In Figure 6.4 we show how people in Scotland have responded when asked the following question:
Which of these statements comes closest to your view?
Scotland should become independent, separate from the UK and the European Union
Scotland should become independent, separate from the UK but part of the European Union
Scotland should remain part of the UK, with its own elected parliament which has some taxation powers
Scotland should remain part of the UK, with its own elected parliament which has no taxation powers
Scotland should remain part of the UK without an elected parliament
Figure 6.4 shows combined responses for the first two options, both of which refer to independence, and the third or fourth, both of which indicate support for having a devolved Scottish Parliament within the framework of the UK.
What stands out above all from this chart is the relative stability of constitutional preferences north of the border. Some form of devolution has consistently been the most popular option, independence has typically secured the support of between a quarter and a third, while usually only around one in ten or so have not wanted any kind of parliament for Scotland at all. There is certainly no evidence that the electoral success of the SNP in 2007 and 2011, success that led to the decision to hold a referendum on independence, was occasioned by an increase in support for leaving the UK. In fact, if anything the opposite is the case. Between 1999 and 2006 support for independence averaged 30 per cent; since the SNP first came to power in 2007 it has averaged 26 per cent. As we have demonstrated elsewhere (Curtice and Ormston, 2013a) one reason at least for this apparent decline seems to have been the emergence since the SNP first came to power in 2007 of a less critical attitude towards the deal that Scotland gets from the Union. Thus, for example, whereas previously, on average 36 per cent felt that England benefited most out of the Union economically, while just 20 per cent reckoned Scotland did, since and including 2007 the former figure has fallen to 27 per cent while the latter has increased a little to 24 per cent. Much the same change has occurred with respect to the views of people in Scotland towards the share of public spending that their country enjoys. Having an SNP government in power in Edinburgh that avowedly and publicly stands up for Scotland's interests seems to have helped persuade some that the Union can be made to work satisfactorily after all (see also Curtice and Ormston, 2010).
However, even if there is no evidence of any growth in support for independence since 1999, and it has therefore remained a minority point of view, this does not necessarily mean that the current constitutional settlement matches the contours of public opinion north of the border. In Table 6.4 we show how people in Scotland have responded when on four separate occasions during the last five years they have been asked which institution "ought to make most of the important decisions for Scotland" about various policy areas. Two of these, health and schools, are primarily the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. Two others, taxation and welfare benefits, are the two main areas of domestic policy that are still primarily the preserve north of the border of the UK government. The list also includes defence and foreign affairs, responsibility for which is the distinguishing feature of an independent state.
As we might anticipate, around two-thirds or so think that the Scottish Parliament should be primarily responsible for making decisions about health and schools, a figure that has changed little during the last five years. Indeed, in so far as there is much dispute about where responsibility for schools in particular should lie, it centres on whether local councils in Scotland should be making the key decisions instead of the Scottish Parliament - and not on whether the UK government should be the principal decision-maker. What we might not have anticipated, however, is that support for devolving responsibility for both taxation and welfare benefits to the Scottish Parliament is almost as high as for health and schools - and has been consistently so too. Only when it comes to defence and foreign affairs does a clear majority of the Scottish public think that responsibility should lie with the UK government.
It appears that the instinctive reaction, of a majority of the Scottish public at least, is that the legitimate locus for deciding their country's domestic affairs is Edinburgh and not London. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that, although the option of more devolution will not appear on the referendum ballot paper, all three of the principal political parties that back Scotland's continued membership of the United Kingdom are now at various stages of developing plans for further devolution (Scottish Liberal Democrats, 2012; Curtice and Ormston, 2013b; Scottish Labour Party, 2013; Davidson, 2013). If Scotland does opt to remain part of the UK its terms of membership look likely to remain the subject of continuing discussion.
At the heart of the long-standing constitutional debate in Northern Ireland is whether the territory should continue to be part of the UK or whether it should be reunified with the rest of Ireland, from which it was separated when the remainder of the island became independent in 1922. The Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, and before it the Northern Ireland Social Attitudes survey, has regularly asked its respondents to choose between these two diametrically opposed options for how Northern Ireland should be governed - though the view of respondents who instead spontaneously stated that Northern Ireland should become a separate state has also been recorded separately. However, following the final restoration of devolution in 2007 this question was amended so that respondents were presented with two alternative ways of remaining part of the UK - with direct rule from Westminster or with devolved government at Stormont - as well as the prospect of reunifying with the remainder of Ireland. We clearly need to bear this change in mind when examining the resulting time series, shown in Table 6.5.
Once we take that caveat into consideration, it appears that support for remaining within the UK has fallen since the late 1980s, when the initial political moves that were to lead eventually to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement were being made. Between 1989 and 1993 around 70 per cent of people in Northern Ireland said that they preferred to remain part of the UK. By the time the Agreement was concluded in 1998 that figure had fallen to a little under 60 per cent, while by 2006, shortly before the suspension of devolved government was ended, only 54 per cent were saying they wished to remain in the Union. Thereafter, the change of question wording in 2007 clearly served to increase the level of support expressed for remaining within the UK, but at 63 per cent the most recent reading is the lowest since that wording change was made (as well as still being lower than it was at any time between 1989 and 1993).
And yet while commitment to the maintenance of the Union may have been eroded, there is no sign of increased support for reunification with the rest of Ireland. Between 1989 and 2006 support oscillated around an average of 23 per cent, without any discernible trend in either direction. Support for reunification proved to be 23 per cent once again in 2007 immediately after the change in wording of our survey question - while since then there has actually been some slippage in support for reunification. Rather than being accompanied by an increase in support for reunifying with the rest of Ireland, the decline in support for remaining part of the Union has been accompanied instead by an increase in the proportion saying either that Northern Ireland should become an independent state or else "don't know". The constitutional debate in the region has, it seems, become a little less polarised around two apparently diametrically opposed alternatives.
We can gain further insight into what has happened by looking separately at how support for remaining part of the UK has varied over time among those with different religious affiliations (see Table 6.6).
In the years immediately after our first reading in 1989, much of the erosion in support occurred among Protestants. But once the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was concluded in 1998, it was among Catholics that support fell away. It would seem that in the earlier period some Protestants became disenchanted with the Union as a result of the moves that the UK government were gradually making to secure a political accommodation that recognised the distinctive aspirations of the minority nationalist community. However the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement had been concluded the principal effect may have been to have made it easier for Catholics to believe that leaving the UK and unifying with Ireland could actually happen.
Yet it was among Catholics (together with those of no religion) that the change in the wording of our question in 2007 did most to increase the level of support expressed for remaining in the Union. In the longer run the existence of devolved institutions that give representatives of the minority nationalist community a guaranteed role in decision-making has seemingly served to secure some acceptance of Northern Ireland's continued membership of the UK. Even so, the question of Northern Ireland's constitutional status remains a source of considerable division between the two communities.
We now turn to what the largest part of the UK, England, wants. Here there are two aspects for us to consider. First of all, how do people in England think that Scotland and Northern Ireland should be governed? Are they happy that these two territories remain an integral part of the UK even though they have a measure of self government, or are there signs of a backlash against the 'privileges' that they now enjoy? Second, is there any evidence that having seen devolution introduced in the rest of the UK, England would now like some measure of self-government for itself? We deal with each of these issues in turn.
In Table 6.7 we show how people in England have responded when they have been asked exactly the same question about how Scotland should be governed as has been asked on a regular basis in Scotland itself. It suggests that in the early years of devolution at least, people in England were quite willing to accommodate Scotland's wish to have its own parliament. Indeed, at between some 50 per cent and 60 per cent, until 2003 support for devolution was as high in England as it was in Scotland itself. However, since then support for Scottish devolution has tailed off somewhat and now stands at just 43 per cent, well below the figure - 61 per cent - found north of the border. This decline has been accompanied by both somewhat greater opposition to the idea of having a Scottish Parliament at all and by rather greater support for the idea that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Indeed, at 25 per cent, support in England for Scottish independence is now at least as high as it is in Scotland itself (23 per cent). England has, it seems, become rather less sympathetic towards the 'demands' of its Scottish neighbour.
The source of England's increased reluctance to accept devolution for Scotland seems, in part at least, to lie in growing discontent with some of the apparent anomalies thrown up by the asymmetric devolution settlement. As Table 6.8 shows, even in the early years of devolution nearly two-thirds of people in England agreed that Scottish MPs should no longer be able to vote on laws that only apply in England. That overall proportion is little changed, but whereas once most people simply agreed with the proposition rather than doing so "strongly", now the proportion who "agree strongly" is only a few points lower than the proportion who "agree". It would thus seem that the strength of feeling about the subject has intensified.
Even more striking is an apparent growth in discontent with Scotland's share of public spending. As Table 6.9 shows, in the early years of devolution only around one in five people in England felt that Scotland secured "much more" or "a little more than its fair share" of public spending compared with other parts of the UK. By far the most common view was that it simply received its just deserts. However, in 2007 the proportion stating that Scotland receives more than its fair share rose to a third, while since 2008 it has consistently hovered around the 40 per cent mark. Still, it should be noted that around one in four or so have persistently said that they do not know whether Scotland receives its fair share or not, suggesting that the issue remains one of low salience for a significant proportion of England's adult population.
But if England has only begun to question Scotland's position in the Union more recently, the same cannot be said of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. For many years British Social Attitudes regularly gave its respondents the same clear choice as to how Northern Ireland should be governed - remaining part of the UK or reunifying with the rest of Ireland - that has also been presented regularly to people in Northern Ireland itself. The pattern of responses persistently suggested that the region is not necessarily regarded as an integral part of the UK. In 1983 58 per cent of people in England backed Northern Ireland's reunification with Ireland, a figure that then changed little from year to year, and remained as high as 53 per cent in 2003. In subsequent years support for unification did begin to fall somewhat, but at 41 per cent our most recent reading, taken in 2007, was still higher than the 31 per cent who felt that Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK. The political settlement in Northern Ireland, together with the conclusion of the civil strife, may have eventually helped to strengthen somewhat support for Northern Ireland's continued membership of the UK among those living in the rest of the UK. Yet there seems little doubt that Scotland's departure from the Union would give rise to more disappointment in England, if not necessarily dismay, than would any decision by Northern Ireland to take the same step.
Perhaps seeing devolution in action elsewhere, together with increased concern about the apparent anomalies that it has created, might have persuaded people in England that they should enjoy some form of devolution too. One important difference between the debate about devolution in England and that in the rest of the UK, however, is that there is disagreement about the form that it should take. Should it be devolution to the nation of England as a whole, just as it has been to the nations of Scotland and Wales, or should it instead be to the various regions of England, as would seem more appropriate if the aim is to bring decision-making closer to where people live? This disagreement is reflected in the set of possible answers that have been offered to respondents by a question on how England should be governed, asked regularly since 1999. We ask respondents:
With all the changes going on in the way the different parts of Great Britain are run,
which of the following do you think would be best for England …
… for England to be governed as it is now, with laws made by the UK parliament,
for each region of England to have its own assembly that runs services like health,
or, for England as a whole to have its own new parliament with law-making powers?
As Table 6.10 shows, for the most part public opinion in England has been both remarkably stable and relatively uninterested in either form of devolution. Typically just over half have said that England's laws should continue to be made by the UK Parliament, and there is no consistent evidence of any long-term decline in support for that option. At 56 per cent the most recent reading is exactly the same as it was 10 years earlier. Equally at 37 per cent, the proportion that now back some form of devolution is also exactly the same as it was in 2002, and is well in line with the average reading of 38 per cent obtained throughout the period since 1999. What has changed is the relative popularity of the two possible forms of devolution. Between 2000 and 2003 regional assemblies emerged as the more popular option as the then UK Labour government tried to introduce such assemblies in the North of England - until the idea of such an assembly for the North East was defeated in a referendum held in 2004 (Sandford, 2009). Since then having an English parliament has been the rather more popular option, though not overwhelmingly so.
So it seems that, despite the growth of some discontent about the deal that Scotland is getting out of the Union, a majority of people in England - though not much more than that - remain happy to be ruled by UK-wide institutions rather than their own. To that extent there is apparently little pressure to disassemble the core of the centralised British state as opposed to its periphery. Still we should remember that while people in England might still be willing to be governed by Westminster they are also doubtful whether MPs from outside of England should have a say in their affairs. England's reaction to asymmetric devolution seems to have been to call for Westminster to adapt its procedures accordingly rather than to demand the creation of another set of distinctive political institutions. As yet, however, the UK Parliament has still to take up any of the many suggestions made as to how such adaptation should happen (Hazell, 2006; Conservative Democracy Task Force, 2008; McKay Commission, 2013).
As in the case of identity, there is no consistent evidence that devolution has had an impact on people's constitutional preferences in one direction or the other. In some respects the Union now looks stronger: in Scotland support for independence has declined somewhat, while Northern Ireland has seen a drop in the proportion favouring reunification with the rest of Ireland. But other changes would appear to have weakened the UK: over the longer term in Northern Ireland there has been a drop in explicit support for remaining in the UK, while England has become less happy about some of the apparent anomalies thrown up by the devolution settlement granted to Scotland. It seems that while devolution may have helped reduce some sources of tension in the UK it has also exacerbated others.
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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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