BBC Question Time, factchecked

14 October 2016

Employment or immigration: which matters more?

“How many people here voted to take their next door neighbour's job away?”

Emily Thornberry MP, 13 October 2016

Assuming that leaving the EU single market would have an effect on jobs, how do people feel about it?

The polling evidence is mixed.

Certainly more people thought that unemployment would go up than down as a result of leaving the EU—32% compared to 22%—according to polling for Ipsos Mori in April and May 2016. But the sample contained more people leaning towards Remain, and we don’t know how many went on to vote Leave.

A poll for ORB just after the referendum showed that the public broke 48% to 37% in favour of staying in the single market over limiting EU immigration (unlikely to be possible in the single market). Similar preferences were recorded in some of the other polls in June and July.

But others say the opposite. In a poll this month, YouGov found a clear preference for leaving the single market in order to limit immigration.

Polling expert John Curtice suggests this shows that “many voters do not have very firm views about which is the more important objective”.

People seem to have different priorities when the question is put a different way., When asked how much of their personal income they would sacrifice to reduce immigration, less than 40% were prepared to pay anything.

In all these cases, Leave voters were much more prepared to trade economic benefits for lower immigration than voters generally.

Scottish jobs after Brexit

“But the fact is, if it is a hard Brexit, if we go out with the single market with no provisions in place for the trade, then we will lose jobs... However, the Scottish Parliament had a forecast produced that out with the single market, there would be 80,000 jobs lost in Scotland.”

Alex Salmond, 13 October 2016

Most economists agree that leaving the EU’s single market would see fewer jobs created and some lost. But there’s no definitive answer for how many.

One set of forecasts for the Scottish parliament estimated that after ten years, there would be 80,000 fewer jobs in Scotland if the UK left the single market than if it remained in the EU. This assumes that the UK relies only on its membership of the World Trade Organisation to trade and doesn’t strike any new deals.

But watch out. The figure for 80,000 fewer people in employment doesn’t tell us how many individual people are expected to lose their jobs.

It’s a comparison between the number of jobs the report expects in two different worlds, ten years in the future. In one imagined world, the UK stays in the EU; in another possible world, the UK leaves the single market and doesn’t agree any trade deals.

The report expects that every Brexit scenario would mean fewer jobs than EU membership.

In the report’s most optimistic scenario, the UK joins the European Economic Area and only 30,000 fewer jobs exist. Again, the implication is that 30,000 fewer jobs would exist than would have done otherwise, not that 30,000 people would lose their jobs because of Brexit.

Of course, this is only a forecast. You can’t factcheck the future.



This article was updated shortly after it was published to reflect a response from the Fraser of Allander Institute.

The UK’s views on immigration

“I interpret from general polls. I interpret from polls that have been recorded for years that people want lower migration.”

Amol Rajan, 13 October 2016

Immigration has been an increasingly important in the UK over the last 20 years.

In 1995 the proportion of people who said that “immigration or race relations” was one of the top five issues facing the UK was around 2%. By August this year it had increased to 34%, according to Ipsos Mori.

This made it the most regularly mentioned issue.This isn’t as high as in September 2015 when the same study found that 56% of people identified immigration as a key issue.

Of course this doesn’t tell us anything about what people think about immigration, just that they think it’s an issue.

Over half of people polled in the UK in 2013 said they felt immigration should be “reduced a lot”, according to the British Social Attitudes survey. Altogether 78% felt it should be reduced in some way. A YouGov poll in August suggested that around two thirds of people want to see less immigration.

Public opposition to immigration has been consistent since at least the 1960s.

The oil price and Scotland’s independence

“I have great faith in the common sense of the Scottish people. They rejected separation when oil was $100 a barrel. They have twice as much reason to do it now that oil is $50 a barrel.”

Damian Green MP, 13 October 2016

It is correct that crude oil prices are currently at around $50 a barrel. Back at the time of the first Scottish independence referendum in September 2014 oil was selling for just over $90 a barrel.

Energy policy, and how oil revenue would be invested, was part of the Scottish government’s vision for an independent Scotland.

We don’t know of any polls that asked the Scottish people what they thought about oil prices during the referendum, but we do know their views on the economy.

Before the referendum roughly a third of people polled thought Scotland’s economy would do better if it was independent and a third felt it would do worse, according to the Scottish Social Attitudes survey.

The last Scottish independence referendum had a turnout of almost 85% of those eligible. 55% of those voters said No to independence and 45% said Yes.

Despite the falling price of oil, these proportions haven’t changed much. A number of polls have suggested that if the independence referendum was run again the result would be similar. Some polls suggest that the proportion of people saying they would vote Yes may even have increased by a few percentage points.

Scottish schools

“School standards are falling in Scotland.”

Damian Green MP, 13 October 2016

It’s correct that school standards recently appear to be falling in Scotland, although there are many ways of looking at it.

We’ve chosen three. First, reading and writing. The percentage of primary school children doing ‘well’ or ‘very well’ on numeracy tests fell significantly between 2011 and 2015, according to the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy. Performance among 13 and 14 year olds was steady.

It also shows that the percentage hitting that benchmark in literacy “was slightly lower in 2014 than 2012 at all stages”.

Next, exam results. In the rest of the UK we would look at GCSE results. In Scotland a rough equivalent is the National 5 qualification. It’s fairly new, so we only have three years’ worth of results to compare. They again show a slight decline in performance, with the percentage of children getting A-C grades falling from 81% in 2014, 80% in 2015 and 79% in 2016.

Finally, the PISA test designed for international comparisons has shown a steep fall in maths scores since 2003, although science results have been fairly steady and literacy results recovering since 2006.

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