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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.

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2. Attitudes to government 1999-2015

2.1 This chapter presents findings on attitudes to government in 2015. It describes how the attitudes of people in Scotland towards both the Scottish and UK Governments have changed since the advent of devolution in 1999[7]. It also provides new evidence on attitudes towards local government. 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 Scotland
  • 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

2.2 This chapter also examines how attitudes vary by socio-demographic factors and political attitudes, and whether any particular subgroups have changed their views in recent years.

Trust in Government

2.3 SSA 2015 included questions on two aspects of trust in government:

  • Trust in government (UK and Scottish) to work in Scotland's best long-term interest, and
  • Trust in government (UK, Scottish and local) to make fair decisions

Trust in government to work in Scotland's best long-term interest

2.4 The proportion of people who trusted the Scottish Government 'just about always' or 'most of the time' to act in Scotland's best interest was 73%. This has risen from 59% in 2013. It is the highest figure recorded in the time series, with the single exception of 1999, the year when Scotland's devolved Parliament was created (when it was 81%)[8] (see Figure 2.1. below). Previous peaks in levels of trust (both to work in Scotland's best long-term interest and to make fair decisions) have coincided with Scottish election years. This so-called 'election bounce' effect has been consistently observed (2003, 2007, 2011) but the level of trust recorded in 2015 was particularly striking given that 2015 was not a Scottish election year (although the Scottish independence referendum took place in September 2014).

2.5 The proportion who said they trusted the UK Government 'just about always' or 'most of the time' to act in Scotland's best long term interest in 2015 remained at a similar level to 2013 - 23% in 2015 compared with 26% in 2013 (see Figure 2.1 below). Since the SSA survey series began in 1999, levels of trust in the UK Government to act in Scotland's best long-term interest have consistently been lower than levels of trust in the Scottish Government. There has been no observed 'election bounce' effect in relation to trust in the UK Government. The figures for trust in the UK Government have been quite variable since 2007, with local peaks in 2007 (35%), and 2012 (31%), and a particularly low rating in 2011 (18%).

Figure 2.1 Trust in the UK and Scottish Governments to act in Scotland's best long-term interest (1999 - 2015, % trust 'just about always' / 'most of the time')

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Tables A2.1 and A2.2 in Annex A

Trust in government to make fair decisions

2.6 Questions on trust in the UK and Scottish Governments 'to make fair decisions' (defined in the question as 'decisions that are fair to different groups of people in UK/Scotland') were first asked in 2006.

2.7 In 2015, around half of people (49%) said they trusted the Scottish Government 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' to make fair decisions.The two sets of trust questions use different answer scales so are not directly comparable.[9]The levels of trust to make fair decisions are substantially lower than those in relation to trust to act in Scotland's best long-term interest. However, similar patterns are observed in relation to both trust measures in three specific ways (see Figure 2.2 below). First, the level of trust in the Scottish Government to make fair decisions in 2015 (49%) is the highest it has been since the question was first asked in 2006, and has risen significantly since 2013 (from 38%). Second, the Scottish Government is more trusted than the UK Government (49% trusted the Scottish Government compared with 18% who trusted the UK Government in 2015). And third, the figure for trust in the UK Government has remained at a similar level since 2013 (20% in 2013 compared with 18% in 2015).

Figure 2.2 Trust in the UK and Scottish Government to make fair decisions (2006-2015, % trust 'a great deal' / 'quite a lot')

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Tables A2.3 and A2.4 in Annex A

2.8 In 2015, for the first time people were asked the same question in relation to local government. This showed that around a third of people in Scotland trusted their local council to make fair decisions (34%), midway between the level of trust in the Scottish Government (49%) and trust in the UK Government (18%).

Engagement and responsiveness

2.9 Since 2004 SSA has measured two important aspects of public engagement and responsiveness:

  • how good the Scottish Government, UK Government and local councils[10] are at listening to people's views before taking decisions
  • whether having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed, less say or does it make no difference

How good is government at listening before taking decisions?

2.10 In 2015, nearly 3 in 5 (59%) thought the Scottish Government was 'very' or 'quite' good at listening to people's views before it takes decisions. This compared with 44% who thought their local council was 'very' or 'quite' good at listening and 17% who thought this of the UK Government (see Figure 2.3 below).

2.11 The figure for the Scottish Government was the highest that has been recorded since the question was first asked in 2004, and has increased significantly since 2013 (46%). Figure 2.3 shows that there has been a general upward trend in relation to this measure since 2004, with previous peaks in 2009 and 2011.

2.12 There has also been an increase between 2010 and 2015 (from 37% in 2010[11] to 44% in 2015) in the proportion who believed that their local council was good at listening before taking decisions. The figures for the UK Government have remained much more constant over the longer term, ranging from 15% to 22% between 2004 and 2015.

Figure 2.3 How good are the Scottish Executive / Government and the UK Government at listening to people's views before taking decisions? (2004-2015, % 'very good' / 'quite good')

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Tables A2.6 and A2.7 in Annex A

Does having a Scottish Parliament give ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed?

2.13 In 2015, 61% of people said they thought having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed. The highest figure was recorded in 1999 when the question was asked prospectively[12](64%). In the years following devolution the proportion believing that the Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say fell substantially to a low point of 31% in 2002 (and 2004). In 2011 (a Scottish election year) and again in 2015 (following the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014), the proportion who said that having a Scottish Parliament gives people more say in how Scotland is governed was, however, close to the level recorded in 1999.

Figure 2.4 Does having a Scottish Parliament give ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed, less say or is it making no difference? (1999-2015, % 'more say in how Scotland in governed'?)

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Table A2.9 in Annex A

Voice in the UK

2.14 SSA asks people whether they think that having a Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK, a weaker voice, or is making no difference. The proportion who thought that having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice was 70% in 2015, the highest figure recorded in the time series, and a return to the level recorded in the early days of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament (see Figure 2.5 below).

2.15 Over the longer time series (see Figure 2.5), the pattern can be characterised as high and optimistic when the Parliament was in prospect and bedding in, substantially lower in the early years of the Parliament, reaching a low point in 2004. Between 2004 and 2015, the proportion believing that having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK has doubled from 35% to 70%. The peaks in 2003, 2007 and 2011 correspond to Scottish election years.

Figure 2.5 Do people think that having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger or weaker voice in the UK? (1999-2015, %)

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Table A2.10 in Annex A

Perceptions of influence

2.16 Since 1999, SSA has asked people which institution - the Scottish Government, the UK Government, local councils or the European Union - has the most influence over the way Scotland is run (see Figure 2.6).[13] In 2015 (following the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 and the May 2015 UK election), almost equal proportions said the UK Government has most influence (42%) as said the Scottish Government (41%). Findings were similar in 1999 (when the question was phrased prospectively) when almost equal proportions chose the Scottish and UK Governments (41% compared with 39% respectively). In the first few years of devolution a far greater proportion of people felt that the UK Government had most influence over the way Scotland is run. However, from 2000 there has been an increase in the proportion saying that the Scottish Government has most influence and a decrease in the proportion saying the UK Government has most influence. In 2011 (when the first SNP majority administration was elected) equal proportions selected the UK and Scottish Governments (38%), similar to 1999 and 2015 when virtually equal proportions chose the UK and Scottish Governments.

Figure 2.6 Who has the most influence over the way Scotland is run? (1999-2015, %)

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Table A2.11 in Annex A

2.17 In 2015, 6% of people thought that local councils have the most influence over the way Scotland is run. As Figure 2.6 shows, between 1999 and 2015 (with the exception of 2004-2006) the proportion choosing local councils has varied between 6% and 13%. During 2004-2006 higher levels were recorded (15%-20%).

2.18 In 2015, the proportion of people saying that the European Union has most influence was 5%. This figure has been consistently low over the time series, fluctuating between 5% and 11%.

2.19 Since 1999, SSA has also asked which institution ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run (rather than which institution does have the most influence) and a different pattern has emerged over time. Consistently, a much higher proportion have said the Scottish Government ought to have most influence than the UK Government. In 2015, 76% said the Scottish Government ought to have most influence, the highest figure recorded in the time series (see Figure 2.7). Previous high points coincided with the early years following devolution (1999-2001) and the years of the first SNP minority government (2007-2011). By contrast, the proportion who thought that the UK Government ought to have the most influence has ranged between 11% and 24%, with a fairly low value within the range (14%) being recorded in 2015. The gap between the two figures in 2015 is at its greatest since the beginning of the time series in 1999.

2.20 Since 1999, around 1 in 10 have said local councils ought to have the most influence over the way Scotland is run, with the exception of 2004-2006 when between 15%-19% chose local councils. In 2015, 7% said this. Between 1999 and 2015 only around 1% thought the European Union ought to have the most influence (not included in Figure 2.7).

Figure 2.7 Who ought to have the most influence over the way Scotland is run? (1999-2015, %)[14]

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Base: All respondents
For details of sample sizes see Table A2.12 in Annex A

Variations in attitudes to Government and Parliament in Scotland in 2015

2.21 Differences in attitudes to the Scottish Government and Parliament between subgroups were explored in relation to the following questions:

  • Trust in the Scottish Government to make fair decisions
  • How good the Scottish Government is at listening before taking decisions
  • Whether having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say
  • Believing that the Scottish Government should have the most influence over the way Scotland is run

2.22 This analysis showed that in 2015, as in previous years[15], attitudes to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament varied by socio-demographic factors, national identity and political attitudes (for full details see Tables A2.13-A2.16 in Annex A). The differences by demographic factors were far less pronounced than differences by factors such as being interested in politics, political party identification and whether people believe the Scottish Parliament should have more powers.[16]

Gender, age, education and income

2.23 There were some differences by gender, age, education and income in relation to trusting the Scottish Government to make fair decisions, how good the Scottish Government is at listening before taking decisions and thinking that the Scottish Government has most influence over the way Scotland is run.[17] In particular:

  • Men were marginally more likely than women to trust the Scottish Government 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' to make fair decisions (52% of men compared with 47% of women)
  • People under 40 years old were more likely than those aged over 40 to say they trusted the Scottish Government 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' to make fair decisions and to believe the Scottish Government is good at listening. For example, 68% of those aged 30 to 39 compared with 52% of those aged 65 and over thought the Scottish Government was either 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening to people's views before taking decisions
  • Those aged 40 and over were more likely to say they thought that the Scottish Government has most influence over the way Scotland is run (45% of those aged over 40 compared with 30% of 18 to 29 year olds)
  • People with any level of formal qualifications were more likely than those with no formal qualifications to trust the Scottish Government to make fair decisions (51% of those educated to degree level compared with 41% of those with no formal qualifications)[18]
  • Those in the higher household income groups were more likely to say that having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say and that the Scottish Government has most influence over the way Scotland is run (for example, 66% in the highest income group compared with 55% in the lowest income group thought that having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say).

Political attitudes and national identity

2.24 The relationship between attitudes to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament and political attitudes and national identity was very strong in 2015. Those who were more likely to hold positive attitudes in relation to trust in the Scottish Government, whether the Scottish Government is good at listening before taking decisions and believing that having the Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say were:

  • SNP supporters (for example, 67% of SNP supporters trusted the Scottish Government to make fair decisions compared with 39% of Labour and 36% of Conservative supporters)[19]
  • Those who had either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics (for example, 70% of those who said they had either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics thought the Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed compared with 50% of those with 'not very much' or 'no interest' in politics)
  • Those who said Scotland should become independent (for example, 72% of those who said Scotland should become independent thought that the Scottish Government is either 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening before it takes decisions compared with 50% who thought that Scotland should remain in the UK with its own parliament and 38% who thought Scotland should remain in the UK without an elected parliament)
  • Those who identified as Scottish (for example, 60% of those who identified as Scottish trusted the Scottish Government to make fair decisions compared with 30% who identified as British)[20]

2.25 Only interest in politics was significantly associated with believing that the Scottish Government has most influence over the way Scotland is run (47% who had 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics compared with 29% with 'not very much' or 'none at all').

Change in attitudes to Scottish Government 2013-2015

2.26 Further analysis showed that between 2013 and 2015 generally attitudes to the Scottish Government have become more positive amongst all sub-groups, although there were some differences in the degree of change observed. For example:

  • Between 2013 and 2015 the proportion who said that they trusted the Scottish Government 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' to make fair decisions increased from 38% to 49%. However, the increase for Labour supporters was fairly limited, increasing from 36% to 39% whereas among Conservative supporters there was an increase of 11 percentage points (25% to 36%). In addition, among those who identified as Scottish there was an increase of 16 percentage points (from 44% to 60%) whilst there was no significant difference for those who identified as British (there was a 4 percentage point decrease from 34% in 2013 to 30% in 2015)
  • Between 2013 and 2015 the proportion who said that the Scottish Government was either 'very' or 'quite' good at listening to people's views increased from 46% to 59%. However, there was an increase of 19 percentage points among those who were interested in politics (either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot') from 46% to 65% whereas for those who had only 'some' interest in politics no significant increase was observed (53% in 2013 to 57% in 2015).

2.27 Between 2013 and 2015, there were large changes in the profile of the population in relation to the key factors associated with holding positive attitudes towards the Scottish Government. In particular, the profile in relation to party identification and constitutional preference underwent a substantial shift and, to a lesser extent, levels of interest in politics also increased. Specifically, the proportion of people in Scotland who:

  • Described themselves as supporters of the SNP rose from 22% in 2013 to 42% in 2015
  • Expressed a constitutional preference for an independent Scotland rose from 29% in 2013 to 39% in 2015
  • Said they had 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of interest in politics rose from 32% in 2013 to 40% in 2015.

2.28 It is not possible from repeated cross-sectional surveys to infer which is cause and which is effect (i.e. did the increase in support for the SNP cause an increase in the levels of positive attitudes to the Scottish Government or did an increase in the levels of positive attitudes towards Scottish Government cause an increase in support for the SNP?)

Variation in attitudes towards local councils in 2015

2.29 In 2015 two questions were asked about people's attitudes towards local councils. These covered: trust in local councils to make fair decisions (new to SSA 2015); and views about whether local councils were good at listening before taking decisions (also included in SSA 2010).

2.30 There was little variation in people's attitudes towards local councils, either in relation to demographic factors, or in relation to political attitudes. The one exception was in relation to political party identification where both Labour and SNP supporters (48%) were more likely than Conservative supporters (32%) to feel that their local council was good at listening before taking decisions.

Contact

Email: Donna Easterlow

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