Following England’s historic success at the UEFA Championships and Team GB’s impressive haul of 65 medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the latest research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies investigates the Scottish public’s opinions on sporting topics and how they interact with the issue of devolution. Whilst we find high levels of support amongst Scots for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, there is clear opposition towards the four nations joining together to compete in football.
We also find a lack of support for England when competing as its own team: a majority (66%) of Scots say that they are more likely to support England’s opponents than England in sporting competitions, compared to just 34% who say they are more likely to support England. An overwhelming majority (81%) of those who would vote ‘yes’ in an Independence Referendum say they are more likely to support England’s opponents, compared to 51% of ‘no’ voters who say they are more likely to support England.
More specifically demonstrating the Scottish public’s tendency to root for England’s opponents rather than England, a majority (59%) of Scots who watched the UEFA Euro 2020 final between England and Italy report having supported Italy. The proportion who says they supported Italy rises to 74% amongst those who would vote ‘yes’ to independence. Overall, 26% of Scots who tuned in to the final say they supported England, and 14% say they supported neither team. Interestingly, of those who would vote ‘no’ to Scottish independence, a slim plurality of 45% also supported Italy, followed by 40% who supported England.
The rivalry felt by many Scots is reaffirmed in that a majority (69%) support the current system in which England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland compete as separate teams in football. Just 5% oppose this, and 24% neither support nor oppose it.
This sentiment is consistent across all age groups, with 71% of 16-to-24-year-olds and 67% of those aged 65 and over supporting separate football teams for the British nations. When we look at independence voting intention, 78% of those who would vote ‘yes’ to independence support separate football teams, compared to a slightly smaller majority of 63% of those who would vote ‘no.’
When it comes to the Olympic Games, however, Scots show their support for Team GB as a whole: among those who had been watching the Tokyo Olympics, 91% say they had been supporting Team GB, opposed to only 9% who did not. Furthermore, a majority of 59% of Scots support Team GB competing together, rather than as separate nations, at the Olympics. In comparison, 23% neither support nor oppose it, whilst just 14% oppose this.
When we look at support for Team GB according to Scottish Independence voting intention, we see a clear difference in opinion: of those who would vote ‘no’ to independence, 83% support ‘Team GB’ competing together, compared to just 36% of those who would vote ‘yes.’
These findings demonstrate the extent to which sports can be intertwined with politics, particularly in the context of devolution and the desire for independence among some Scots. When it comes to the Olympics, our research finds an overwhelming majority of Scots who watched the events rooted for Team GB, and a majority of the Scottish public overall supports the devolved nations competing together in this forum. However, with respect to football, there is a clear preference for the tradition of teams competing separately, a system which results in England’s national team playing on its own—without the backing of most of the Scottish public.