A future Britain
So what might the future hold? A crucial decision will take place on 18th September 2014, when Scotland votes on whether or not it should leave the United Kingdom. If Scotland votes No, there is little to suggest it will not be able to reach a constitutional agreement that is acceptable both north and south of the border. As our Scotland chapter shows, while it is true that public opinion in England would like to stop Scottish MPs from voting on English laws, most people in Scotland would not appear to mind this change very much either. Nor does Scotland’s share of public spending seem to be a point of serious contention between the two publics.
A non-independent Scotland would, in principle, like to see its devolved institutions have more responsibility for taxation and welfare, but there is little sign that many in England and Wales would oppose this. In fact, there is actually a considerable lack of enthusiasm among the Scottish public to see greater devolution translate into major policy differences between Scotland and its neighbours. For instance, only 37 per cent in Scotland, and 28 per cent in England, think it would be OK if the value of the old age pension differed north and south of the border.
Even if Scotland does vote Yes, it will still need to work with the rest of the UK to agree the terms of its divorce and whether and how best to collaborate in the future. This appears perfectly possible. People in England and Wales are broadly happy for Scotland to keep the same King or Queen as them (65 per cent think this should be allowed) while only 13 per cent oppose the idea of Scots being allowed access to the BBC as now. No sign here that public opinion in England and Wales will be a barrier to continuing collaboration on these matters (about both of which the majority of Scots are in favour). But there is potential for disagreement when it comes to whether people in Scotland should be allowed to retain their existing British citizenship (as desired by the Scottish Government) while claiming a new Scottish one. This is not because the two publics take a different view on the subject but because both are apparently rather suspicious of allowing people to carry more than one passport. In England and Wales, a third (33 per cent) think that citizens of a newly independent Scotland should be able to have a British and a Scottish passport; in Scotland, just under a half (47 per cent) agree.
These findings suggest that, whatever the referendum result in September may be, public opinion across Great Britain will not raise insurmountable barriers to putting it into practice. What is harder to assess, however, is the likely direction of travel when it comes to some of the wider issues raised in this summary. This partly reflects the fact that changing attitudes often reflect a number of different pressures. One is the longer term and gradual change caused either by demographic shifts (such as the growing proportion of graduates or an ageing population) or the impact of generational differences (whereby younger generations have very different views, which change little as they get older, to the generations which preceded them). Were these sorts of pressure all that mattered, we might expect to see a future Britain that was more open about who it considered to be British and welcoming to those who seek to move here. But of course other factors shape public opinion too, including heated debates about issues such as immigration numbers and the relationship between the UK and the EU, as well as the impact of specific events such as 9/11, the Olympic Games in 2012 and, as we may perhaps find, the outcome of the independence referendum in Scotland this September. Events and debates like these are also likely to affect public attitudes towards identity, governance and belonging. Might a Yes vote in Scotland in September rekindle debates in England about how it should best be governed or spark further change in the way in which the English think about their own national identity? How will attitudes to immigration change, given the pressure on other parties caused by the UK Independence Party’s recent success? And what impact will these and other events have on what people think matters when it comes to being British? We look forward to returning to these and other questions in future editions of this report.
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- Unfortunately it is not possible to include analysis of national identity in Wales because surveys using a comparable methodology 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).
- See www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27459468.
- See www.gov.uk/government/speeches/easter-reception-at-downing-street-2014.
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