Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013: core module - attitudes to Government, the economy, health and social care services, and social capital in Scotland

This report presents findings from the Scottish Government core module in the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey. It discusses changing attitudes to government, the economy and standards of living, the health service and social care, and social capital and life satisfaction.

This document is part of a collection

6 Conclusions

6.1 The Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) 2013 fieldwork took place during the mid-term of the electoral cycle in relation to both UK and Scottish Parliamentary elections[42]. Economic austerity, uncertainty and public sector budget constraint continued to predominate, but there were some tentative signs of a limited economic recovery taking place, both north and south of the border. Against that backdrop, this final chapter sets out the key conclusions of SSA 2013 about current attitudes towards government and public sector reform, and the extent to which the economic difficulties of the last few years have left a legacy in terms of social capital and life satisfaction.

6.2 The attitudes of people in Scotland towards the Scottish Government were at historically high levels following the Scottish election in May 2011 (Ormston and Reid 2012). The analysis of SSA 2013 suggests that this was mostly the result of an 'election bounce effect' (similar to, but perhaps even stronger than, those found in 2003 and 2007), with attitudes in 2013 returning to their 2010 (pre-election) levels.

6.3 For example, trust in the Scottish Government to act in Scotland's best interests 'just about always' or 'most of the time' increased from 61% in 2010 to 71% in 2011 and then fell back to 59% in 2013. Similarly, the proportion who thought the Scottish Government was 'very good' or 'quite good' at listening to people's views before taking decisions increased from 45% in 2010 to 56% in 2011 and then fell back to 46% in 2013. Other examples of attitudes towards the Scottish Government mirror this pattern whereby high levels were reported in 2011 with lower levels reported in both the preceding and following years.

6.4 The exception to this pattern relates to the impact of having a Scottish parliament on Scotland's voice in the UK which, although it has fallen substantially from its historically high level in 2011 (when 69% said the Scottish parliament gave Scotland a stronger voice in the UK), is nevertheless still substantially higher in 2013 (57%) than it was in 2010 (49%). The sustaining of this rather higher level may reflect the discussions about the referendum on Scottish independence which began in earnest following the announcement of the referendum date.

6.5 More generally, attitudes towards the Scottish Government have been more positive in the period 2007-13, which coincides with the period when the SNP has been the ruling administration. For example, between 1999 and 2006, the proportion who thought that having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say in how Scotland is governed was, on average, 40%. This rose to an average of 48% for the period 2007-2013. Between 1999 and 2006 the proportion who thought the Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice within the UK was on average 44%, rising to 58% between 2007-2013.

6.6 In addition, in 2013, attitudes towards the Scottish Government remained markedly more positive than attitudes towards the UK Government. For example, in 2013 the proportion who trusted the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests was more than double that for the UK Government (59% compared with 26%), whilst the proportion who trusted the Scottish Government to make fair decisions was nearly twice as high as for the UK Government (38% compared with 20%).

6.7 Trust in the Scottish Government in 2013 was, not surprisingly, higher amongst those who support the SNP and amongst those who favour more powers for the Scottish Parliament. More surprising perhaps, is that trust in the Scottish Government was highest for the 18-29 year olds, and lowest for those aged 65 and over.

6.8 Since SSA first asked, in 1999, who people believed ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run, a clear majority (between 63% and 74%) of the population have selected the Scottish Parliament. Much smaller proportions (between 13% and 38%) have thought the Scottish Parliament does have the most influence over the way Scotland is run.

6.9 The proportion who thought the Scottish Parliament ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run, when averaged over a longer time period has been stable. The average figure has been 69% for both the earlier (1999-2006) and later (2007-2013) periods following devolution. However, the patterns in relation to who does have most influence have changed substantially with an increase between the two periods in the average percentage who think that the Scottish Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run (from 22% to 33%) and a corresponding decrease (from 53% to 43%) in the average percentage who think the UK Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run.

6.10 Despite this long term underlying trend, the figures for 2013 are rather different. The percentage who thought the Scottish Government does have the most influence over the way Scotland is run was 30% in 2013, down from 38% in 2011. By contrast, the percentage who thought the UK Government does have the most influence increased from 38% in 2011 to 47% in 2013. This divergence may be a consequence of policies and developments that had an impact on the general public in the months leading up to fieldwork for SSA 2013 (e.g. negotiations and discussions about the arrangements for the referendum on independence, the reform of welfare policies).

6.11 Satisfaction with the way the NHS is run in Scotland has increased steadily from 2005. This is despite the recession, and the increased demands placed on the NHS by an ageing population. This may in part be due to the decision to protect NHS revenue funding following the recession, in contrast to the cuts which have been implemented in many other areas of public expenditure.

6.12 There was some indication of a small shift away from support for the provision of universal services, free at the point of receipt, for older people who need care; the proportion who thought government should always pay for these services has decreased from 55% in 2007 to 45% 2013 whilst the proportion who thought that who should pay should be related to how much money the person has increased from 42% to 51% over the same period. This points to a growing acknowledgement that, in the context of an ageing population, it is not necessarily possible to expect government to fully fund the provision of care for elderly people.

6.13 Since the recession, about one-third of the population has selected the economy as the top priority for Scottish Government action. No other topic has been identified by so many. This contrasts with the situation before the recession when about one-sixth of the population chose the economy as the top priority for the Scottish Government, and other topics (crime, health) were of greater salience.

6.14 Gross Domestic Product figures for both Scotland and the UK, the GfK UK Consumer Confidence Index, and the Scottish Government State of the Economy reports for 2013, all suggested that a limited economic recovery might be underway. Whilst in 2013 people still had a fairly negative view of the state of the economy over the last 12 months, their views were not quite as negative as in the years immediately following the recession in 2008. This suggests that changes in attitudes may reflect real changes in the underlying economy. About one quarter of people in 2013 (24%) thought the economy had improved over the last 12 months, compared with around 3 in 10 who thought this during the pre-recession years of 2004-2007. Views of living standards in 2013 remained more negative, at their post-recession levels. Fewer than 1 in 6 thought living standards have improved in the last 12 months.

6.15 The recession does not appear to have impacted significantly on measures of life satisfaction. People's high levels of satisfaction with their job, their family and personal life, their standard of living, and their life as a whole have all been maintained following the recession. Given that the large majority of people think that standards of living have either stayed the same in the last 12 months (25%) or fallen (58%), this suggests that people's assessment of their satisfaction with their own personal standard of living may be a judgement that is made on a relative, rather than an absolute, basis.

6.16 'Social connectedness' was fairly strong in 2013, and was at similar levels to those found in 2011. The proportions who could rely on a neighbour to keep an eye on their home if it was empty (86%), who could turn for advice and support to people in their area (83%) and who regularly stop and speak to people in their local area (74%) show that a range of aspects relating to social capital are operating effectively across a wide range of local circumstances. However social trust (i.e. the extent to which people feel that others can be trusted) was fairly low, with almost half of people (46%) saying 'you can't be too careful in dealing with people'.

6.17 Below average levels of life satisfaction were found among those who were permanently sick or disabled, the unemployed, those who were divorced or single and among both young people (aged 18-24) and older people (aged over 65). Both social connectedness and social trust were found to be quite strongly associated with life satisfaction, with those who are least socially connected, and those least trusting of others, having lower life satisfaction.


Email: Wendy van Rijswijk

Back to top