Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2011: Core Module - Attitudes to Government, the Economy and Public Services in Scotland

This report uses SSA data from 1999 onwards to explore changing attitudes to government, the economy and public services. It also discusses findings on who people think should be responsible for providing and paying for particular public services.

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7 Conclusions

7.1 The outcome of the Scottish Parliament elections that took place shortly before SSA 2011 fieldwork was unprecedented, delivering a majority government for the first time in the new Parliament's history. At the same time, the impacts of the 2009 recession continued to be felt, with slow growth and rising prices. And major cuts to public sector budgets, first announced by the UK Government in 2010, significantly reduced the Scottish budget for 2011-12. Against this context of political change and ongoing economic uncertainty, this concluding chapter summarises key changes in public attitudes to government, the economy and public services in Scotland.

7.2 In 2011 people in Scotland held particularly positive attitudes towards the Scottish Government, with responses returning to, or surpassing, the high levels recorded in 2007. Levels of trust in the Scottish Government increased, back to the levels recorded in 2007. People were more likely to say that the Scottish Government is good at listening before making decisions, with levels at their highest since the question was first asked in 2004. Perceptions of the Scottish Parliament also improved. There were sharp rises in the proportions who thought that having a Scottish Parliament gave ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed and thought that having a Scottish Parliament gave Scotland a stronger voice in the UK. Attitudes to government often become more positive in an election year: a phenomenon sometimes known as an 'election bounce'. However, the size of the improvement in attitudes between 2010 and 2011 was particularly marked. On some measures (particularly those relating to the Parliament), positive attitudes almost matched the very high levels recorded in 1999 - suggesting that, for the first time, public perceptions of the devolved institutions are living up to their early expectations.

7.3 People who identify with the winning party in an election are more likely to be positive about the government overall. Between 2010 and 2011 the proportion of SSA respondents who identified with the SNP doubled, from 17% to 33%. And perceptions of the Scottish Government and Parliament were indeed more positive among SNP identifiers. However, those who identified with Labour and the Conservatives also became more positive about the Scottish Government than they had been in 2010. There was considerably less change though among those who did not identify with any political party - which may suggest that elections are more effective in improving perceptions among those with an interest in party politics.

7.4 The difficult economic situation continued to be reflected in negative public assessments of the recent performance of Scotland's economy and the general standard of living. However, whilst views of the economy became slightly more positive between 2010 and 2011, perceptions of the standard of living became still more negative. This may reflect the perceived impact of public sector cuts, job insecurity and price rises in food and fuel in 2011. However, across four different measure of life satisfaction, levels of subjective wellbeing have been remarkably constant since 2007 in spite of negative perceptions of the general standard of living in Scotland. This may reflect findings from previous studies, which have shown that subjective wellbeing is more strongly related to perceptions of relative wealth, rather than objective income. Perhaps many people believe that, compared to others, they are still relatively fortunate. However, SSA 2011 again showed lower subjective wellbeing scores for the unemployed, people with disabilities, those in the lowest income quartile and those struggling or really struggling on their present income.

7.5 In spite of significant public sector budget reductions, only a minority felt that standards in the health service, education and public transport in Scotland had fallen in the past year. More people believed standards had fallen in the health service than in education or transport. But at the same time, the proportion satisfied with the way the NHS runs nowadays has increased from 40% in 2005 to 56% in 2011. The majority of those who thought either that standards in the health service had improved or that they had stayed the same were very or quite satisfied with the NHS.

7.6 The proportion saying the Scottish Government has most influence over how Scotland is run has increased from 13% in 2000 to 38% in 2011. However, perceptions of which institution has most influence over Scotland as a whole do not always appear to neatly match perceptions of responsibility for specific areas, like transport and education. Further analysis suggests that perceptions of which institution has most overall influence over how Scotland is run are more strongly associated with political attitudes (e.g. party political identification and beliefs about whether having a Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland a stronger voice in the UK) than with perceptions of who is responsible for performance in specific policy areas.

7.7 In 2011, the Scottish Government was far more likely to be credited with perceived increases in standards than blamed for falling standards in health, education, transport, the economy and standard of living. At the same time, the UK Government was more likely to be 'blamed' by those who felt standards were falling in each of these areas. This uneven pattern of 'credit' and 'blame' has been apparent in responses to SSA since the questions were first asked in 2001, but is particularly pronounced in 2011.

7.8 Findings on attitudes towards the relative cost effectiveness and quality of different potential providers of services for older people continue to suggest a public preference for government rather than private sector providers. However, more people thought charities rather than government would provide the most cost effective and best quality service, suggesting that greater third sector involvement in service delivery may meet less opposition.

7.9 The question of whether personal care for older people ought to be means tested or free to all divides public opinion. Meanwhile, public sector budget restrictions do not appear to have impacted on views about the acceptability of charging for hospital meals, individual school music lessons or school trips. Differences in views across these questions may suggest that introducing charges in areas where services are currently free to all may attract more public disapproval than extending charges in areas where some already pay.


Email: Linzie Liddell

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