Watching the Gathering Storm: The EU Seen through Party Manifestos 2010 to 2015

Thursday, July 13, 2017
John McIntyre - Room 201 (University of Glasgow)
Ruth Breeze , University of Navarra
The Brexit vote came as a shock to many observers, but can be situated within a longer‐term
trend of Euro‐scepticism among UK politicians which appears to have been accentuated after
the financial crisis of 2008. This paper uses discourse analysis supported by corpus linguistic
techniques to trace patterns in the way the EU is represented in election manifestos from the
major British political parties (Conservative, Labour, LibDem, UKIP, Green, SNP and Plaid
Cymru) from the 2010 and 2015 elections. In particular, an increasingly hostile attitude
towards the EU is found in the Conservative manifestos, linked to a critique of the Labour
party’s supposed pro‐EU stance. Interestingly, those references to the EU which are not critical
are generally framed competitively, with frequent use of superlatives to assert the superiority
of some aspect of the UK over the rest of Europe. Over the same time period, discourses on
migration associated with EU countries also took on greater importance in both Labour and
Conservative discourses. However, non‐UK‐wide parties adopted a very different discursive
stance. In particular, around the years of the Scottish Referendum, the SNP developed a
representation of Scotland as an “EU nation” operating on an equal footing with other EU
countries, which runs in parallel with a heightened focus of discontent centring on
“Westminster”. The evidence from these texts sheds considerable insight into the years
immediately before the EU Referendum campaign, and suggests that the tensions and
divisions observed there had been intensifying dramatically during that period.