As we noted at the beginning of this chapter, one might imagine from looking at a timeline of political developments that the advent of devolution has been followed by growing discontent with the Union in Scotland, some accommodation with it in Northern Ireland, and little reaction at all in England. Yet once we look at the long-term trends in identity and constitutional preferences, only one of those statements appears to be true.
There are some signs that in Northern Ireland a devolution settlement that aimed to recognise the aspirations and identities of both communities in a deeply divided society has been followed by some reduction in the degree to which its constitutional debate is polarised between being in the UK or becoming part of a united Ireland. Rather more Protestants now seemingly prefer to call themselves Northern Irish rather than British compared with 20 years ago. This could well be an implicit acknowledgement on their part that they are Irish as well as British, or at least an indication of a reluctance to have to choose between them. Meanwhile, members of the Catholic community and people who regard themselves as Irish now seem less inclined to seek unification with the rest of Ireland and thus appear more willing to accept Northern Ireland's position as part of the UK. That said, the majority outlooks of the two communities are still very different from each other, and as the re-emergence of a rather more polarised pattern of identity in 2012 underlined, the potential for serious dispute over both substance and symbols (as evidenced by the 'flags dispute' of December 2012) remains.
However, the decision to hold a referendum on independence in Scotland does not seem to be the result of any increased demand north of the border to leave the Union. If anything, support for independence has appeared somewhat weaker since the SNP first came to power in 2007, a consequence perhaps of that party's perceived ability to defend Scotland's interests within the framework of the Union. British identity may play second fiddle to their Scottish identity in the minds of many living north of the border, but no more so now than when the Scottish Parliament was first created in 1999. Moreover, while in Scotland those with a relatively weak British identity are more inclined than those with a strong British identity to support independence, they are no more likely to do so now than when devolution took effect. Indeed, such a disposition alone does not appear to be sufficient to persuade people to back independence.
Yet that does not mean that Scotland is entirely happy with its existing constitutional status. There is an appetite for the Parliament in Edinburgh to have more responsibility for taxation and welfare benefits. Any moves in that direction will, however, also have to be acceptable to England, which instead of playing the apparent role of uninterested bystander in the devolution process, has shown some signs of growing discontent with the demands of its neighbour to the north. There appears to be less willingness to accept the idea that Scotland should have its own relatively autonomous institutions within the framework of the Union while at the same time enjoying a seemingly generous financial settlement and MPs that have a say in England's affairs at Westminster. True, this discontent may have little to do with some renewed or reawakened sense of English identity that seeks parity for England in the form of its own distinctively English political institutions, let alone widespread questioning of Scotland's right to be part of the Union on a scale that once at least was true of Northern Ireland. Rather, it seems that people in England have simply become more inclined to feel that the ways of Westminster and Whitehall should be adjusted so that England's interests are treated fairly given the very different constitutional structure the UK has now as compared with 30 years ago. Devolution may not have undermined public support for the Union, but it has left some continuing challenges to those with responsibility for managing relations between its component parts.
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- Entitled the Northern Ireland Executive.
- Wales is not included because surveys using a methodology similar to that deployed by those analysed here have not been conducted there since 2007. For information on the surveys that have been conducted since then and the trends in respect of national identity and constitutional preference they suggest have occurred see Curtice (2013), and Wyn Jones and Scully (2012).
- There is one small difference between the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey and the two social attitudes surveys so far as their reporting conventions are concerned. In the case of British Social Attitudes and Scottish Social Attitudes the standard practice is to include in the denominators on which percentages are based those who refused to answer a question or are otherwise recorded as not having answered a question. In the case of the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, however, they are usually excluded. To avoid the risk of us quoting in this chapter figures for any of these surveys that might be slightly different from those given elsewhere we have followed as appropriate each survey's usual practice.
- Though we should note that the fieldwork for the 2012 survey, when there was a particularly marked drop to 53 per cent, was undertaken during and in the weeks immediately following the 2012 London Olympics and that we cannot reject the possibility that that event may have helped to foster a short-term increase in feelings of British identity.
- It should also be noted that as long ago as 1996, a System Three poll reported that 39 per cent said that they were Scottish not British, many more than did so in our 1992 and 1997 surveys. However this System Three poll was conducted using a rather different methodological approach and thus we cannot be sure that the difference represents a methodological artefact rather than evidence that the incidence of an exclusive Scottish identity had at some point been just as high before the advent of the Scottish Parliament as it has proven to be subsequently (Moreno, 2006).
- On the events in 2012 that might help account for the lower level of Northern Irish identity in that year see Note 8.
- Bases for Table 6.2 are as follows:
- Belfast City Council voted in December 2012 to fly the Union flag only on a limited number of special days rather than, as hitherto, every day. The decision occasioned some rioting. There was also some serious rioting in Belfast and elsewhere the previous summer in the wake of that season's Orange Order parades (Nolan, 2013: 161). The year 2012 also saw the centennial commemoration of the events leading up to the signing of the Ulster Covenant in opposition to Home Rule.
- Wyn Jones et al. (2012) claimed on the basis of an internet 'Future of England' survey conducted by YouGov in July/August 2011 that there had been a marked increase in English as opposed to British identity. They found that 40 per cent said they were exclusively or predominantly English (compared with 33 per cent on the 2009 British Social Attitudes survey). However, a subsequent YouGov poll conducted for Channel 4 News in January 2012 found only 33 per cent saying they were exclusively or predominantly English while a second Future of England survey in November 2011 put the figure at 35 per cent (Wyn Jones et al., 2013). Even leaving aside the many methodological differences between the two exercises, it would appear that Wyn Jones et al.'s relatively high 2011 figure could well have been the result of no more than sampling variation.
- It should be noted that in 2012 the English version of the Moreno question was not administered to a small number of respondents who had been born in Scotland or Wales (N=76). However, given their place of birth they might reasonably be expected to be more likely to claim to be exclusively or predominantly British rather than exclusively or predominantly English. Their exclusion thus should not have diminished the proportion saying they are predominantly or wholly English.
On the whole, do you think that England's economy benefits more from having Scotland in the UK, or that Scotland's economy benefits more from being part of the UK, or is it about equal?
England benefits more
Scotland benefits more
Would you say that compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, Scotland gets pretty much its fair share of government spending, more than its fair share, or less than its fair share of government spending?
Please choose your answer from this card.
Much more than its fair share of government spending
A little more than its fair share of government spending
Pretty much its fair share of government spending
A little less than its fair share of government spending
Much less than its fair share of government spending
- Bases for Table 6.4 are as follows:
- In 1991 talks with the parties (other than Sinn Fein) were instigated by the then Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Peter Brooke. Sinn Féin were excluded from these talks, but at the same time Brooke authorised secret contact be made with the Irish Republican Army. Meanwhile the UK government appeared to recognise nationalist sentiment by declaring that the Britain had "no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland", a declaration that helped pave the way for talks between John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein that in turn were eventually able to help pave the way towards the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement (Nolan, 2012: 20).
- The bases for Table 6.6 are as follows:
- We should also note that there has since 2007 been a marked decline among Catholics in the level of support for reunification. In that year no less than 47 per cent backed that view, but now only 32 per cent do so. A similar decline, from 21 per cent to eight per cent, has occurred among those of no religion. One possible explanation is that the prospect has come to look less attractive, for the time being at least, as a result of the particularly adverse consequences that the banking crisis of 2008 visited upon the Irish Republic. Recent demands from Sinn Fein that another poll be held on Northern Ireland's constitutional status may also have encouraged people to consider the possible practical consequences of reunification.
- We do not, however, find intensification on the scale claimed by Wyn Jones et al. (2012; 2013) who reported the results of two Future of England internet surveys that asked, in 2011 and 2012, the same question about the voting rights of Scottish MPs as that asked by British Social Attitudes and then compared these surveys' findings with those obtained by British Social Attitudes up to and including 2007. The Future of England surveys reported that in 2011 no less than 53 per cent strongly agreed that Scottish MPs should not vote on English laws, and in 2012 that as many as 55 per cent did so, far higher figures than obtained by British Social Attitudes either before or since 2007. The figure obtained by the 2011 survey might have been thought to have been occasioned by the fact it failed to offer respondents a "neither agree nor disagree" option, but this option was included on the 2012 survey and an even higher figure obtained. However, in both years the remaining response options on the Future of England survey read, "Strongly agree" and "Tend to agree" together with "Strongly disagree" and "Tend to disagree", whereas the options on British Social Attitudes are, "Agree strongly" and "Agree" together with "Disagree strongly" and "Disagree". We would suggest that respondents are more likely to say that they "Agree strongly" when the alternative is to say "Tend to agree" rather than "Agree", and that consequently there must be severe doubt about the merits of drawing substantive conclusions from any comparison of the findings of the two series. We would also note that those who evince a relatively high level of interest in politics are more likely to agree strongly with the proposition that Scottish MPs should not vote on English laws, and that while just 36 per cent of the 2012 British Social Attitudes sample in England said that they had "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of interest in politics, as many as 67 per cent of the 2012 Future of England sample said they were "very" or "fairly interested". In short part of the reasons for the difference between the two sets of findings may well be that the internet survey contained more people with a high level of interest in politics.
- The Future of England surveys (Wyn Jones et al., 2012; 2013) also record relatively high levels of don't know responses on this issue, 31 per cent in 2011 and 26 per cent in 2012. However, they also report rather higher proportions saying that Scotland gets more than its fair share, 45 per cent in 2011 and 52 per cent in 2012, suggesting that attitudes have become yet more critical since 2007. However, we should note that the question is administered somewhat differently on the Future of England survey than on British Social Attitudes; respondents are simply invited to say whether Scotland gets pretty much its fair share, more than its fair share or less than its fair share whereas on British Social Attitudes respondents are presented with a showcard that lists all five options shown in Table 6.9. In addition, on the Future of England surveys the question is asked immediately after a question that asks respondents whether England gets its fair share of public spending and this may have helped cue some respondents into saying in the following question that Scotland gets less than its fair share.
- 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. The figures quoted for 2003 are those for the two versions combined.
- Bases for Table 6.11 are as follows:
- Bases for Table 6.12 are as follows:
- Bases for Table 6.13 are as follows:
- Bases for Table 6.14 are as follows:
- If we undertake a loglinear analysis of the data in Table 6.15, we find that the data are fitted adequately at the 5% level of probability without fitting a term for the interaction between national identity, constitutional preference and year. The residual chi-square for such a model is 13.0, which, with eight degrees of freedom, has a p value of 0.11.
- Note that in their attempt to argue the contrary position neither Wyn Jones et al. (2012) nor Wyn Jones et al. (2013) demonstrates that the link between Moreno national identity and attitudes towards devolution is stronger now than previously. They merely demonstrate that there is a link between national identity and such attitudes now, a point that is not in dispute. What has to be demonstrated for their argument to be sustained is that the link has grown stronger.
- Bases for Table 6.15 are as follows:
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