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Public Perceptions of Scotland After Devolution: Findings from the 2004 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey - Research Findings

DescriptionThis research findings presents the main findings from a core module of questions included in the 2004 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, funded by the Scottish Executive in order to inform policy development and evaluation.
ISBN0755926552
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateSeptember 12, 2005

    Listen

    Catherine Bromley and Lisa Given

    ISBN 0 7559 2655 2 (Web only publication)

    This document is also available in pdf format (204k)

    The Scottish Social Attitudes ( SSA) survey was launched by the Scottish Centre for Social Research in 1999, following the advent of devolution. This report presents the findings from a core module of questions included in the 2004 survey, commissioned by the Scottish Executive in order to inform policy development and evaluation.

    Main Findings
    • Around three in ten people had (29%) heard a great deal or quite a lot about the Scottish Executive in the previous year. Awareness of the UK Government's activities was slightly higher (34%).
    • More people trust the Scottish Executive to look after Scotland's best interests than trust the UK Government. Around half (52%) said they trusted the Scottish Executive to do this "just about always" or "most of the time", while just over a fifth (22%) said the same of the UK Government.
    • Most people considered it "very important" or "fairly important" to vote in Scottish Parliament, Westminster and local council elections. Those with high levels of political interest, older people, Liberal democrat supporters, supporters of devolution, and those who trust the Scottish Executive were the groups most likely to consider it "very important" to vote in Scottish Parliament elections.
    • The most common methods people used to register their views about an issue were: signing a petition (59%), attending a public meeting (31%) and giving money to a campaign or organisation (27%).
    • When asked how good the Scottish Executive was at listening to people's views before taking decisions around a third (32%) said it was "very" or "quite good." In comparison, 15% said the UK government was "very" or "quite good" at listening to people's views.
    • In 2004, a clear majority (67%) said that the Scottish Executive should have the most influence over how Scotland is run. However, between 2000 and 2004 no more than one in five has ever said that it does in fact have most influence.
    • Improving people's health (27%), cutting crime (22%) and improving standards in education (17%) were the top three things people felt the Scottish Executive should try and achieve.
    • When asked to say what makes an area a good place to live, a low level of crime (25%), strong community spirit (17%) and good quality affordable housing (13%) were the top three options chosen.
    • When asked what was most in need of improvement in their own area facilities for younger children (16%) and the amount of good quality affordable housing (15%) were the top choices.
    Introduction

    This paper presents findings from the 2004 Scottish Social Attitudes ( SSA) survey core module. The module was funded by the Scottish Executive in order to inform policy development and evaluation and to maintain time series data on key questions of Scottish interest, relating to devolution and broad constitutional issues.

    The topics covered in the 2004 Core Module addressed the following broad issues:

    • How much do people know about the Scottish Executive and Westminster governments?
    • Who is most trusted to look after Scotland's best interests: the Scottish Executive or UK Government?
    • In what ways do people get involved in the political process and is the system judged to be receptive to their input?
    • Is devolution delivering what people hoped it might?
    • How do people rate the performance of public services in Scotland?
    • Do the Scottish Executive's priorities match those of people in Scotland?
    • What do people think about their local area?
    Key Findings
    Knowledge of government

    People were asked how much they had seen or heard about the work of both the Scottish Executive and the UK Government over the previous year. Awareness of both was fairly low - three in ten people (29%) said they had heard "a great deal" or "quite a lot" about the Scottish Executive, while slightly more (34%) said this about the UK Government. Awareness of the Scottish Executive's activities was highest amongst people with a high level of interest in politics generally, those with higher education, managers and professionals, and men.

    People were generally more knowledgeable about the Scottish Executive's responsibilities than about the process of how devolution operates. For example, over half (56%) correctly identified that decisions about health spending are largely taken in Scotland whereas just 13% knew that there are more than 70 Members of the Scottish Parliament.

    Trust in government

    More people expressed trust in the Scottish Executive to look after Scotland's best interests than trusted the UK government to do this. Half (52%) trusted the Executive to look after Scotland's interests "just about always" or "most of the time", while less than a quarter (22%) said the same of the UK government. Since 2000 the proportion who say they trust the Scottish Executive "just about always" or "most of the time" has fluctuated between around six in ten and five in ten people in alternate years.

    Trust in the Scottish Executive was highest amongst supporters of devolution (as opposed to independence or direct rule from Westminster), Liberal Democrat supporters, people with higher education, 18-24 year olds, and people with a high level of awareness of the Scottish Executive's activities.

    Voting and public involvement

    Despite declining levels of turnout in recent years, a large majority of people considered voting to be "very" or "fairly important." Nearly eight in ten (78%) considered it "very" or "fairly important" to vote in Scottish Parliament elections and similar proportions said the same for Westminster and local council elections. Fewer people (64%) considered European elections to be important. The view that it is "very important" to vote in Scottish Parliament elections was particularly likely to be held by people with high levels of political interest, older people, Liberal Democrat supporters, people who support devolution, those who trust the Scottish Executive, and women.

    The survey asked whether people had ever registered their views about an issue (people were given 14 possible ways of doing this, such as contacting a Member of the Scottish Parliament, or going on a demonstration). A quarter (26%) said they had not done any of them. Signing a petition was the most common thing people had done (59%) followed by attending a public meeting (31%) and giving money to a campaign or organisation (27%). The people who were least likely to have registered their views in these ways were: 18-24 year olds, people with low levels of political interest, people with no qualifications, people who do not support any political party and those in routine or semi-routine occupations.

    People were also asked how good the Scottish Executive and UK Governments were at listening to people's views. Twice as many people said the Scottish Executive was "very good" or "good" at listening to people before taking decisions (32%) than said this about the UK Government (15%).

    Evaluations of devolution

    Since 1999 SSA has asked people who they think should have most influence over how Scotland is run, and who in fact does have most influence. In each year since 2000, clear majorities of between three-quarters and two-thirds said that the Scottish Executive should have the most influence. However, no more than one in five people has ever said that it does have most influence (19% in 2004).

    SSA has also asked people annually whether they think devolution is strengthening Scotland's voice within the UK. In 1997 and 1999 70% thought that devolution would result in Scotland having a stronger voice in the UK. Since 2001 the proportion who believe Scotland now has a stronger voice in the UK has fluctuated between a half (52%) and a third (35%), while the proportion who believe devolution has made no difference on this front has increased from four in ten (40%) in 2001 to and over half (55%) in 2004.

    Evaluations of public services

    The survey asked people to say whether the standards of the following had increased or fallen over the previous year: the standard of the health service, the quality of education service, the general standard of living, public transport and the strength of the economy. There was little notable change in people's evaluations of the health service, education and the general standard of living between 2001, 2003 and 2004.

    With the exception of the health service, more people on balance said that standards had increased than said they had fallen, though in most cases the margin was quite small (the most common answer given was that things had stayed the same). In contrast, 41% said that health service standards had fallen while 18% said they had increased. Women and older people were more likely than men and younger people to say that health service standards had fallen.

    The groups most likely to have given a favourable evaluation of education quality were: young people, Labour supporters, people in remote rural areas and those with children aged 4-15 living in their household. Transport standards were most likely to be judged to have increased by young people and those who use public transport on most days, while those living in small remote towns were the group most likely to say standards had fallen.

    When it came to the economy, Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters, and young people were more likely to say that it had strengthened, whereas people having difficulty coping on their income were much more likely to say that economy had weakened than people living comfortably.

    When asked who is responsible for changing standards people gave the Scottish Executive the credit for increases in the quality of education, transport and a stronger economy. The UK Government was given the credit for increased health service standards. Responsibility for declining standards were generally attributed to the UK Government, with the exception of the economy, where the Scottish Executive was most commonly held responsible for its weakening.

    Policy priorities

    To see whether the Scottish Executive's priorities matched the public's people were asked to say what was the most important thing the Scottish Executive should try and achieve. The top three answers given were: improve people's health (27%), cut crime (22%), and improve standards of education (17%). While improving health was the top priority for most people those living in remote rural areas stood out as the most likely to choose this (39%). Those under 25 were the group least likely to choose the economy (4%). Those having difficulty coping on their income were twice as likely to choose housing compared to people living very comfortably (19% compared with 11%).

    Perceptions of local areas

    When asked to choose from a list three things people thought make an area a good place to live the most popular options were: a low level of crime (25%), strong community spirit (17%) and good quality affordable housing (13%). Having established the kinds of attributes people thought important for a local area, people were then asked what they thought was most in need of improvement in their own area. Facilities for young children (16%) and the amount of good quality affordable housing (15%) were most commonly cited. People's views about their own area were more strongly related to the areas they lived in than their individual characteristics (such as age or socio-economic group).

    When asked who should be responsible for improving the aspect they had identified as most in need of improvement people tended to pick bodies with primary service delivery functions, such as the Health Board for GP services or the police for crime rates.

    Methodology

    The Scottish Social Attitudes survey is based on annual rounds of interviews with 1,600 people aged 18+. Interviewees are selected using random probability sampling to ensure that the results are representative of the Scottish population.

    If you have any enquiries about social research, please contact us at:

    Scottish Executive Social Research
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    Tel: 0131 244-2256
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    Email: socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.uk
    Website: www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch

    The report "Public Perceptions of Scotland after Devolution", which is summarised in this research findings is a web only document and is available on the publications pages of the Scottish Executive website at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/Recent

    This document (and other Research Findings and Reports) and information about social research in the Scottish Executive may be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch

    The site carries up-to-date information about social and policy research commissioned and published on behalf of the Scottish Executive. Subjects covered include transport, housing, social inclusion, rural affairs, children and young people, education, social work, community care, local government, civil justice, crime and criminal justice, regeneration, planning and women's issues. The site also allows access to information about the Scottish Household Survey.