The road to divergence? Social and political attitudes in the wake of devolution

Lead Research Organisation: National Centre for Social Research
Department Name: Research Department

Abstract

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Publications

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Description When the Scottish Parliament was created, people in Scotland were somewhat more likely than those in England to express support for a social democratic point of view. Moreover, although many of the response distributions to relevant survey questions were only mildly different in the two countries, the differences that did exist could not adequately be accounted for by differences in their social composition or the distribution of party political sympathies. Rather, what mattered was that those with a strong sense of Scottish identity were more likely to adopt a social democratic outlook, implying that attempts by politicians and others to secure support for such an outlook by appealing to that sense of identity had some potential to succeed.



However, there is no systematic evidence that during the course of the subsequent ten years public opinion in Scotland has become more social democratic relative to that in England. Rather, there has been a parallel decline on both sides of the border in support for a social democratic outlook, a decline that has occurred irrespective of people's sense of national identity (or indeed any other characteristic). Consequently Scotland still appears to be somewhat more social democratic than England, but no more so than ten years ago, while in absolute terms Scotland is less social democratic now than previously.



This remains the case even if we focus on a policy area for which responsibility has been devolved and where a very distinctive public policy has been pursued. Opposition to the idea that at least some university students should pay tuition fees, never much greater than in England in the first place, has fallen markedly in Scotland - in line with the trend south of the border.



Even in 2000 there was no systematic difference between Scotland and England in the incidence of socially conservative views. That remains the case now. Moreover, where public opinion in England has become more liberal, as for example in the case of same sex relationships, much the same trend is also evident in Scotland.



It thus appears that the development of distinctive policy communities in Scotland has had no discernible impact on trends in public opinion north of the border. While the balance of opinion within those communities may be more social democratic and socially conservative than in England, the distinctive tenor of these debates does not percolate through to public attitudes. It seems we have to remember that while people in Scotland are exposed to the policy debates that take place north of the border, they are not insulated from those taking place in England too, not least because their content is disseminated in Scotland by UK-wide media outlets. Equally, where social attitudes are changing as a result of social change, that change may well be occurring throughout the UK.



Consequently, there seems no reason to believe that devolution is widening differences in social attitudes - and thus giving rise to increasing pressure for divergent policies that may be difficult to accommodate within the framework of the Union.
Exploitation Route The research is highly relevant to the continuing policy debate about Scotland's constitutional status, and in particular whether the creation of the devolved Scottish Parliament is consistent with the maintenance of the Union. It is thus of interest to all those concerned professionally and politically with that subject.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description The question of whether voters in Scotland are more likely to uphold 'progressive' values than their counterparts in England was one of the debating points during the Scottish independence referendum. The claim of this research that the differences were less marked than sometime claimed was sometimes reflected in the media coverage and public debate during the referendum.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description AqMen 2014 Annual Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Post event discussion

None known
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://www.aqmen.ac.uk/events/Nov2014/AnnualLecture
 
Description Gradually moving apart? : trends in public opinion in Scotland and England 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public seminar by the investigators held at the Institute of Governance at the University of Edinburgh on 9th February 2011. The seminar presented the first results from this systematic study of trends in public opinion in Scotland and England. Based on research conducted in parallel on the latest Scottish and British Social Attitudes surveys, it addressed three main questions:



• Is Scotland really more social democratic than England?



• Does Scotland really have a different outlook on social and moral issues?



• Has the advent of devolution served to widen the differences between the two countries?

The assertion that Scotland is more social democratic in its values in England is frequently asserted north of the border. The findings of this research that case some doubt on that claim were frequently cited by the researcher and others during the Scottish independence referendum campaign.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Public Attitudes towards Scotland's Challenges 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation at the annual conference of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the collective representative body for local authorities in Scotland. Presentation covered public attitudes towards a range of policy challenges facing Scotland including the delivery of public services to an ageing population, the use of Scotland's devolved tax powers, Brexit and Scotland's constitutional status. This was a repeat invitation and recognises the perceived utility of the work by one of the key institutions in Scottish politics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.cosla.gov.uk/events/2017/10/cosla-and-annual-conference-2017
 
Description Same-sex marriage a maze for lawmakers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Newspaper article that discusses the implications for MSPs of current attitudes towards same sex relationships in Scotland.

The Scotsman
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.scotsman.com/news/john-curtice-and-rachel-ormston-same-sex-marriage-a-maze-for-lawmakers-...
 
Description Scottish Public Attitudes Towards Public Service Delivery 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited keynote presentation to Scotland Excel conference on attitudes in Scotland towards the delivery of public services. Excel is a company that undertakes collective purchasing on behalf of Scottish local government and other public bodies. Invitation to speak was made following contacts made at the 2017 COSLA conference at which I also gave a keynote talk. Audience was particularly interested in attitudes towards the commissioning of public services from the private sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.scotland-excel.org.uk/home/Resources/News-pages/News_92504.aspx
 
Description You think Scots are the lefties, right? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article authored by grantholders in Scotsman newspaper, based on initial findings.

The Scotsman
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
URL http://www.scotsman.com/news/john_curtice_and_rachel_ormston_you_think_scots_are_the_lefties_right_1...