Identity and preference
Still, any evaluation of the impact of devolution upon public support for the UK needs to consider not only what changes may have occurred in how many favour the continuation of the UK and how many its dissolution, but also among whom. In particular, is there any evidence that the issue has become more divisive, with those who feel strongly Scottish, Irish or even English becoming less keen on keeping the UK together, while perhaps at the same time those who feel mainly British becoming more keen? Such an outcome would suggest the potential for further disputation about the future of the UK rather than the emergence of a consensus about how the Union should be managed. It is to this possibility that we now turn.
We begin by examining whether the relationship between national identity (as measured by the Moreno question) and constitutional preference has changed in Scotland. Table 6.11 shows that the more Scottish and the less British someone feels, the more likely they are to favour leaving the UK. However, the correspondence between identity and preference is far from perfect. True, few who have a strong sense of British identity wish to leave the UK. But only around half of those who deny they are British support independence, while the equivalent figure among those whose feelings of British identity are less strong than their sense of Scottish identity is only around a quarter.
Still, it seems that identity matters no more or less now to how people in Scotland would like to be governed than it did when the Scottish Parliament was first created. In almost every case the proportions backing independence to be found in each row of Table 6.11 in 2012 are almost the same as they were in 1999 (though small bases mean that the percentages in the last two rows of the table need to be treated with caution). Although support for leaving the UK may have dropped a little overall since the advent of devolution, there is no sign that those with a strong sense of Scottish identity have particularly come to be more accepting of Scotland's continued membership of the Union.
In Northern Ireland, in contrast, there have been some changes in the link between national identity and constitutional preference. This is evident first of all in the link between identity and support for remaining in the UK (not shown). As we might have anticipated from our earlier discussion of Table 6.6, the initial decline in support for remaining in the UK that was evident before 1998 occurred among those with a British identity, while the decline that occurred following the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement was evident primarily among those who feel Irish. At the same time the higher level of support registered since changes were made to the question wording in 2007 has also been evident among those stating they are Irish. The overall effect of these various movements has been to leave the link between identity and wishing to remain part of the UK looking a little weaker now than it did
But what of explicit support for leaving the UK? As Table 6.12 shows, the proportion of those with an Irish identity that backed that view dropped a little (from 68 per cent to 61 per cent) in the immediate wake of the change in wording in the constitutional preferences question in 2007. Subsequently there has been a further much more marked decline in support for leaving the UK among those who claim an Irish identity, such that less than half of those with that outlook now take that view. There has also been a drop among those who say they are "Northern Irish", one that can only be partially accounted for by the fact that, as we saw earlier, more Protestants now also claim that identity. Once again, it seems that we have evidence that the debate about the region's constitutional future has become somewhat less polarised between those with a different sense of national identity.
But what of England, where we perhaps found the strongest evidence that there has been something of an adverse reaction to devolution? Perhaps the advent of devolution elsewhere has offended the sympathies of those with a strong sense of English identity in particular? Far from being a source of confusion, perhaps national identity has come to shape people's views in a way that formerly was not the case? This view has certainly been argued by Wyn Jones et al. (2012; 2013).
There is little evidence that this is what has happened, at least so far as attitudes towards Scotland's continued membership of the UK is concerned (Table 6.13). Those who say they are English and not British are only some 10 or so percentage points more likely than those who claim to be British and not English to feel that Scotland should leave the UK - and this gap is much the same now as it was in 1999. There is not much evidence here to support the claim that it is those with a strong sense of English identity in particular who have become more inclined to believe that Scotland should leave the Union.
Much the same is true of the increased concern about Scotland's share of public spending (Table 6.14). True, in 2000 there was very little evidence at all that those with a strong sense of English identity were any more likely than those who felt primarily British to be critical of Scotland's share of public spending, whereas by 2003 they clearly were. But there is no sign that concern has subsequently increased more markedly among those who feel wholly or mostly English. Among those who say they are English and not British the proportion who say that Scotland secures more than its fair share of public spending is 18 percentage points higher now than it was in 2003, a little less than the equivalent figure, 21 points, among those who claim to be British and not English.
Finally, in Table 6.15 we look at the relationship between national identity and how people think England itself should be governed. As we might expect those who say they are English and not British tend to be most in favour of having an English Parliament and are somewhat less inclined to favour continued rule by the UK parliament. These relationships are, however, remarkably weak; those for example who say they are English and not British are only 18 percentage points more likely to back an English parliament than are those who say they are British and not English (though small bases in 2012 for the groups who say they are predominantly or wholly British mean those percentages need to be treated with caution). True, it might appear that support for the idea grew most after 1999 among those who regard themselves as exclusively or primarily English - the 11 point increase in support among that group is higher than in any other - but once we undertake statistical testing that takes into consideration the relatively small size of some of these groups, we find that the difference is not statistically significant. There is remarkably little evidence in our data to support claims that the advent of devolution has so far served to turn English identity into a politically important force.
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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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