long form of the 'AO' scale, .265 with attitude to divorce, .167 with attitude to evolution theory, -.267 with attitude to the death penalty, .264 with occupation, .228 with age and .312 with education. This means that EEC opponents were low on achievement motivation, opposed to divorce, opposed to the theory of evolution, in favour of the death penalty, tended to work in manual occupations, to be younger and to be less well educated.

In Scotland, the significant correlations with attitude to the EEC were as follows: .252 with the short form of the 'AO' scale, .170 with attitude to birth control, -.282 with attitude to Scottish independence, .258 with occupation and .272 with education. This means that EEC opponents were low on achievement motivation, against birth control, in favour of increased Scottish independence, tended to work in manual occupations and to be less well educated.


Although the two metropolitan areas sampled cannot be taken as completely representative of their respective 'nations', the results obtained do seem to reflect considerable disillusionment with the EEC. Since metropolitan areas might be expected to be on the whole slightly more internationally-minded than other areas, even the level of support revealed here is probably untypically high. Additionally, when the survey was being taken, many of the EEC supporters (perhaps a third) volunteered comments such as, 'Well, now we are in it I suppose we have to try and make a go of it.' Their support was in other words quite grudging and such as might very well be reversed by subsequent political events. One must conclude that Britain's membership of the EEC now rests on a much shakier foundation of popular support than it did at the time of the referendum. An independent Scotland would almost certainly not be a member.

Although authoritarianism was not related to EEC support, the guess about achievement motivation turned out to be supported. The fact that it was two different forms of the scale which showed significant correlations in England and Scotland does, however, show that it was achievement motivation in slightly different senses that was involved in each case. The reason for this difference and its exact nature are perhaps made harder to fathom by the fact that on neither scale did the overall mean scores of the Scots and the English differ significantly. Taking the items of the scale individually, the Scots disliked inefficiency more but claimed to plan less for their careers and to be less ambitious. Obviously only further research can elucidate the exact relationship between achievement motivation and support for the EEC in the two nations.

Otherwise the pattern revealed in the correlations suggests that opposition to the EEC tends to come from a type of old-fashioned working-class conservatism. This pattern is clearest in the English sample but still exists in the Scottish sample even though confounded a little by the influence of nationalism.

Even though the term 'old-fashioned' would seem to apply to the sentiments held by English EEC opponents, it must be repeated that these opponents did in fact tend to be younger. This is complicated by the fact that young people in general did not tend to be characterized by such sentiments. Again, we have a relationship that only further research could elucidate.

Perhaps, in fact, 'old-fashioned' also matches the character of the Parliamentary opponents of the EEC. Both Mr Powell and the Labour Left do very clearly draw much of their inspiration from the last century.


1. D. K. B. Nias, 'Attitudes to the Common Market: A case study in Conservatism', chapter 16 in G. D. Wilson (ed.), The Psychology of Conservatism, London, Academic Press, 1973.

2. G. D. Wilson, 'Liberal extremists', New Society, 263-4, vol. 26 (1973).

3. Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

4. Ray, J.J. (1975) A behavior inventory to measure achievement motivation. J. Social Psychology 95, 135-136.

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