Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Friends and Neighbours? AS the Commonwealth Games Highlights One Grouping of Nations, the Journal's Weekly Poll Asks People How They Feel about Our Links to Other Countries

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Friends and Neighbours? AS the Commonwealth Games Highlights One Grouping of Nations, the Journal's Weekly Poll Asks People How They Feel about Our Links to Other Countries

Article excerpt

THE United Kingdom is unique in being a member of two of the largest associations of countries in the world - the European Union and the Commonwealth - and also a union of four nations that have linked, but distinct, histories.

Being a member of the Commonwealth gives Britain an association with 53 countries around the world with an estimated population of 2.3bn, while the EU brings together 28 member states and more than 500m people.

e union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland makes the UK the sixth largest economy in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and one of the biggest militaries on the planet.

Yet two of those associations are being challenged like never before. Next month the people of Scotland will vote on whether to end three centuries of history and break from the rest of Britain.

Meanwhile, the UK's membership of the European Union has never been more in doubt, with UKIP winning the largest share of the votes at this year's European elections and the Conservatives set on giving the country a referendum on EU membership if it stays in power next year. To gauge public opinion on those three associations of nations, we asked people in both the North East and the rest of the country how they felt about the UK's membership of the Commonwealth, the UK's membership of the EU and the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

e exclusive Other Lines of Enquiry North poll, using the company's in-house Panelbase service, asked people to rank their feelings to each as either very positive, positive, neither positive nor negative, negative or very negative. (ere were also some "don't knows").

As might be expected in the middle of the "friendly Games", that poll showed great liking for the Commonwealth, with more than 50% of people surveyed in both the country and the North East saying they were either positive or very positive about the organisation.

Only 8% of people nationally and 7% in the North East felt either negative or very negative about the Commonwealth.

Such a positive rating hasn't always been the case. e Commonwealth - largely an attempt to maintain the historic links of the British Empire without the negative connotations of colonialisation - might be supposed to be built on shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, but those values have often been tested.

Recent years have seen suspensions for both Nigeria and Pakistan over human rights issues, while Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003 over its suspension (which many felt came too late).

e opening of this year's games saw a protest over alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka, though the Glasgow games has fared far better than the last time the competition came to Scotland, when many African and Caribbean boycotted the 1986 Edinburgh games over UK sporting links Turn to Page 18 to South Africa.

If our poll shows widespread support for the Commonwealth, the opposite could be said over British member-ship of the European Union. …

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