The campaign for stronger ties between
Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom

CANZUK is a golden opportunity for Scotland

Scotland has substantial connections with Canada, Australia and New Zealand

"Vancouver Pride 2008" by Scazon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Think of the wonderful opportunities free movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom would unlock for young Scots

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is one of the staunchest opponents of the UK’s departure from the EU. The Scottish National Party leader complains vociferously about Scotland being taken out the EU against its will. In a series of speeches and papers, she has expressed an unwavering desire to remain in the ‘European family of nations’.

The Scottish Government has published a report declaring that the people of Scotland ‘define’ themselves as European. It outlines how the nation has been ‘shaped’ by its ties with Europe, referencing moments in history from the arrival of Saint Columba from Ireland in the 6th century to last year’s EU referendum.

Deference to the First Minister

Scotland is without doubt more pro-European than the United Kingdom as a whole. In the EU referendum, 53% of those who voted in England and Wales chose leave. Of those who voted in Scotland, 62% opted for remain.

Some pundits put this down to an absence of high-profile leave supporters in Scotland. The leave campaign in England was given a shot in the arm when it received the backing of Boris Johnson. None of the Holyrood establishment endorsed leave. The most prominent Scottish Brexiteers, Liam Fox and Michael Gove, both represent English constituencies.

This isn’t the first time the UK has gone to the polls to decide its European relationship. In 1975, voters were asked to decide if the country should remain in the European Community. The then eurosceptic SNP campaigned to leave and - as the Nationalists tend to in referendums - they lost. Britain voted to remain by 67% to 33%.

Back in the seventies, only two counties voted leave and both were in Scotland. This suggests that Scots aren’t as intrinsically pro-European as Nicola Sturgeon claims and a dearth of leave campaigning in 2016 may have boosted Scotland’s remain vote.

Senior SNP politician Alex Neil has revealed that he voted for Brexit but kept his position secret during the campaign “out of deference to the First Minister”. The former Social Justice Secretary claims a number of his SNP colleagues also secretly voted leave. Had an open debate been tolerated by Nicola Sturgeon, the result may have been closer.

Difficult questions for Ms Sturgeon

Attitudes towards immigration offer a second explanation for the divergence between voters in Scotland and the rest of Britain. A 2014 Oxford University study found that people in Scotland were less likely to want a reduction in migrant numbers. Support for reducing immigration stood at 58% in Scotland and 75% in England and Wales.

A 2015 YouGov survey found that 45% of those polled in England and Wales supported freedom of movement between Britain and the rest of the EU. Of those polled in Scotland, 57% backed EU free movement. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to recognise that the referendum results reflect regional attitudes to immigration.

The YouGov poll also asked people if they would support freedom of movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. This ‘CANZUK’ free movement was backed by 63% of those polled in Scotland. In every part of the UK, including Scotland, support was higher for free mobility with CANZUK than with the EU.

This raises difficult questions for Nicola Sturgeon. If Scots ‘define’ themselves as European, why do they favour Canucks, Aussies and Kiwis over their neighbours? Why do they view three distant countries more favourably than the ‘European family of nations’?

It doesn’t take a genius

As every Canadian schoolchild will be able to tell you, Canada’s first prime minister was called John A. Macdonald and he was from Scotland. The prestigious McGill University in Montreal is named after its Glaswegian founder. Through business, education, exploration, literature and politics, Scots shaped the Canada we admire today.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the capital of Western Australia takes its name from the Scottish city of Perth. A little less obvious is Dunedin in New Zealand, which comes from the Gaelic for Edinburgh, Dùn Èideann. Among its founders was Thomas Burns, nephew of Scotland's national poet. Caledonian influences ‘Down Under’ are incalculable.

The timing couldn’t be better for revitalising Scotland’s relationships with its Commonwealth cousins. Canada marks its 150th birthday this year and old John A. MacDonald is back in the spotlight. Qantas has announced its first non-stop UK route, flying between Perth and London. The world is getting smaller and ‘Down Under’ is closer than ever.

Scotland’s opportunity

Rather than blustering about Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon could be exploring opportunities to strengthen ties with CANZUK. Scotland has a positive attitude to immigration and substantial connections with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Scottish Government has an opportunity to advocate and lobby for CANZUK freedom of movement.

It’s time for fresh thinking from the First Minister. Time to think of the wonderful opportunities free movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom would unlock for young Scots. Time to think of the enormous potential benefits of opening Scotland up to talented Canucks, Aussies and Kiwis. It’s time for CANZUK.

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