Publication - Research and analysis

Scottish Social Attitudes 2019: attitudes to government and political engagement

Findings from the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSA), conducted between August 2019 and March 2020, on attitudes to government, the economy, the health service, levels of tax and spend, government priorities and political engagement

Chapter 2 – Attitudes to government

This chapter presents findings on attitudes to government in 2019. It describes how the attitudes of people in Scotland towards Scottish, UK and local government have changed since the advent of devolution in 1999.[18] The findings cover:

  • Trust in the UK and Scottish Governments to act in Scotland's best long-term interest and trust in local, Scottish and UK Governments to make fair decisions
  • Perceptions of the extent to which government at local, Scottish, and UK level is good at listening before taking decisions
  • Views of the extent to which the Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed
  • Views on whether having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK
  • Perceptions of which level of government has, and ought to have, the most influence over how Scotland is run

In this 20th anniversary publication, subgroup analysis has focused on the extent to which the attitudes of particular subgroups have driven overall recorded trends over time for selected questions. Full subgroup breakdowns for 2019 data are available in the 'Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: Chapter 2 subgroup variation tables' Excel file published as a 'supporting file' alongside this report. 

Trust in Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests

Since 1999, SSA has asked respondents the degree to which they trust the Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests.[19] As demonstrated by Table 2.1 below, in 2019, 15% reported that they trust the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests 'just about always', with a further 46% trusting the Scottish Government to do so 'most of the time'. By comparison, 2% reported trusting the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests 'just about always', with an additional 13% saying that they trusted the UK Government to do so 'most of the time'. Over one-third (37%) said they trust the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests either 'only some of the time' or 'almost never', while over four-fifths (83%) said this of the UK Government.

Table 2.1: Trust in Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests (2019)

 

Scottish Government (%) UK Government (%)
Just about always 15 2
Most of the time 46 13
Only some of the time 27 40
Almost never 10 43
Unweighted base 1022 1022

Base: all respondents

To illustrate how attitudes have changed during this period, Figure 2.1 plots the proportion of those who said they trust the Scottish and UK Governments either 'just about always' or 'most of the time' between 1999 and 2019. Asked prospectively in 1999 'how much would you trust a Scottish parliament to work in Scotland's best interests', just over four-fifths said that they would 'just about always' or 'most of the time'. Since 2000, trust in the Scottish Government has fluctuated between a low of just over a half in 2006 to a high of 72% in 2015.

Trust in the Scottish Government has regularly peaked in Scottish Parliament election years, with an apparent 'election bounce' observed in 2003, 2007, and 2011. In the most recent Scottish election year, 2016, this effect was not observed, however high levels of trust in the Scottish Government were registered in 2015 – the year immediately following the Scottish independence referendum and the year of the UK Parliament election which saw the SNP win 56 of 59 seats. With just under three-quarters (72%) reporting that they trusted the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests 'just about always' or 'most of the time' in 2015, this remains the high-water mark for trust in the Scottish Government since 2000.[20] Levels of trust fell to around two-thirds in 2016, dropping again to around three-fifths (61%) in 2017, and remaining the same in 2019. 

Figure 2.1: Trust in Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests 'just about always' or 'most of the time' (1999-2019)^
Figure 2.1: Line chart showing levels of trust in the Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland’s best interests (1999-2019)

Base: all respondents
^In 1999 this question was asked prospectively: 'How much would you trust a Scottish parliament to work in Scotland's best interests?' From 2000-2004 the question asked: 'How much do you trust the Scottish Parliament…?' and from 2005 onwards asked: 'How much do you trust the Scottish Executive/Government…?
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

Over the same period, trust in the UK Government to work in Scotland's best long-term interests has consistently been measured at a lower level. The proportion of those who trust the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests 'just about always' or 'most of the time' remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2006 at around 1 in 5, in comparison with levels of trust in the Scottish Parliament during this time which fluctuated around peaks in 2001 and 2003. In 2007, levels of trust in the UK Government also peaked at a high point across all years at just over one-third (35%). While trust in the Scottish Government rose in Scottish Parliament election years throughout the 2000s, a similar variation in levels of trust in the UK Government was not observed in years where a UK election was held, with no recorded peak in 2005 or 2010. Following the peak in 2007 in levels of trust in the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests, levels steadily declined to just under one-fifth in 2011. The proportion who trusted the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests 'just about always' or 'most of the time' then increased somewhat to just over 3 in 10 in 2012. Levels of trust have since fallen away, with the latest figure of 15% marking a two decade low in trust in the UK Government on this measure. 

Have the views of particular subgroups driven attitudinal changes over time in levels of trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests?

In order to explore whether particular subgroups may be driving the trends described above, subgroup analysis was conducted on the questions on levels of trust in the Scottish and UK Governments at four distinct points in time: 2000 (the first year of SSA data collection since the commencement of Scottish Parliament business); 2007 (the year of the third Scottish Parliament election, from which the SNP emerged as the largest party at Holyrood); 2015 (the first year of data collection following the Scottish independence referendum held in the previous September); and 2019 (the most recent year of data collection).

Demographics

Three demographic variables were shown to be associated with the changes in levels of trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests across this time period: age, ability to live on present income, and education. According to 2019 SSA data, those in younger age groups[21] were more likely than their older counterparts to state that they trust the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests either 'just about always' or 'most of the time'. Figure 2.2 shows this pattern has been in evidence since 2000, when 61% of those aged 18 to 34 years old reported trusting the Scottish Government 'just about always' or 'most of the time' compared with 44% of those aged 65 and over. The increase in levels of trust shown in 2007 and 2015 was more marked among those aged 65 and over compared with those in the youngest age group, leading to a narrowing of the gap between the age groups, so that in 2015, 77% of those aged 18 to 34 years old trusted the Scottish Government 'just about always' or 'most of the time' compared with 70% of those aged 65 and over. The latest figures suggest that views diverged once more between 2015 and 2019. In 2019, while trust in the Scottish Government on this measure fell back among those in the youngest age group by just 5 percentage points compared with 2015, the equivalent drop among those in the oldest age group was 23 percentage points – resulting in a 24-percentage point gap in levels of trust in the Scottish Government between those in the youngest age group (71%) and those in the oldest age group (47%).[22] 

Figure 2.2: Trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests by age (2000-2019)
Figure 2.2: Line chart showing levels of trust in the Scottish Government by age (2000-2019)

 Base: all respondents

Analysis of the relationship between levels of trust in the Scottish Government to act in Scotland's best interest and actual reported income showed that the views of all income groups have moved in a similar direction and at a similar pace during the past two decades. However, when how people feel about their income is examined, a pattern emerges once more of an attitudinal gap narrowing between 2000 and 2015 and subsequently widening.[22] Fifty-eight percent of those who in 2000 reported living comfortably on their present income trusted the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests either 'just about always' or 'most of the time', while among those struggling on their present income the figure was 46%. Although a gap of a comparable magnitude was observable in 2007, SSA data from 2015 show that a similar proportion (around three-quarters) of those struggling on their household income trusted the Scottish Government as those who were living comfortably. Between 2015 and 2019 the decline in trust was most marked among those who were struggling on their present income. While under two-thirds of those living comfortably reported trusting the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests, the equivalent proportion among those struggling had fallen back by 30 percent – creating a gap of 19 percentage points in levels of trust in the Scottish Government between those living comfortably on their present income (64%) and those struggling (45%).

A similar picture emerges when examining trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests by educational level. In 2000, a gap of 18 percentage points was observable between levels of trust in the Scottish Government among those holding a degree-level qualification or above (63%) and those with no formal qualifications (45%). Although levels of trust had increased among both groups by 2007 (to 77% among those with a degree or above and 63% among those with no formal qualifications) and were measured at a similar level once more in 2015, in 2019 while trust in government has remained at over 7 in 10 (72%) among those with at least a degree-level qualification, among those with no formal qualifications trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests has fallen to 42%, resulting in the emergence of a 30-percentage point gap between the two groups.

Constitutional preference and party identification

In addition to looking at whether the views of particular demographic subgroups were driving attitudinal changes over time, analysis across the time series also showed that levels of trust in the Scottish Government were associated with constitutional preference, party identification and EU membership. 

As Figure 2.3 shows, levels of trust in the Scottish Government to act in Scotland's best interests between 2000 and 2004 were similar for both those who indicated a preference for independence[23] and those who did not, before diverging slightly in 2005 and realigning in 2006. In 2007, levels of trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests either 'just about always' or 'most of the time' rose to around three-quarters irrespective of their preference towards Scotland's constitutional future. 

Since 2007, however, a divergence in attitudes has been observed between these groups – among those who indicated a preference for independence, by 2015 trust in the Scottish Government had increased to 86%, while among those who indicated a preference for remaining part of the UK trust had fallen back somewhat to 63%. SSA 2019 data suggest a continuation of this divergence; while trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests is lower among both groups than was the case in 2015, the magnitude of this decline was greater among those who indicated that they wish Scotland to remain part of the UK (among whom trust in the Scottish Government now stands at 44%) than among those who indicated a preference for independence (78% of whom suggest that they trust the Scottish Government). This has resulted in a 34-percentage point gap in levels of trust between these two groups.

Figure 2.3: Trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests by constitutional preference (2000-2019)
Figure 2.3: Line chart showing levels of trust in the Scottish Government by constitutional preference (2000-2019)

 Base: all respondents 
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

A similar pattern can be observed in levels of trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests according to people's party identification. Figure 2.4 shows that between 2000 and 2007, similar levels of trust were observed among SNP, Labour and Conservative supporters. From 2007 to 2015, however, while trust in the Scottish Government among SNP supporters had risen from 78% to 90%, trust among Labour supporters had fallen back from 73% to 60% and among Conservative supporters from 64% to 54%. According to the most recent data, levels of trust among SNP supporters have remained relatively stable at over four-fifths (83%). Meanwhile, trust among Labour supporters has held up at around three-fifths (60%), while trust among Conservative supporters has declined to around one-third (32%).

Figure 2.4: Trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests by party identification (2000-2019)
Figure 2.4: Line chart showing levels of trust in the Scottish Government by party identification (2000-2019)

Base: all respondents
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

European Union membership

SSA has also carried a range of questions designed to measure people's views on Britain's relationship with the European Union (EU) on a regular basis over the past two decades. In a similar vein to the item on constitutional preference described above, the long-running question which asks respondents to select from a list of five options has been chosen here for analysis. Respondents were asked to choose the option that best reflects what they feel Britain's future relationship with the EU should look like. Having undergone a minor wording change to reflect the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum,[24] the question wording in 2019 was:

Leaving aside the result of the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, what do you think Britain's policy should be...
...should it leave the European Union,
stay in the EU and try to
reduce the EU's powers,
stay in the EU and keep the EU's powers as they are,
stay in the EU and try to
increase the EU's powers,
or, work for the formation of a single European government?

In order to understand the nature of the relationship between trust in the Scottish Government and attitudes towards the European Union, the responses of those who indicated that their preferred policy would be to 'leave the European Union' – i.e. those who selected the first option when asked about their attitudes towards Britain's relationship with the European Union – were compared with the responses of those who selected one of the remaining four options. 

In 2000, a difference of around 16 percentage points was apparent in levels of trust in the Scottish Government between those who expressed a preference for leaving the EU (41%) and those who wanted to remain (with the EU's powers either reduced, increased or staying the same) or form a single European government (56%). However, by 2015 this difference had disappeared, with those who suggested that Britain should leave the EU reporting similar levels of trust in the Scottish Government (70%) as their counterparts who wanted to remain (with the EU's powers either reduced, increased or staying the same) or form a single European government (73%).

In 2019, however, while levels of trust among those who wanted to remain (with the EU's powers either reduced, increased or staying the same) or form a single European government remained relatively stable (at 68%) when compared with 2015 figures, among those who indicated a preference for leaving the EU the proportion who trusted the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests had fallen by 30 percentage points to around 2 in 5 (40%).

Have particular subgroups driven attitudinal changes over time in levels of trust in the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests?

On the issue of trust in the UK Government to work in Scotland's best long-term interests, the trend analysis shows that the levels of trust were relatively stable throughout the 2000s at between one-fifth and one-quarter. A peak of 35% was reached in 2007 before a decline in levels of trust to a low of 15% recorded in 2019 (see Figure 2.1). Analysis was carried out to explore whether these changes were more likely among particular demographic groups than others.

Demographics

While levels of trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests varied by age and education, there was little evidence of a similar relationship between levels of trust in the UK Government and age or educational level. Rather, attitudes have shifted at a similar pace among different age groups and those with differing levels of educational attainment.

As is the case with levels of trust in the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests, when levels of trust are examined in accordance with how people feel about their household income, an attitudinal gap emerged over time (see Figure 2.5). In 2000 levels of trust in the UK Government were broadly similar between those who reported living comfortably on their present income and those who were struggling to do so. Between 2000 and 2007 however the proportion of those who were living comfortably on their present income that trusted the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests either 'just about always' or 'most of the time' doubled from 19% to 40%, whereas levels of trust among those who were struggling remained stable (16% in 2000 compared with 18% in 2007). 

Despite levels of trust in the UK Government having declined by 14 percentage points among those who reported living comfortably on their present income between 2007 and 2015, members of this group remained more likely to assert that they trusted the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests (26%) than those who were struggling (14%). In 2019 this gap persists, although trust in the UK Government has fallen back further among both groups to around 1 in 5 (18%) of those living comfortably and less than 1 in 10 (7%) of those struggling on their present income.

Figure 2.5: Trust in the UK Government by feelings about household income (2000-2019)
Figure 2.5: Bar chart showing levels of trust in the UK Government by feelings about household income (2000-2019)

Base: all respondents

Constitutional preference and party identification

While those who express a preference for Scotland to be an independent country (on the five-point item on constitutional preference discussed above) were more likely to indicate that they trust the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests than their counterparts, who express a preference for Scotland to remain part of the UK, the opposite was the case when it came to levels of trust in the UK Government. 

Levels of trust in the UK Government have been consistently higher since 2000 among those who believe Scotland should remain part of the UK compared with those who expressed a preference for independence. In 2000 those who believed that Scotland should remain part of the UK (22%) were more than twice as likely as their counterparts who expressed a preference for independence (10%) to have said they trusted the UK Government. Although in 2007 trust in the UK Government peaked among both groups this increase was greater among those who favoured Scotland remaining part of the UK. The result of this development was the attitudinal gap between those on both sides of the constitutional debate increasing to 29 percentage points by 2015. The decline in levels of trust in the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests between 2015 and 2019 has been more marked among those who believe Scotland should remain part of the UK (from 35% in 2015 to 27% in 2019) whereas the proportion of those who expressed a preference for independence that trust the UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests has remained the same at just over 1 in 20 (6%).

This pattern was to some extent mirrored when examining the distribution of responses to the question of trust in the UK Government by party identification. The attitudes of SNP supporters follow a similar trajectory over time to those who believe Scotland should be an independent country. Meanwhile, having been relatively unified in 2000 and 2007, views among Labour and Conservative supporters can be seen to have diverged in 2015 (following the result of the 2015 general election at which the Conservatives won an overall majority). In 2015 trust in the UK Government was down by 19 percentage points on 2007 figures among Labour supporters, yet 11 percentage points up on the equivalent figure among Conservatives. While the scale of these differences has remained relatively stable in 2019, trust in the UK Government has fallen among supporters of all three major parties since 2015.

European Union membership

While in both 2000 and 2015 a difference of 11 percentage points was observable in levels of trust in the UK Government between those who expressed a preference for leaving the European Union and wanted to remain (with the EU's powers either reduced, increased or staying the same) or form a single European government, it was among those who expressed a preference for leaving the EU that trust in the UK Government was lowest. In 2019, however, this position reversed to the extent that a gap of around 12 percentage points was recorded in levels of trust in the UK Government between those who expressed a preference for leaving the EU and those who wanted to remain (with the EU's powers either reduced, increased or staying the same) or form a single European government– with levels of trust in 2019 twice as high among the former group (26%) as among the latter group (13%). 

Trust in Scottish Government, UK Government, and local councils to make fair decisions

In addition to being asked about the extent to which they trust the Scottish Government and UK Government to work in Scotland's best interests, respondents were also asked about their level of trust in three levels of government to make 'fair decisions': 

How much do you trust the UK Government/Scottish Government/local council to make fair decisions? By fair decisions I mean decisions that are fair to different groups of people in the UK / Scotland / your local area

Table 2.2 below shows that in 2019 while less than 1 in 20 trust any of the three institutions 'a great deal' to make fair decisions, just over a third trust the Scottish Government to make fair decisions either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' while the equivalent proportion for local councils stands at around one-quarter and for the UK Government at just over 1 in 10. Just over one-fifth (22%) reported that they trust the Scottish Government to make fair decisions either 'not very much' or 'not at all', while a similar proportion (23%) said the same of their local council. Meanwhile, just over a half (51%) said that they trust the UK Government to make fair decisions either 'not very much' or 'not at all'.

Table 2.2: Trust in Scottish Government, UK Government, and local councils to make fair decisions (2019)

 

Scottish Government (%) UK Government  (%) Local Council  (%)
A great deal 4 1 3
Quite a lot 33 11 25
Some 39 36 39
Not very much 17 33 16
Not at all 5 18 7
Don't know 1 1 9
Unweighted base 1022 1022 1022

Base: all respondents

Figure 2.6 demonstrates how the proportion who trust each level of government to make fair decisions either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' shifted between 2006 and 2015.[25] Trust in the Scottish Government over this period fluctuated between a low of just under one-third (32%) in 2006 and a high of just under a half (49%) in 2015. Once again, the proportion who trust the Scottish Government to make fair decisions has been registered at a consistently higher level than the proportion who trust the UK Government to do so, which over the same period fluctuated between a low of under one-fifth (17%) in 2015 and a high of one-third (33%) in 2007.

Despite the variance seen between 2006 and 2015, the level of trust in the Scottish Government to make fair decisions remained steady at 37% between 2017 and 2019. The level of trust in the UK Government however fell to a record low of 11% in 2019. Meanwhile, the proportion who trust their local council to make fair decisions lies in between the equivalent figure for the Scottish and UK Governments in each year since this question was first asked. Trust in local councils to make fair decisions declined from just over one-third in 2015 to around a quarter in 2017 but has remained relatively steady at 29% in 2019. 

Figure 2.6: Proportion who trust Scottish Government, UK Government, and local council to make fair decisions 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' (2006-2019)
Figure 2.6: Line chart showing proportion who trust Scottish and UK Governments, and local council to make fair decisions (2006-2019)

Base: all who said they trusted the Scottish Government, UK Government and local council 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' to make fair decisions
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

How good is government at listening before it takes decisions?

Since 2004, SSA has included questions assessing public perceptions of how good different levels of government are at listening to people's views as part of the decision-making process. SSA asked its respondents in turn, how good the Scottish Government, UK Government, and local councils are at 'listening to people's views before it takes decisions', with the four answer options ranging from 'very good' to 'not at all good'.

Table 2.3 below shows that in 2019 fewer than 1 in 10 considered that government at any level is 'very good' at listening to people before taking decisions (ranging from 7% who felt that the Scottish Government is 'very good' at listening to people before taking decisions to just 1% in respect of the UK Government). Forty-four per cent viewed the Scottish Government as being 'quite good' at listening to people's views before taking decisions, while 39% expressed this view of local councils and 14% of the UK Government.

Meanwhile, just over 2 in 5 believed that the Scottish Government is either 'not very good' or 'not at all good' at engaging with the public before taking decisions, with a similar proportion offering this opinion of their local council. The proportion who believed that the UK Government is either 'not very good' or 'not at all good' at listening to people before taking decisions was over four-fifths.

Table 2.3: How good the Scottish Government, UK Government, and local councils are at listening to people before taking decisions (2019)

 

Scottish Government  (%) UK Government  (%) Local council  (%)
Very good 7 1 6
Quite good 44 14 39
Not very good 31 48 27
Not at all good 12 33 14
Unweighted base 1022 1022 1022

Base: all respondents

SSA has carried the questions measuring attitudes towards how good the Scottish and UK Governments are at listening to people since 2004, allowing a review of how attitudes in this area have shifted during the past 15 years.[26]

As illustrated by Figure 2.7, although the proportion who believed that the Scottish Government is either 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening to people's views before taking decisions fell to just over a half in 2019 from a peak of around three-fifths in 2015, there has been a general upward shift in the proportion of those who adopt this stance since 2004 when the figure stood at just under one-third. Meanwhile, the proportion who felt that the UK Government is either 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening to people before it takes decisions has remained consistently lower during the same period, fluctuating between a high of 22% in 2010 and a low of 15% registered in both the first reading in 2004 and the most recent reading in 2019. 

Figure 2.7: Proportion who feel that the Scottish Government, UK Government, and local councils are 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening to people before they take decisions (2004-2019)
Figure 2.7: Line chart showing proportion who feel that governments and local councils are good at listening to people (2004-2019)

Base: all who said that the Scottish Government, UK Government and local councils are 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening to people before they take decisions
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

Does the Scottish Parliament give people more say in how Scotland is governed and a stronger voice in the UK?

Since 1999, SSA has carried two questions measuring public perceptions of the political impact of the Scottish Parliament. These questions read as follows:[27]

Do you think that having a Scottish Parliament is giving ordinary people…
…more say in how Scotland is governed,
less say,
or, is it making no difference?

and

Do you think that having a Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland…
…a stronger voice in the United Kingdom,
a weaker voice in the United Kingdom,
or, is it making no difference?

The responses to both questions, in 2019, indicated that a majority felt that the Scottish Parliament is having a positive impact upon the political landscape in Scotland. In 2019, 56% felt that the Scottish Parliament is giving ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed, while 36% believed that the Scottish Parliament makes no difference to how much say ordinary people have in how Scotland is governed with only around 1 in 20 believing that the Scottish Parliament is giving ordinary people less say in how Scotland is governed. Meanwhile, just over three-fifths feel that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, with just under one-third thinking that the Scottish Parliament makes no difference to how strong Scotland's voice is in the UK, (again with only around 1 in 20 feeling that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a weaker voice in the UK).

Both of these questions have been on SSA on a regular basis since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, enabling the tracking of public attitudes towards the institution across the course of its life so far. As Figures 2.8 and 2.9 demonstrate, it has not always been the case that a majority have viewed the Scottish Parliament as having a positive impact upon government in Scotland. Expectations were high in 1999 that the Scottish Parliament would give ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed, or would give Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, but the proportion who thought that was the case had halved by 2002.

Since around 2004, however, there has been a general upward trend in both the proportion who believe that the Scottish Parliament is giving ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed and the proportion who feel that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK. As was seen to be the case with levels of trust in the Scottish government, the Scottish election years of 2003, 2007 and 2011 also show an 'election bounce' in the proportion of positive responses about the impact of the Scottish Parliament.

Figure 2.8: Views on whether the Scottish Parliament is giving ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed, less say, or making no difference (1999-2019)
Figure 2.8: Line chart showing views on whether the Scottish Parliament is giving people more or less say in how Scotland is governed (1999-2019)

Base: all respondents
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

Figure 2.9: Views on whether the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, a weaker voice, or making no difference (1999-2019)
Figure 2.9: Line chart showing views on whether the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger or weaker voice in the UK (1999-2019)

Base: all respondents
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

Both of these measures saw peaks in 2011 and in the years following the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – in 2015, 61% believed that the Scottish Parliament was giving ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed, while in 2016 71% felt that the institution was giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK. These figures have since fallen somewhat, however in both cases around 3 in 5 viewed the Scottish Parliament as having a positive effect upon the Scottish political environment in 2019.

Have particular subgroups driven changes over time in attitudes to whether the Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK?

This section explores whether there are changes in attitudes among particular subgroups that are potentially driving these overall changes in attitudes. The proportion who believed that having a Scottish Parliament has given Scotland a stronger voice in the UK has shifted over time and the nature and extent of this shift differs according to a number of key demographics: age, income and education; and by party identification and interest in politics.

Demographics

Across 2000, 2007, 2015 and 2019 younger people were more likely than older people to believe that the Scottish Parliament was giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK. Between 2000 and 2015, the increase in the overall proportion who felt the Scottish Parliament was giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, was seen across all age groups. However, 2019 figures show that the decline in the proportion believing that the Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK was not seen uniformly across all age groups. The proportion of those who felt that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK has fallen among a number of age groups, but it was among the youngest age group that this drop was particularly marked. Indeed, among the youngest age group the proportion who view the Scottish Parliament as giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK fell by 15 percentage points, from 73% in 2015 to 58% in 2019 – the same level as that registered in 2000.

The long-term trend from 2000 to 2015 of an increase in the proportion of people in Scotland who believe that having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK was also not expressed uniformly across groups with different levels of household income. While attitudes appeared broadly similar across these groups immediately following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 2000, by 2015 the data showed that those in the highest income group were more likely to believe that the Scottish Parliament was giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK (74%) than those in the lowest income group (63%). In 2019, while support for this stance remained at a similar level among those in the highest income group, among those in the lowest income group the proportion who believed that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK had slipped back to 57%, resulting in an attitudinal gap of around 16 percentage points between the two groups.

A similar pattern emerges when examining the distribution of attitudes towards whether the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK by how people feel about their present income. In 2000 just over half of both those living comfortably and those struggling on their present income felt that the Scottish Parliament was enhancing Scotland's voice in the UK. Although no significant difference between these groups was observed in either 2007 or 2015, by 2019 there was a 13-percentage point gap between those living comfortably on their present income and those finding it difficult to do so, with 64% of the former group stating that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK compared with 53% of the latter group.[28]

The distribution over time of attitudes towards whether the Scottish Parliament has enhanced Scotland's voice in the UK by education shows that those with higher educational qualifications have been consistently more likely to state that the Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK than their counterparts with fewer or no formal qualifications. This gap in attitudes has remained fairly stable around 10 percentage points with the exception of 2007, where the increase in the proportion believing that the Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK was observed more markedly among those with at least a degree-level qualification compared with those with no formal qualifications, leading to a 17-percentage point gap between these two groups. 

Party identification

While the proportion who believed that the Scottish Parliament is enhancing Scotland's voice in the UK has increased among supporters of all three major political parties in Scotland, SNP supporters have been consistently more likely to state that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK since 2007 (in 2019, 69% of SNP supporters said that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, 58% of Labour supporters and 50% of Conservative supporters). 

As illustrated by Figure 2.10, the attitudes of supporters of all three main parties have fluctuated between 2000 and 2019. Among SNP and Conservative supporters, however, attitudes have fluctuated to a greater extent than among Labour supporters, with a rise in the proportion of those stating that the Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK among supporters of these two parties rising from the lowest point in 2004 (22% among Conservative supporters and 34% among SNP supporters) to a peak of 62% among Conservative supporters and 85% among SNP supporters in 2016. There was then a subsequent reduction in the proportion of both SNP and Conservative supporters adopting this stance recorded between 2015 and 2019.

Figure 2.10: Views on whether the Scottish Parliament has given Scotland a stronger voice in the UK by party identity (2000-2019)
Figure 2.10: Line chart showing views on whether the Scottish Parliament has given Scotland a stronger voice in the UK by party identity (2000-2019)

Base: all respondents
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

Interest in politics

A shifting association between attitudes on the influence of the Scottish Parliament and reported levels of interest in politics is also notable across the past two decades. Each year, SSA asks respondents:

How much interest do you generally have in what is going on in politics...
…a great deal,
quite a lot,
some,
not very much,
or, none at all?

In 2000 around half (52%) of those who indicated that they had either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics felt that the Scottish Parliament was giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, a similar proportion to that registered among those who reported having either 'not very much' interest in politics or 'none at all'. However, by 2015, attitudes had diverged to the extent that 76% of those with either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics felt that the Scottish Parliament was providing Scotland with a stronger voice in the UK, while the equivalent figure among those with either 'not very much' interest in politics or 'none at all', stood at 57% – a gap of 18 percentage points.

Between 2015 and 2019 there has been a decline in the prevalence of this view among both groups, but this has been sharper among those with little or no interest in politics. As a result, a 28-percentage point gap in attitudes towards the influence of the Scottish Parliament now exists between those with either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics (71% of whom feel that the Scottish Parliament is enhancing Scotland's voice in the UK) and those with either 'not very much' interest in politics or 'none at all' (among whom the equivalent figure stands at 43%). 

Who has and who ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run?

In addition to questions on trust in the Scottish and UK Governments and the perceived impact of the Scottish Parliament, SSA carries two questions which measure views on which institution does have, and which ought to have, the most influence over political decisions affecting Scotland. Respondents are first asked which political institution they feel 'has the most influence over the way Scotland is run', and then asked which institution they believe 'ought to have the most influence over the way Scotland is run', with the following possible answer options: 'the Scottish Government', 'the UK Government at Westminster', 'local councils in Scotland', or 'the European Union'.

As Table 2.4 below illustrates, in 2019, 42% of people felt that the UK Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run, while a similar proportion (40%) felt that the Scottish Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run (under 1 in 10 believed that local councils have or that the EU has the most influence over the way Scotland is run, at 7% and 6% respectively). 

Meanwhile, almost three-quarters (73%) felt that the Scottish Government ought to have the most influence over how Scotland is run, with 15% believing the UK Government ought to have the most influence (once again, under 1 in 10 believe that local councils (8%) should have the most influence, with only 1% believing that the EU should have the most influence over how Scotland is run).

Table 2.4: Perceptions of which political institution has, and ought to have, the most influence over the way Scotland is run (2019)

 

Who has most influence (%) Who ought to have most influence (%)
Scottish Government 40 73
UK Government 42 15
Local councils 7 8
The EU 6 1
Unweighted base 1022 1022

Base: all respondents

In terms of satisfaction with the distribution of institutional power in Scotland, around three-quarters (73%) of those who believed the Scottish Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run also felt that the Scottish Government ought to have the most influence. However, just under one-fifth (18%) of those who believed that the UK Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run also said that it should have, while over three-quarters (77%) of those who saw the UK Government as having the most influence felt that it is the Scottish Government that ought to have the most influence over how Scotland is run.

The patterns of response to these two questions from 1999 to 2019 are illustrated in Figures 2.11 and 2.12. As Figure 2.11 shows, attitudes towards which political institution ought to have the most influence over how Scotland is run have remained relatively stable across the past two decades, with the Scottish Government typically being favoured by between two-thirds and three-quarters, and the UK Government typically being selected by between around 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 (occasionally being favoured by fewer people than 'local councils in Scotland' during the mid-2000s). 

Figure 2.11: Perceptions of who ought to have the most influence over how Scotland is run (1999-2019)
Figure 2.11: Line chart showing perceptions of who ought to have the most influence over how Scotland is run (1999-2019)

Base: all respondents
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

In contrast, as shown by Figure 2.12, views on which body has the most influence over how Scotland is run have varied considerably over the past twenty years. In 1999, when the question was phrased prospectively in anticipation of the commencement of Scottish Parliament business,[30] similar proportions believed that the Scottish Government and the UK Government would exercise the most influence over how Scotland is run.

Figure 2.12: Perceptions of who has the most influence over how Scotland is run (1999-2019)
Figure 2.12: Line chart showing perceptions of who has the most influence over how Scotland is run (1999-2019)

Base: all respondents
*No data was collected in 2008, 2014 or 2018

However, during the early part of the 2000s attitudes diverged, with around two-thirds adopting the view that the UK Government had most influence over how Scotland was run and less than one-fifth believing that the Scottish Government had the most influence over how Scotland is run. From 2004 onwards opinions began to converge once more, to the extent that by 2011 – the year in which the first SNP majority was elected at Holyrood – the same proportion (just under 4 in 10) believed that the Scottish Government held the most influence over how Scotland was run as felt that the UK Government held the most influence. In both 2012 and 2013 the proportion who believed the UK Government had the most influence increased (to 47% in 2013), but, following the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the UK General Election in 2015, the proportion fell away once more to around 4 in 10. Since then the proportion who believe that influence lies mostly at Holyrood, and the proportion who feel that influence lies mostly in Westminster, have remained fairly even.

Have particular subgroups driven changes over time in attitudes on who has the most influence over how Scotland is run?

On the issue of the role that the Scottish Government plays in the governance of Scotland, as the trend analysis discussed above shows, in the year 2000 around five times as many people believed that the UK Government had the most influence over the way Scotland is run as felt that the Scottish Government played the most influential role in the governance of Scotland. In 2019, data indicate that a similar proportion (around 40%) now identify the Scottish Government as having the most influence over how Scotland is run as point to the UK Government as being the most influential political institution (42%). But are these changes in attitudes seen across all demographic groups, or were some groups more likely than others to have shown a change?

Demographics

The proportion believing that the Scottish Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run has shifted over time and the nature and extent of this shift differs according to a number of key demographics: age, feelings about living on present income and education. As Table 2.5 below shows, differences in perceptions of who has the most influence over how Scotland is run were discernible by age group in 2019 – while younger members of the population were more likely to feel that the UK Government rather than the Scottish Government exercises the most influence over how Scotland is run, older members of the population were more likely to feel that it is the Scottish Government that has the most influence.

Perceptions of which institution has the most influence over the way Scotland is run shifted in a similar direction between 2000 and 2015 among both younger and older age groups. More recently, however, figures suggest an increased divergence in perceptions of influence of the Scottish Government between young and old. Between 2015 and 2019, while the proportion of those aged 65 and over who felt that the Scottish Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run rose from 43%% to around a half (49%), the equivalent figure among the youngest age group declined from 32% to 27%, leading to an attitudinal gap of 22 percentage points between the two groups.

Table 2.5: Perceptions of who has the most influence over the way Scotland is run by age (2019)

 

Scottish Government (%) UK Government (%) Unweighted base Weighted base
16-34 27 48 182 300
35-44 43 50 130 151
45-54 42 45 183 176
55-64 47 33 186 164
65+ 49 33 341 232

Base: all respondents

There were differences in levels of perceived influence of the Scottish Government by how people report they are managing on their present income. The proportion who perceived the Scottish Government to have the most influence over how Scotland is run was higher in 2019 than was the case in 2000 among both those who reported living comfortably on their present income and those who were struggling. However, while in 2000 the proportion of those who felt that the Scottish Government exerted the most influence over how Scotland is run was similar among both groups, in 2007 a gap of 9 percentage points was registered between those living comfortably and those struggling on their present income. While no significant difference was observed in 2015 between these two groups, in 2019 45% of those living comfortably perceived the Scottish Government to be the most influential body compared with 27% of those struggling resulting in an attitudinal gap of 18 percentage points between the two groups.

Meanwhile, this pattern appears to be reversed in the case of perceptions of the influence of the UK Government. While the proportion of those who point to Westminster as exercising the most influence over the way Scotland is run fell between 2000 and 2015 at a similar rate among both those who reported living comfortably on their present income and those who reported struggling to do so, in 2019 the proportion of those who identified the UK Government as the most influential institution among those struggling on their present income has increased from 42% in 2015 to 56%, while remaining at a similar level (38%) among those who report living comfortably. 

In 2019, those with at least a degree-level qualification were more likely to feel that the Scottish Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run (47%) than their counterparts with no formal qualifications (35%). Meanwhile, a higher proportion of those with a degree-level qualification felt that it was the Scottish Parliament that exercises the most influence over how Scotland is run (47%) than believed it was the UK Government that did so (40%), while among those with no formal qualifications the UK Government was perceived to have the most influence by a greater proportion (40%) than thought the Scottish Government did (35%).

Since 2000 the proportion who believe that it is the Scottish Government that holds the most influence over how Scotland is run has increased across the educational spectrum, while the proportion that believe it is the UK Government that is most influential has decreased. While in 2007 a gap of 15 percentage points existed between those educated to degree-level and those with no formal qualifications in perceptions of influence of the Scottish Government, by 2015 attitudes appeared to have somewhat converged. However, in 2019, a gap of 12 percentage points emerged once more between the two groups. Conversely, perceptions on the influence of the UK Government in how Scotland is run have been relatively consistent among those with a degree-level qualification and those with no formal qualifications, with the 2019 data measuring the proportion of those who view Westminster as having most influence over how Scotland is run at 40% among both groups.

Constitutional preference and party identification

Differences in views on which institution exercises the most power over how Scotland is run were observable in 2019 between those on both sides of the debate about Scotland's constitutional future. While a higher proportion of those who indicate a preference for an independent Scotland point to the UK Government (51%) rather than the Scottish Government (37%) as holding the most influence over how Scotland is run, among those who indicate a preference for Scotland remaining part of the UK a higher proportion believe that the Scottish Government has the most say (47%) than feel the UK Government does so (31%).

This divergence in attitudes towards which institution holds the most power over how Scotland is run was not present at the beginning of the life of the Scottish Parliament. As Figure 2.13 demonstrates, in 2000 just over 1 in 10 of those on both sides of the constitutional debate felt that the Scottish Government was the most influential body. From 2000 to 2015, similar increases were seen among both those who support independence, and those who would prefer Scotland remain part of the UK, in the proportions believing that the Scottish Government has most say over how Scotland is governed. In 2019 the data show that while the increase in the proportion of those who feel that the Scottish Parliament has the most influence has slowed among both groups, there now exists a 11 percentage point gap between those who indicate support for an independent Scotland and those who believe Scotland should remain a part of the UK, with the latter group more likely than the former to view Holyrood as having the most influence over how Scotland is run. 

Meanwhile, in 2000 around two-thirds of both those who expressed a preference for independence and those who believed that Scotland should remain a part of the UK identified the UK Government as the institution with the most influence over the way Scotland is run. By 2007, while the proportion among those who support independence had fallen to 54%, among supporters of the union the proportion had dropped to 46%. In 2015 attitudes appeared to have converged once more, but 2019 data show that while the proportion of those who believe the UK Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run has continued to fall among those who indicate a preference for Scotland remaining part of the UK (to 31%), it has risen once more among those who indicate a preference for an independent Scotland (51%) – resulting in a 20-percentage point gap between the two groups on this measure.

Figure 2.13: Perceptions of who has the most influence over the way Scotland is run by constitutional preference (2000-2019)
Figure 2.13: Bar chart showing perceptions of who has the most influence over the way Scotland is run by constitutional preference (2000-2019)

Base: all respondents

Once again, this pattern is largely reflected in the distribution of responses to the question on perceived institutional influence by party identification. In 2019 Conservative supporters were more likely to say that the Scottish Parliament (59%) has the most influence over the way Scotland is run than the UK Government (23%), while among SNP supporters the inverse is the case (with 51% identifying the UK Government as having the most influence and 38% viewing the Scottish Government as having the most influence). Among Labour supporters' opinion was more evenly split, although a higher proportion point to the UK Government (44%) rather than the Scottish Government (37%) as being the most influential.

While belief that the Scottish Government exercises the most influence over how Scotland is run has risen relatively steadily across each of the four time points among Conservative supporters, among both Labour and SNP supporters this rise appears to have halted between 2015 and 2019. Meanwhile, the proportion of Conservative supporters who perceived the UK Government to hold the most influence over how Scotland is run fell by 15 percentage points between 2015 and 2019, while among SNP supporters the proportion taking this view has increased by 8 percentage points across the same period, leading to a 28-percentage point gap between them.

European Union

Perceptions of who has the most influence over the way Scotland is run also varied by attitudes towards Britain's relationship with the European Union. When analysing attitudes towards institutional influence by views on what the UK's future relationship with the EU should look like, 2019 data show that those who believe Britain should leave the EU were more likely to point to the Scottish Government (47%) as opposed to the UK Government (32%) as having the most influence over how Scotland is run, while perceptions among those who take an alternative stance were more evenly balanced (at 40% and 44% respectively).

Attitudes have shifted more rapidly among those who believe Britain should leave the EU than among their counterparts since the commencement of Scottish Parliament business. While perceptions of the influence of both the Scottish Government and the UK Government were broadly similar among both groups in 2000, the proportion who felt that the Scottish Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run, among those who back the UK's departure from the EU, has increased by 37 percentage points between 2000 and 2019 compared with a shift of 26 percentage points among those who believe Britain should seek to remain in the EU. Meanwhile, the proportion who perceive the UK Government as having the most influence among those who back leave has shifted by 33 percentage points, while among those who adopt an alternative stance the equivalent shift measures 24 points.

Interest in politics

2019 data show that levels of reported interest in politics is associated with perceived levels of influence over how Scotland is run – particularly that of the Scottish Government. The proportion of those who believed the UK Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run was 39% among both those who reported having either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics and those who have either 'not very much' interest or 'none at all'. However, the equivalent proportions of those who believed the Scottish Government has the most influence over how Scotland is run were 50% among those with 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest, and 31% among those with 'not very much' interest or 'none at all'. Attitudes between these two groups have diverged since the first year of Scottish Government business, when the equivalent figures were 16% and 10% respectively.


Contact

Email: social_research@gov.scot