14 May 2010

Do you trust the Scottish Government?

Answer: If you are a woman, probably not.

Many of you will no doubt have heard of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. Public research, publicly funded, the Survey covers a broad gamut of concerns since it was first conducted in 1999. Although my own research sympathies and interests are less statistical than the folk who conducted this study, unlike my more militant anthropological cronies, I'm far more patient about the value which these large-scale can have. The answers permitted  by structured surveys may be terse and sparse compared to the range of opinions which people can hold.  The use of scales can look fishy and improbable. Certainly, if a survey is pushed in front of me and I'm invited to express satisfaction on a measure of ten pips, I invariably panic. All of these qualms may be true, but there remains no better way to generate an understanding - however conditional or partial it might be - of the otherwise imperceptible eddies and pools which form in the public consciousness. I thought this recent Scottish Government publication would be particularly of interest to political obsessives.  It:

"... explores trends in attitudes to government, the economy and public services.  It examines longer term-trends in public opinion since the start of devolution in 1999 and changes in attitudes over the shorter period since the last SSA took place in 2007."

This core module explores the following - 

(1) Changing attitudes to government in Scotland  
(2) Changing attitudes to economic performance and public services 
(3) How to attitudes to government and the economy vary?
    Interesting questions abound here on how the public perceive the legitimacy of devolved institutions and government, how voters vary, the role the demographics, how voters' views vary, policy by policy and issue by issue. Under the first heading, the researchers asked whether respondents trusted  government; their awareness of governmental activity; the responsiveness of the government to public views. This included asking how much do you trust the UK government to work in Scotland's best long-term interest? and how much do you trust the Scottish Government to work in Scotland's best interests? Devolved institutions and their supporters can feel quite satisfied by the results. Table A.8 sets out the answers to the question - Which do you think ought to have most influence over the way Scotland is run? The first preference of 72% was the devolved Scottish institutions. The black-hearted unionist cohort  - answering Westminster - came second with only 13% of respondents giving that Palace precedence over Holyrood. Interestingly, 11% suggested that they thought that local cooncils should get the most power, while ardent Europhiles, wanting to make "the European Union" our lord and master, slipped from 1% of the total in previous surveys.  I can't do justice to all of the data which they uncovered - it is all clearly set out in the relevant sections of the report and it is extremely unlikely that I could improve upon their presentation.

    Blame & standards of health...

    However, with our political cap on - it is worth paying particular attention to public services and the economy - and in particular, who the respondents blamed for successes and failures.  On health, for example, of those who believed that standards have improved in 2009, 55% credit the Scottish Government policies with this improvement, only 18% Westminster policies. Of those who believe standards in the NHS have fallen, however, only 12% blamed the Scottish Government while 41% attributed falling standards to Westminster policies. On the balance of the same, some 26% of the total believed there had been some improvement, 25% alleged diminished performance, while 41% took the steady as she goes course - of no change.

    Blame & standards of the economy...

    The expressed views on the standards of the economy, the 66% who think there has been any improvement attribute this to the Scottish Government with only 14% attributing positive developments to the UK government. For those who take the negative view of the economy, how blame was attributed suggests a fascinating story. A slim 7% believed that the Scottish Government were responsible for the diminished economic circumstance, the UK government pick up 38% of the blame, while 44% suggest 'some other reason' is at work behind it. What might this suggest? Firstly, that the Scottish Government appears to be scooping up credit and avoiding blame - but that on the economy, many may have bought into the idea of the global economic crisis, while a secondary cohort believes that the London government is at fault. Significant perhaps for Labour attempts to pin cash cuts on the Scottish Government, undoubtedly significant for those of us wondering how the discourses of impending 'Westminster cuts' might go down with the Scottish people.

    On political engagement...

    Interesting things too on people's political activities (or lack thereof). Table A. 23 collates more or less 'political' activities which respondents engaged in over the last year. While 45% had done 'none of the below', 17% of respondents had contacted their MPs or MSPs, 14% had attended public meetings, 28% signed some sort of petition, while 9% claimed to have "spoken to an influential person".Well, I suppose the Maximum Eck does put himself about a bit.

    Finally, the demographic breakdown of the results is of interest, disclosing as it does variations based on gender and education, party affiliation, constitution preferences and so on.

    On gender...

    Rather surprisingly, the survey discovered that...
    "Women were significantly less positive than men about a number of aspects of government in Scotland in 2009. For example, just 29% of women, compared with 43% of men, trusted the Scottish Government 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' to make fair decisions."
    In 2007, 50% of men and 44% of women expressed 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of trust in the Scottish Executive to make fair decisions - a gap of just 6 points. But by 2009, while the proportion of men who trusted the Scottish Government on this measure had fallen to 43%, the proportion of women who said the same fell even more sharply, to 29%. In fact, it appears that while the views of men remained more positive in 2009, trust among women had fallen back to close to 2006 levels (33% of men, 30% of women).

    This is a concerning statistic for we nationalists, not least because the party's appeal to women voters has generally proved lower among women than men.  Something to be looked at very closely.

    On educational background...

    "those with degrees were significantly more likely than those with no qualifications to trust the Scottish Government to act in Scotland's best interests (71% vs. 52%), to believe having a Scottish Parliament gives Scotland a stronger voice in the UK (64% vs. 43%) and to think that having a Scottish Parliament gives ordinary people more say in how Scotland is run (60% vs. 35%)."

    On newspapers...

    "... 69% of broadsheet readers said they trusted the Scottish Government 'just about always' or 'most of the time' to act in Scotland's best interests, compared with just 53% of tabloid readers." 

    As you can see, plenty to be pouring over here.  Do take a look for yourself.

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