Scottish independence / Conclusions

Conclusions

There is no doubt the Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK is closer to being dissolved than at any time in its 300-year history. Its future looks set to rest in the hands of the Scottish public, who will make their opinion known via a referendum within the next couple of years. However, at present it appears that leaving the UK remains a minority preference, not least because people in Scotland are doubtful that it would bring them much material benefit.

But the demand for outright independence is not the only challenge facing the Union. A majority of people in Scotland may currently be disinclined to vote to leave the UK, but many who support the Union nonetheless want Scotland to be responsible for most of its domestic affairs, including taxation and welfare benefits. As a result, it appears a scheme of devolution that goes considerably further than the current settlement, even as amended by the 2012 Scotland Act, may be able to generate a widespread consensus. Any such scheme would constitute a much looser Union than has hitherto been in place.

Yet a potential question mark remains over how England would react to such a development. England continues to show little sign of wanting devolution for itself. But there is evidence of growing discontent with the asymmetries of the current devolution settlement, a discontent that may now be beginning to be accompanied by some erosion of previous support for the Union. Some of England's discontent, such as that over finance, might in fact be addressed via more devolution for Scotland. But other areas of concern, such as the West Lothian question, would be likely to become more pressing. Ensuring that both Scotland and England continue to remain happy with the Union could well require an ability and willingness to find some constitutionally imaginative solutions.

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Notes
  1. Such a commitment had also been included in the SNP's 2007 election manifesto. However, as a minority government between 2007 and 2011, the SNP lacked the votes in the Scottish Parliament needed to pass legislation authorising a ballot.
  2. In the case of the first two items the unweighted and weighted sample size in 1997 is 676. In the case of the remaining items the unweighted size is 657 and the weighted 659. The unweighted sample size for all items in 2011 is 1156 and the weighted 1167.
  3. Support for independence has been modelled using binary logistic regression in which the dependent variable is support for independence (either inside or outside the European Union) versus any other response. Confidence in independence has been modelled using ordinal logistic regression in which the dependent variable is a five-point scale ranging from "very confident" to "very worried".
  4. In contrast to binary logistic regression, the ordinal logistic procedure in SPSS does not provide a stepwise facility. This means we do not know the order in which the variables would be entered using such an approach. However, an alternative analysis of the data on confidence in independence using stepwise binary logistic regression revealed that the order in which the variables were entered using that approach was much the same as the order of the Wald scores reported by the ordinal regression.
  5. Bases for Table 7.3 are as follows:

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  6. The full question wording was as follows:

    Which of the following do you think has most influence over the way Scotland is run?

    And which do you think ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run?

    [the Scottish Government, the UK government at Westminster, local councils in Scotland, the European Union]
  7. Note that, unlike the questions reported in Table 7.5, these questions did not offer the answer options "local councils in Scotland" or "European Union". As so few respondents chose these options when they were offered, their exclusion will have made little or no material difference to the pattern of response.
  8. We should note though that the balance in favour of decisions being made in Edinburgh rather than London is in both cases somewhat less than for the already devolved area of university tuition fees, where no less than 86 per cent think decisions should be taken by the Scottish Parliament and only 10 per cent say responsibility should lie with Westminster.
  9. Note that in contrast to the question reported at Figure 7.1, independence is not referred to here as involving 'separation' from the rest of the UK. In general, survey questions that include 'separation' in their description of independence have tended to elicit lower levels of support than those that do not.
  10. In the case of welfare benefits, the relevant figure in 2010 was 82 per cent while in the cass of taxes it was 83 per cent.
  11. The relevant 2010 figures are 61 per cent for welfare benefits and 54 per cent for taxes.
  12. Debarring Scottish MPs from voting on English laws would not necessarily prove unpopular with the general public north of the border either. When the question presented in Table 7.8 was last asked by Scottish Social Attitudes, in 2009, 47 per cent agreed that Scottish MPs should not vote on English laws, while only 22 per cent disagreed.
  13. In 2004-2006 the second option read "that makes decisions about the region's economy, planning and housing". The 2003 survey carried both versions of this option and demonstrated that the difference of wording did not make a material difference to 
the pattern of response. In Figure 7.2 the figures shown for 2003 are those for the two versions combined.
  14. It has also been suggested that the creation of directly elected mayors in the major cities of England might provide a focus for greater devolution in a manner that, along with the creation of the Greater London Assembly, it has already done. However, as the Constitutional reform chapter shows, public opinion towards directly elected mayors is somewhat equivocal and, in practice, when 10 of England's largest provincial cities were asked in May 2012 to vote in a referendum on whether they should have such a mayor, only one voted in favour.
  15. This increase would appear to be attributable to the increased concern about Scotland's share of public spending, albeit not wholly so. Those who think that Scotland secures more than its fair share are markedly more likely to support Scottish independence (33 per cent) than are those who do not think it secures more than its fair share (19 per cent). The increase in support for Scottish independence between 2007 and 2011 among those who say that Scotland secures more than its fair share is, at five points, a little less than the seven point increase in the population as a whole. At the same time, the equivalent figure among those who feel Scotland does not secure more than its fair share is, at two points, well below the general increase of seven. Some of that overall increase of seven points must therefore have arisen because of the rise between 2007 and 2011 in the proportion who think that Scotland secures more than its fair share.
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  • Notes
    1. Such a commitment had also been included in the SNP's 2007 election manifesto. However, as a minority government between 2007 and 2011, the SNP lacked the votes in the Scottish Parliament needed to pass legislation authorising a ballot.
    2. In the case of the first two items the unweighted and weighted sample size in 1997 is 676. In the case of the remaining items the unweighted size is 657 and the weighted 659. The unweighted sample size for all items in 2011 is 1156 and the weighted 1167.
    3. Support for independence has been modelled using binary logistic regression in which the dependent variable is support for independence (either inside or outside the European Union) versus any other response. Confidence in independence has been modelled using ordinal logistic regression in which the dependent variable is a five-point scale ranging from "very confident" to "very worried".
    4. In contrast to binary logistic regression, the ordinal logistic procedure in SPSS does not provide a stepwise facility. This means we do not know the order in which the variables would be entered using such an approach. However, an alternative analysis of the data on confidence in independence using stepwise binary logistic regression revealed that the order in which the variables were entered using that approach was much the same as the order of the Wald scores reported by the ordinal regression.
    5. Bases for Table 7.3 are as follows:

      undefined
    6. The full question wording was as follows:

      Which of the following do you think has most influence over the way Scotland is run?

      And which do you think ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run?

      [the Scottish Government, the UK government at Westminster, local councils in Scotland, the European Union]
    7. Note that, unlike the questions reported in Table 7.5, these questions did not offer the answer options "local councils in Scotland" or "European Union". As so few respondents chose these options when they were offered, their exclusion will have made little or no material difference to the pattern of response.
    8. We should note though that the balance in favour of decisions being made in Edinburgh rather than London is in both cases somewhat less than for the already devolved area of university tuition fees, where no less than 86 per cent think decisions should be taken by the Scottish Parliament and only 10 per cent say responsibility should lie with Westminster.
    9. Note that in contrast to the question reported at Figure 7.1, independence is not referred to here as involving 'separation' from the rest of the UK. In general, survey questions that include 'separation' in their description of independence have tended to elicit lower levels of support than those that do not.
    10. In the case of welfare benefits, the relevant figure in 2010 was 82 per cent while in the cass of taxes it was 83 per cent.
    11. The relevant 2010 figures are 61 per cent for welfare benefits and 54 per cent for taxes.
    12. Debarring Scottish MPs from voting on English laws would not necessarily prove unpopular with the general public north of the border either. When the question presented in Table 7.8 was last asked by Scottish Social Attitudes, in 2009, 47 per cent agreed that Scottish MPs should not vote on English laws, while only 22 per cent disagreed.
    13. In 2004-2006 the second option read "that makes decisions about the region's economy, planning and housing". The 2003 survey carried both versions of this option and demonstrated that the difference of wording did not make a material difference to 
the pattern of response. In Figure 7.2 the figures shown for 2003 are those for the two versions combined.
    14. It has also been suggested that the creation of directly elected mayors in the major cities of England might provide a focus for greater devolution in a manner that, along with the creation of the Greater London Assembly, it has already done. However, as the Constitutional reform chapter shows, public opinion towards directly elected mayors is somewhat equivocal and, in practice, when 10 of England's largest provincial cities were asked in May 2012 to vote in a referendum on whether they should have such a mayor, only one voted in favour.
    15. This increase would appear to be attributable to the increased concern about Scotland's share of public spending, albeit not wholly so. Those who think that Scotland secures more than its fair share are markedly more likely to support Scottish independence (33 per cent) than are those who do not think it secures more than its fair share (19 per cent). The increase in support for Scottish independence between 2007 and 2011 among those who say that Scotland secures more than its fair share is, at five points, a little less than the seven point increase in the population as a whole. At the same time, the equivalent figure among those who feel Scotland does not secure more than its fair share is, at two points, well below the general increase of seven. Some of that overall increase of seven points must therefore have arisen because of the rise between 2007 and 2011 in the proportion who think that Scotland secures more than its fair share.
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