Art - Policy & Ideas - Scotland

2007 - 2022

On the Road

bookcoverOne of the favourite refrains of the Scottish right is that Scotland’s centre of political gravity does not, as socialists and nationalists like to insist, sit to the left of the rest of the United Kingdom’s. Citing a wealth of statistical research, often conducted by either Bill Miller of Glasgow University or Strathclyde’s ubiquitous politics professor John Curtice, conservatives argue that, on questions of tax and spend, the attitudes of Scots correspond more or less exactly to those of voters in England and Wales. Leaving aside the reality of Scottish political culture, which is dominated by two (at least nominally) social democratic parties, this raises questions about Scotland’s appetite for progressive reform: what hope is there for a more equal Scotland if the Scottish electorate shares the hostility of the English electorate towards greater redistribution?

But new research by Ipsos MORI Scotland suggests a substantial discrepancy exists between Scottish and English/Welsh views on tax and public service delivery, including greater Scottish support for higher taxes in exchange for improved services. Writing on his organisation’s website, Mark Diffley, director of Ipsos-MORI Scotland, explains his findings:

When we compare Scotland with the rest of the UK, we can see different attitudes to how public services should be delivered and funded. For example while the appetite for increasing taxes to pay for additional spending on health, education  and social benefits has declined in both Scotland and England during the 2000s, it remains an option more favoured in Scotland, with 40% supporting such a policy move, compared to 30% of the public in England.

When it comes the delivery of public services, the strength of public opinion in Scotland opposed to radical change becomes clearer. Scots have clearly different views from their neighbours about how public services should be delivered…

When asked which sector would be best at providing public services that best understand what service users need, over half of Scots (54%) believe public authorities do the best job while just 11% believe that the private sector would do a better job, compared to figures of 30% for public authorities and 16% in favour of the private sector among adults in England and Wales. Similarly, 58% of Scots believe that public bodies would provide the most professional and reliable public services, compared to 19% who would favour the private sector in that regard. This contrasts with figures of 30% for public bodies and 29% for the private sector among adults in England and Wales.

As Diffley notes, this research is politically significant. Attempts by parties to introduce more private finance into Scottish public services will face strong popular resistance. But beyond that, it reinforces nationalist and left-wing claims about the entrenched social democratic sympathies of the Scottish public and consolidates the perception of a growing ideological divide between Scotland and Westminster.

Read Diffley’s full piece here:

Gregor Gall’s book has launches next week (more here)


Wednesday 8 May, 6.00 to 7.30pm, Stand Comedy Club, 5 York Place. With Gregor Gall (editor), Neil Findlay (contributor) and Colin Fox (contributor)


Thursday 9 May, 6.00 to 7.30pm, Stand Comedy Club, 333 Woodlands Road. With Gregor Gall (editor), Maggie Chetty (contributor) and Dave Watson (contributor)


Details to be confirmed

Comments (5)

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  1. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    The main difference is that we Scots are kind people and will not (in general) cause undue suffering,when we can stop it,better to help than to hinder,or as my granny used to say “Its nice to be nice” and she meant it.We also understand the meaning of a society and belonging to a society.

  2. Assuming for a moment there are differing attitudes to fiscal policy between Scotland and Westminster, the whole issue is rendered almost irrelevant by a lack of discussion regarding monetary policy.

    If there is no control over the latter then the only real option for obtaining investment is to lower corporation taxes to attract Capital. A low-tax race to the bottom is not conducive to a sustainable welfare state.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      As I said elsewhere Yes Scotland should mention the bedroom tax on every leaflet.

    2. Jamie says:

      With all due respect, that’s just nonsense. Monetary union will leave significant space for an alternative economic strategy, including increased capital expenditure (within limits) and higher taxes. It’s a question of political will. This research suggests the first post-indy government will have widespread support from the public if it decides to pursue a more equitable approach to tax & spend. It could also draw on support from influential parts of civil society, like SCVO & and the STUC. And, having just been defeated in the referendum, the right will be historically weak.

  3. Ray Bell says:

    “One of the favourite refrains of the Scottish right is that Scotland’s centre of political gravity does not, as socialists and nationalists like to insist, sit to the left of the rest of the United Kingdom’s.”

    To be fair of course, Wales is to the left as well, and so are some part of England, especially the north, and notably Liverpool and pit towns.

    However the truth is that many people hold views across the spectrum (American-style “liberalism” is screwing things up, thanks to the Guardian etc). A trade unionist can be xenophobic, an environmental campaigner a snob, a gay rights campaigner a capitalist etc.

    My big bugbear with tax is value for money. I don’t mean that in a Tory way, I mean that if I pay high taxes, I want decent roads, schools, hospitals, pensions, housing etc. I don’t want middle management, political expenses, Trident quangoes and dodgy contracts gobbling it all up.

    Taxation’s already high and apart from driving up the cost of living, the public’s not getting the benefit. Things are closing, people sacked, we’ve PFI, the Scottish Parliament building, Edinburgh trams etc. I pay VAT on everything, carbon taxes on my gas bill, tax on all car stuff (without being offered proper alternatives), what do we get out of it? Fanny Adams. Higher taxes, fewer services.

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