Scottish Social Attitudes 2015: Attitudes to Government, the National Health Service, the Economy and Standard of Living

This report provides the findings of the core module of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015 on attitudes to government, the National Health Service, the economy and standard of living.

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction

1.1 This report presents findings from the 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. It focuses on three key questions regarding the relationship between the public, the government and public services in Scotland in 2015:

  • What factors are related to trust in government and who people think has, and ought to have, most influence over the way Scotland is run?
  • How have attitudes to government, the National Health Service (NHS), the economy, and standard of living changed over time?
  • Who do people see as responsible for perceived changes in the performance of the NHS, the economy and in standard of living?

Political and constitutional context

1.2 The political and constitutional landscape in Scotland has changed significantly in recent years. Following the passing of the Scotland Act 1998[1] and the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament, further transfer of powers from the UK Parliament in Westminster to Holyrood (including the power to set a Scottish rate of income tax) took place as a result of the Scotland Act 2012,[2] although the full effects of this new legislation will not be felt until 2016.

1.3 These developments coincided with a shift in voting patterns in Scotland, and a rise in political support for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Following Labour-Liberal Democrat administrations during the first two terms of the devolved parliament, in 2007, the SNP formed a minority government at Holyrood. In 2011 it formed the first majority government.

1.4 As part of its Scottish Parliament 2011 manifesto, the SNP made a commitment to hold a referendum on Scottish independence before the end of its five-year term. In this referendum, which was held on 18 September 2014, 55% opted to remain a part of the UK, with 45% voting in favour of Scottish independence.[3]

1.5 Following commitments made by the UK Government during the referendum campaign on the devolution of further powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament, on 19 September 2014, the UK Prime Minister announced the establishment of the Smith Commission to make recommendations. The Commission published its recommendations in a report on 27 November 2014.[4] These included the complete devolution of the power to set income tax rates in Scotland, the devolution of specific powers relating to welfare and benefits, and for the Scottish parliament to receive a portion of VAT raised in Scotland (amounting to 50% at current rates). The recommendations of the Commission informed the Scotland Bill 2015-2016[5] announced during the Queen's Speech on 27 May 2015. The Scottish Government laid out its plans to use the new powers in the Programme for Government for 2015-16, published in September 2015 (Scottish Government, 2015a).

1.6 In May 2015, the UK general election saw a shift in voting behaviour in Scotland, with the SNP winning 56 out of the 59 constituency seats in the country.

Economic context

1.7 The Scottish economy has continued to grow every quarter over the last three years to the third quarter of 2015, (the most recent quarter for which data are currently available). This is the longest period of continuous growth since 2001. However, the pace of growth has slowed during the third quarter of 2015, with quarterly and annualised growth of 0.1% and 1.9% respectively (Scottish Government, 2015b).

1.8 In relation to the labour market in Scotland, the employment rate remained relatively stable between July 2014 and June 2015 with a slight increase overall from 73.8% to 74.1%. Scotland's employment rate was consistently higher than in the UK as a whole over this period. In the same period unemployment levels slightly reduced from 5.9% (in the third quarter of 2014) to 5.6% (in the second quarter of 2015), the same level as it was in the UK as a whole[6].

The National Health Service in Scotland

1.9 The NHS in Scotland, as in other parts of the UK, faces long-term challenges to meet increasing demands, due to factors such as the changing demography, including a rapidly ageing population and high levels of preventable diseases and other conditions among those growing older, and sustained patterns of health inequalities across the population.

1.10 While NHS Scotland was able to report on a range of achievements in the year to March 2015 (NHSScotland Chief Executive 2015), including improvements in the early detention of cancer and a decline in the proportion of smokers, Audit Scotland assessed key performance targets, and noted that several key waiting time and performance targets were missed (Audit Scotland, 2015).

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey

1.11 Run by ScotCen Social Research since 1999, the Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey provides a reliable and robust picture of changing public attitudes over time. This report presents findings from the Scottish Government 'core' module of questions concerning public attitudes to government, the NHS, the economy and living standards. This module has been funded by the Scottish Government since 2004, but for many questions the time series stretch back to 1999. SSA has, therefore, tracked changing attitudes to government and public services since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and throughout the past 15 years which has seen both constitutional changes and the economic downturn of 2008.

1.12 SSA is based on face-to-face interviews with a representative random probability sample of the Scottish adult population aged 18 and over. Fieldwork for SSA 2015 took place between July 2015 and January 2016. In 2015, the sample size was 1,288. Data are weighted in order to correct for non-response bias and over-sampling, and to ensure that they reflect the age-sex profile of the Scottish population. Further technical details about the survey are published in a separate technical report on SSA 2015.

1.13 All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. All differences described in the text (between years, or between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size if there was no actual difference in the population is 5% or less. The term 'significant' is used in this report to refer to statistical significance, and is not intended to imply substantive importance. Further details of significance testing and analysis are included in the separate technical report.


Email: Donna Easterlow

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