Chapter summary: Devolution

On the road to divergence? Trends in public opinion in Scotland and England 

Scotland is often portrayed as more social democratic in its outlook than England. It also has a distinctive religious heritage that might be thought to result in greater social conservatism. But are these claims accurate? And now that devolution is in place and Scotland can debate and decide many policies for itself without reference to England, are the differences between the two countries growing wider – thereby perhaps making it increasingly difficult for Anglo-Scottish relations to be managed within the framework of the United Kingdom?

As evidenced by their attitudes towards economic inequality, people in Scotland are generally a little more likely than those in England to express social democratic views. However, this difference has not widened since the advent of devolution. Rather, opinion in both countries has moved in a somewhat less social democratic direction.

  • In Scotland 78% say that the gap between those on high and those on low incomes is too large, while in England 74% do so. In both cases these figures are six points down on what they were in 1999.
  • In Scotland 43% agree that the government should redistribute income from the better off to the less well off, compared with 34% in England. In Scotland this represents a seven point drop since 2000, and in England a four point one.

Scotland is not more socially conservative than England, as indeed it was not a decade ago. Meanwhile on some issues opinion in Scotland has become more liberal, in tandem with a similar trend in England.

  • Exactly the same proportion in both countries, 69% now agree that it is all right for a couple to live together without getting married. The figure was much the same – 66% in Scotland and 67% in England – a decade ago.
  • In both countries only just over a quarter now say that same-sex relationships are always or mostly wrong (27% in Scotland, 29% in England). In 2000 that proportion – in both cases – was nearly a half (48% in Scotland, 46% in England).

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