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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2011: Core Module - Attitudes to Government, the Economy and Public Services in Scotland

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5 Changing Views: Responsibility and influence

Introduction

5.1 This chapter reports findings on:

  • Who has most influence over how Scotland is run and who ought to have most influence over how Scotland is run
  • Perceptions of who is responsible for the performance of the economy, standard of living, health service, education and transport
  • Who is given the credit for good economic performance, standards in public services and standard of living and who is blamed for poor performance.

Influence over how Scotland is run

5.2 The majority of people in Scotland, around three-quarters, have long believed that the Scottish Government ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run - 73% said this in 2011, compared with just 13% who felt it ought to be the UK Government (see Annex A, Table A.24).[31] However, up until 2010, more people in Scotland believed that it was the UK Government who actually had most influence (Figure 5.1).

5.3 Since 2000 there has, nonetheless, been a steady rise in the proportion saying that the Scottish Government has most influence, from 13% in 2000 to 38% in 2011.[32] Moreover, between 2010 and 2011 there was a 7 percentage point decrease, from 45% to 38%, in the proportion believing that the UK Government has most influence. This means that in 2011, for the first time, the proportion who said the Scottish Government had the most influence over how Scotland is run was the same as the proportion who said it was the UK Government (38%). The reduction in the proportion thinking that the UK Government has most influence was matched by a 6 percentage point increase in the proportion that believed local councils have most influence.[33]

Figure 5.1: Who has most influence over the way Scotland is run? (1999-2007, 2009-2011, %)

Figure 5.1: Who has most influence over the way Scotland is run? (1999-2007, 2009-2011, %)

Who do people hold responsible for changing standards?

5.4 In addition to asking whether people think standards in the economy, the standard of living, health, education and transport are increasing, falling or static (reported in Chapter Four), SSA also asks people what they attribute these standards to - Scottish Government policies, UK government policies or something else altogether. Health, education and transport are all devolved issues. The Scottish Parliament can make separate policy decisions from the rest of the UK and decide what proportion of Scotland's 'block grant' from Westminster to allocate to each of these areas. But perceptions about which institutions have the most influence over specific services may not necessarily reflect actual divisions of political responsibility. First, people's knowledge of who is responsible for particular policy areas may be limited. Christensen and Laegreid (2005) question whether people really know who is responsible for different public services 'in a complex public sector in which responsibility for different services is shared between the central, regional, and local levels and changes over time'. Second, the public may believe that whoever makes policy decisions, the size of the overall budget available to spend across all Scotland's public services is the factor that makes the biggest difference to standards. And the overall size of the Scottish budget is currently determined by Westminster.

5.5 Table 5.1 shows that from 2001 to 2007 more people thought that standards in the health service were mainly the result of UK Government policies than attributed them to the Scottish Government. In 2009 for the first time this was reversed. Thirty per cent of people thought the Scottish Government was responsible for standards in the health service compared with 23% of people believing it was the UK Government. This pattern switched back again in 2010, while in 2011, exactly the same proportion of people thought that the UK Government was responsible for health service standards as thought it was the Scottish Government (31%).

5.6 With respect to education, more people have viewed the Scottish Government as responsible from an earlier stage (since 2005). Over the last three years, around a third of people have said standards in education are mainly the result of Scottish Government policies (33% in 2011), while between 15% and 20% have attributed them to the UK Government.

5.7 Meanwhile, since the question was first asked in 2004, consistently more people have attributed public transport standards to the Scottish Government than felt they reflected UK Government policies. In 2011, 34% said that standards in public transport were the result of Scottish Government policies compared with only 12% who said they were due to UK Government policies.

Table 5.1: Trends in what people think standards in public services, the economy and standard of living are mainly a result of (2001, 2003-2007, 2009-2011)1

2001 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009 2010 2011
% % % % % % % % %
Health service
Scottish Government policies 11 21 20 23 25 23 30 28 31
UK Government policies 53 38 42 39 32 34 23 32 31
Some other reason 16 17 18 14 18 17 21 18 17
Education
Scottish Government policies 19 25 28 30 33 28 35 33 33
UK Government policies 40 30 29 28 20 22 15 20 20
Some other reason 14 12 15 12 15 15 18 15 14
Public transport2
Scottish Government policies NA NA 28 28 31 31 31 36 34
UK Government policies NA NA 17 20 13 17 11 10 12
Some other reason NA NA 29 21 25 22 26 24 21
Standard of living
Scottish Government policies 12 18 18 17 21 19 15 16 13
UK Government policies 53 43 38 42 33 37 31 39 47
Some other reason 18 16 24 19 22 22 34 30 25
Economy2
Scottish Government policies NA NA 28 27 28 28 14 18 24
UK Government policies NA NA 28 30 21 24 31 35 38
Some other reason NA NA 17 13 18 15 36 30 19
Sample size 1605 1508 1637 1549 1594 1508 1482 1495 1197

1 - See also Annex A, Tables A.25 to A.29 for full figures including don't know and not answered.
2 - Public transport and economy was included in this set of questions for the first time in 2004.

5.8 In comparison with health, education and transport, where responsibility for policy is clearly devolved, the economy and general standard of living are more obviously influenced by both UK and Scottish government policies. They are also much more susceptible to external factors, such as the global recession and currency fluctuations.

5.9 Focusing on views since the start of the recession, Table 5.1 shows that in 2009 there was a shift away from believing that either the Scottish or the UK Government was responsible for the performance of the economy towards attributing this to 'some other reason'. As discussed in Ormston (2010), it seems likely that media coverage of the global recession and the banking crisis in 2009 meant that the public were temporarily less likely to blame the state of the economy on government. This perception was apparently short-lived, however. In 2010 and 2011, standards in the economy were again most commonly attributed to the UK Government. In 2011, 38% attributed economic performance to the UK Government, compared with 24% who said it reflected Scottish Government policies and 19% who thought it was the result of something other than government policy. The proportion attributing the standard of Scotland's economy to the Scottish Government did, however, increase slightly but significantly between 2010 and 2011, from 18% to 24%.

5.10 The Scottish Government has consistently been less likely than the UK Government to be seen as the institution with the most influence over the standard of living (Table 5.1). Moreover, between 2010 and 2011, there was a further significant increase in the proportion attributing standards to the UK Government, from 39% to 47%.

Who gets the 'credit' and who gets the 'blame'?

5.11 So far this chapter has shown that both the Scottish Government and the UK Government have been viewed as responsible for different policy areas in Scotland at different times. But the figures reported so far do not reveal whether people are holding each institution responsible for perceived improvements or for perceived declining standards. In other words, who is getting the 'credit' when things are seen to be going well, and who is getting the 'blame' from those who think standards have fallen? Table 5.2 shows what proportion of those who think standards have increased or fallen view these changes as mainly the result of Scottish Government policies, UK Government policies or 'some other reason'.

5.12 Overall in 2011, as in previous years, the Scottish Government was far more likely to be credited with increases in standards than to be blamed for falling standards. So, for example, among those who thought that standards had increased in the health service, 58% thought this was due to Scottish Government polices compared with only 15% crediting increasing standards to the UK Government. In contrast, it is the UK Government who is most likely to be blamed by those who think that standards are falling. For example, among those who thought that living standards had fallen, 58% blamed the UK Government compared with only 6% who blamed the Scottish Government. The one exception to this general pattern was among those who think standards in transport have fallen. More people, 38%, felt this was due to 'some other reason', compared with 31% who blamed the Scottish Government and 22% who blamed the UK Government.

Table 5.2: 'Credit' and 'Blame' for standards in public services, the economy and standard of living in the last 12 months (2011)

… Increased (credit) … Fallen (blame)
% of those who say standards have… 2010 2011 2010 2011
% % % %
Standards in the Health Service are mainly the result of… …
Scottish Government policies 49 58 18 12
UK Government policies 30 15 49 54
Some other reason 16 20 21 21
Standards in education are mainly the result of …
Scottish Government policies 56 65 30 23
UK Government policies 23 12 40 46
Some other reason 14 14 22 22
Standards in public transport are mainly the result of …
Scottish Government policies 57 60 37 31
UK Government policies 11 13 12 22
Some other reason 24 19 41 38
Strength of the economy is mainly the result of…
Scottish Government policies 39 69 14 11
UK Government policies 21 15 44 54
Some other reason 32 10 35 26
General standards of living are mainly the result of…
Scottish Government policies 37 44 8 6
UK Government policies 33 31 49 58
Some other reason 22 12 36 27

See Annex A, Table A.30 for sample sizes.

5.13 The credit given to the Scottish Government for perceived improvements may be a reflection of people's more positive attitudes towards the Scottish Government compared with the UK Government. As reported in Chapter Two, attitudes overall towards the Scottish Government also became more positive in 2011. So it is perhaps not surprising that between 2010 and 2011 the proportion crediting the Scottish Government with improving standards increased. This is particularly marked in relation to the economy, where the proportion of the minority who were positive about recent economic performance who credited this to the Scottish Government increased by 30 percentage points between 2010 and 2011 (from 39% to 69%). Conversely, more people blamed the UK Government for a weaker economy, 44% in 2010 compared with 54% in 2011.

Perceptions of general influence vs. attributions of specific responsibilities

5.14 The findings above beg the question of what the relationship is between attitudes towards who has most influence over the way Scotland is run in general, and who is perceived as responsible for standards in specific areas, like education or the economy. As discussed, the perceived influence of the Scottish Government over how Scotland is run nowadays has risen steadily since 2000. However, the proportions who think the Scottish Government is responsible for changing standards in public services, the economy and the standard of living have either fluctuated or remained relatively stable. In 2011 the proportion who thought the Scottish Government had most influence was 38%, higher than the proportion who thought the Scottish Government was responsible for changing standards in any of the five specific policy areas explored.

5.15 The figures discussed in this section are informed by logistic regression analysis, which looked at what factors were significantly and independently associated with thinking the Scottish Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run.[34] The following factors were explored:

  • party identification
  • who should make decisions for Scotland
  • believing that the Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK
  • believing that the Scottish Government has most influence over standards in the health service, education, transport, the economy and standards of living.

5.16 The analysis showed that perceptions of overall influence over the way Scotland is run are not associated with who people see as responsible for specific policy areas. However, people's views on whether having a Scottish Parliament affects Scotland's voice in the UK and party political identification were strongly associated with believing the Scottish Government has most influence over the way Scotland is run.

  • Forty five per cent of those who said having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK believed that the Scottish Government has most influence, compared with only 20% of those who believed that having a Scottish Parliament makes no difference.
  • In relation to party identification it matters less which party people identify with and more whether they identify with any political party. Those who do not identify with any political party are much less likely to believe the Scottish Government has the most influence over the way Scotland is run compared with those who identify with any of the four main parties. For example, 48% of SNP identifiers believed the Scottish Government has most influence compared with only 15% of those with no party identification. These findings are further evidence that being a party identifier is associated with having more positive attitudes towards government (see also Chapter Two).

5.17 Taken together, these findings perhaps suggest that people's perceptions of who has most influence over Scotland as a whole are less a reflection of their understanding or perceptions of influence in specific policy areas, and more a reflection of general political beliefs and impressions of the efficacy of the Scottish political institutions in promoting Scotland's interests.

Figure 5.2: Proportion who think the Scottish Government has most influence over the way Scotland is run by impact of having a Scottish Parliament on Scotland's voice in the UK & party identification (2011, %)

Scottish Government Bases
Having a Scottish Parliament is giving Scotland… %
…a stronger voice in the UK 45 804
…a weaker voice in the UK 37 40
…makes no difference 20 331
Party identification
Conservative 41 124
Labour 40 353
Lib Dem 30 68
SNP 48 397
None 15 147