Perceived difference that independence would make
As we noted above, the Scottish Government’s first instrumental claim is that independence would enable Scotland to become a more prosperous country. To examine how far the public share this vision, we can examine the responses to the following four questions:
As a result of independence, would Scotland’s economy become better, worse,
or would it make no difference?
As a result of independence would the standard of living in Scotland be higher,
lower, or would it make no difference?
If Scotland were to become an independent country, do you think that as a result you personally would be better off financially, worse off, or would it make no difference?
Do you think that, as a result of independence, taxes in Scotland would become higher, lower or would it make no difference?
In each case, respondents were asked to reply using a five-point scale. So, for the questions on the economy and personal finance, respondents could choose to say “a lot better”, “a little better”, “no difference”, “a little worse” or “a lot worse”. Similarly, the five response options for the other two questions ranged from “a lot higher” to “a lot lower”.
So far as the jury of public opinion is concerned, it would appear that the economic case for independence remains ‘not proven’ (Table 3.3). Roughly the same proportion of people say that Scotland’s economy would be “worse” (34 per cent) under independence as claim it would be “better” (30 per cent). Likewise, the proportions of people who say that the standard of living would be higher or lower under independence were almost identical to each other (27 and 28 per cent respectively). People seem, however, rather dubious about the idea that they themselves might be better off as a result of independence – or indeed that it would make much difference to them at all. Only one in eleven (nine per cent) reckon that they would be better off, while just over half (52 per cent) reckon it would not make any difference to them either way. Meanwhile when it comes to taxes there is a widespread perception – shared by as many as 56 per cent – that these would go up.
However, when it comes to identifying who is more or less likely to intend to vote Yes, some of these perceptions matter more than others. In the top left hand cell of Table 3.4 we show that, among those who think that Scotland’s economy would be “a lot better” under independence, no less than 86 per cent say that they intend to vote Yes in the referendum. In contrast, as we can see from the bottom left hand cell in the same column, only two per cent of those who think the economy would be “a lot worse” state the same intention. Looking down the first column, we can see that the less optimistic that people are about the implications of independence for Scotland’s economy, the less likely they are to be inclined to vote Yes.
The perceived consequences of independence for the economy as a whole appear to be particularly important when it comes to whether voters are inclined to vote Yes or No.
None of our other three questions on people’s perceptions of what would happen economically under independence is more effective than the question on the Scottish economy at discriminating between those who intend to vote Yes and those who are inclined to back No. True, nearly everyone who thinks that their personal finances would be better is inclined to vote Yes, while few who think that they would be worse under independence appear likely to do so. But here we have to remember that relatively few think independence will make much difference either way. Meanwhile, we can see from the table that although those who are optimistic about the impact of independence on Scottish standards of living are far more likely than are those who are pessimistic to back the idea, the gap is rather narrower than for perceptions of the impact on the economy as a whole. At the same time, we can see that perceptions of what independence might do for levels of taxation apparently do not make a great deal of difference at all.
One other feature of Table 3.4 should also be noted. Those who think that independence would not make much difference either way are largely disinclined to vote Yes. In particular less than a quarter (23 per cent) who think that independence would make no difference to Scotland’s economy say that they will do so; roughly twice as many (55 per cent) say that they will vote No (data not shown). It appears that unless people in Scotland are positively convinced of the case for independence, they are largely inclined to stick with the existing constitutional arrangements.
Meanwhile, the link between perceptions of the economic consequences of independence and voting intentions in the referendum is clearly stronger than the equivalent link with national identity. As we noted earlier, even amongst those who say they are Scottish and not British, only just over half are inclined to vote Yes, far less than the equivalent proportion of 86 per cent amongst those who say Scotland’s economy would be a lot better under independence. It appears that people’s perceptions of the economic consequences of independence matter more in shaping their propensity to vote Yes or No than does their sense of national identity.
Who benefits from the Union?
The choice between a Yes and a No vote may, however, not just simply be a question of the perceived merits of independence. Voters might also be asking themselves how well they think Scotland does out of being part of the Union at present. If voters think that Scotland does rather well out of the Union they might be less inclined to vote for independence than if they feel it gets a bad deal. Ever since the advent of devolution, Scottish Social Attitudes has regularly asked its respondents:
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?
In the early years of devolution, people in Scotland were much more likely to say that England’s economy benefited more from the Union than did Scotland’s. In 2000, for example, as many as 42 per cent said that England’s economy benefited more, whereas just 16 per cent reckoned that Scotland’s did. True, the group that felt that England’s economy benefited more was still only a minority, but it was a far from inconsiderable one. However, in the years immediately after the SNP first came to power as a minority Scottish Government in 2007, the proportion who felt that England’s economy benefited more was much the same as the proportion who reckoned that Scotland’s economy secured most advantage. At the same time, up to 45 per cent felt that the two economies benefited equally. It appeared as though having the SNP in power, and thus a government that was widely reckoned to be effective at advocating Scotland’s interests helped persuade some voters that their country was getting quite a good deal out of the Union after all (Curtice and Ormston, 2011). More recently the proportion who believe that England’s economy benefits most has again increased somewhat, but it remains rather lower than it typically was in the early years of devolution.
Those who think that England derives more benefit from the Union are markedly more likely to say they will vote Yes in the referendum on Scottish independence than are those who think the two countries profit equally from the relationship, let alone those who think that it is actually Scotland’s economy that benefits the more (see Table 3.6). No fewer than 60 per cent of those who think that England’s economy benefits more are inclined to vote Yes, as compared with just 18 per cent of those who think the two countries benefit equally and only seven per cent of those who think Scotland is the principal beneficiary. It would appear that the fact that a smaller proportion of people now than a decade ago think that England gets more benefit has served to undermine somewhat the force of one of the potential reasons as to why people in Scotland might want to leave the UK.
It seems then that people’s views of the economic consequences of independence – and of the benefit or otherwise that Scotland currently derives from the Union – are playing a key role in shaping people’s inclinations to vote Yes or No in the independence referendum. Indeed, further evidence to that effect comes from the answers that people gave when they were asked whether they would support or oppose independence if they thought that, on average, people would be £500 a year better off. They were asked:
Say it was clear that if Scotland became an independent country (separate from the rest of the UK) the standard of living would be higher and people would on average be £500 a year better off. In those circumstances would you be in favour or against Scotland becoming an independent country?
In these circumstances, no less than 52 per cent said that they would be in favour and just 29 per cent opposed. (In contrast when asked how they would feel if everyone would on average be £500 worse off, just 16 per cent said they would support the idea, while 70 per cent indicated they would be opposed.) However, at the time of the 2013 survey at least, most people in Scotland had yet to be persuaded that independence would be economically beneficial. And in the absence of that positive perception of what independence might bring there seems to be a marked reluctance to leave the UK.
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- Much the same pattern of response was obtained when three of the four questions (on the economy, the standard of living and taxes) were previously asked on the 2011 and 2012 surveys.
- Bases for Table 3.4 are as follows:
The picture was much the same when the question was also asked in 2012: then 47 per cent said it would not make any difference, 25 per cent that the gap would be bigger and just 19 per cent that it would be smaller.
Bases for Table 3.10 are as follows:
Note that neither sex, age or social class proved to be significant independently of the considerations that were included in the model. So the gender, age and class differences identified earlier in the chapter simply reflect differences between these groups in the incidence of identity and/or perceptions of the consequences of independence.
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