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Scots would prefer ‘devo max’ new SSA data reveals

New figures from Scottish Social Attitudes survey show Scots would prefer more devolution, but remain unsure about consequences

18 February 2014

New figures from Scottish Social Attitudes survey show Scots would prefer more devolution, but remain unsure about consequences

The option not on the referendum ballot paper – more devolution – is preferred by a majority of Scots to both independence and the status quo, according to new results from ScotCen’s Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey being presented today. However, Scots do not always embrace some of the consequences of more devolution, while expectations of what it would deliver are quite limited. 

According to the latest SSA findings, 32% of Scots say that their first preference is for the Scottish Parliament to be responsible for everything apart from defence and foreign affairs, a position often dubbed ‘devo max’. 31% say their top preference is for the Scottish Parliament to make the key decisions for Scotland about everything, including defence and foreign affairs, i.e. independence. Meanwhile ScotCen’s research also shows 25% back the status quo with taxation and welfare benefits still mostly be decided by Westminster, while 8% do not want any devolution at all. 

However, no less than 42% of all Scots say that ‘devo max’ would be their second preference.  This option is backed by 79% of those whose first preference is independence and by 66% of those who would most like to see a continuation of the status quo. As a result, if voters were asked to choose between independence and more devolution, 61% would back ‘devo max’ and only 39% independence. Equally in a run-off between ‘devo max’ and the status quo, ‘devo max’ would win by 62% to 38%. 

However, some of the likely consequences of more devolution - more of Scotland’s public spending being funded out of revenues raised in Scotland and different levels of taxes and benefits being paid on the two sides of the border – are not so readily accepted. 

  • 50% believe that the public services currently run by Holyrood should be funded out of taxes collected in Scotland, while 46% feel they should continue to be paid for by a block grant from Westminster. 
  • Although 48% think that the revenues from income tax should only be spent in Scotland, 47% believe they should be shared across the UK as a whole.
  • While 41% say that it is OK for the basic rate of income tax to be different from that in England, as many as 52% believe it should always be the same.
  • Only 37% think it is OK for the old age pension to be different north of the border, while 58% feel it should be the same.
  • 34% feel that the old age pension paid out in Scotland should be paid for wholly out of taxes collected in Scotland. 61% believe it should be paid for out of UK-wide taxation.

Meanwhile, ‘devo max’ is no more popular than independence when people are asked what benefits it might bring. Just 30% believe that Scotland’s economy would be better – the same proportion as think independence would – while at 35% the proportion who think that it would strengthen Scotland’s voice in the world is actually three points lower than for independence.

However, fewer people think that introducing more devolution would be damaging to Scotland than say the same of independence. Indeed, just 28% say they would be ‘worried’ if Scotland were to have more devolution, whereas 55% say they are ‘worried’ about independence.

Prof. John Curtice, Research Consultant at ScotCen Social Research, said: “Both Labour and the Conservatives have to decide in the next few weeks what proposals for more devolution they wish to bring forward in advance of the independence referendum. Doubtless supporters of the idea will note its apparent widespread popularity, while sceptics will point to the relative lack of enthusiasm for some of its consequences. But given that as many as 44% of those whose first preference is ‘devo max’ have yet to decide how to vote in September, working out the best way of appealing to their sometimes seemingly inconsistent feelings and aspirations could well prove vital in determining the eventual referendum outcome.’

For Notes to Editors

The initial findings from the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes survey on attitudes towards more devolution will be presented at a seminar held in conjunction with EdinburghUniversity’s Institute of Governance at 0930 on Tuesday 18th February in the Raeburn Room. OldCollege.

The 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey interviewed a probability sample of 1,497 adults face to face between 25th June and 23rd October 2013. Data are weighted to reflect known patterns of non-response and the age and gender profile of the adult population in Scotland