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Core Module - Attitudes to Government, The Economy and Public Services In Scotland

Authors: Rachel Ormston and Susan Reid

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This report presents findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey on three key questions:

  •  How have attitudes to government, public services, the economy and living standards changed over time?
  • Who held more positive views on these issues in 2011 (and how did this compare with 2010)?
  • Who do people think should be responsible for providing and funding particular public services?

It uses SSA data from 1999 onwards to explore changing attitudes to government, the economy and public services. The latest data included in this report were collected between June and September 2011 (i.e. in the months after the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections).


2011 was an eventful year in Scottish politics. The Scottish Parliament elections in May saw the SNP form the first majority government in the Parliament’s 12 year history, securing 45% of the constituency and 44% of the list vote. The Scottish elections followed the first full year of Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government in Westminster, a year in which Scotland’s relations with the rest of the UK received increasing attention. The Scotland Bill was published by the UK Government in November 2010, with the aim of devolving further powers to the Scottish Parliament, including additional powers to vary the rate of income tax and powers over stamp duty and landfill taxes. Meanwhile, within the term of the current parliament the SNP will hold a referendum on whether or not people in Scotland would like the Scottish Government to negotiate for Scotland to become an independent country. Thus while it remains unclear exactly how Scotland’s relationship to the rest of the UK will develop over the next four years, it was clear by mid- 2011 that this relationship would change.

These political developments took place against a background of ongoing economic austerity, uncertainty and public sector budget constraint. Scotland and the rest of the UK officially exited recession in late 2009,1 but the recovery was muted, with low economic growth between 2010 and 20112 . The UK economy returned to recession in April 2012 (at the time of writing, figures for Scotland for the first quarter of 2012 were not yet available).3 While growth has been low, the price of basic goods has continued to rise placing increasing strain on household budgets and businesses (ONS, 2011). 2010 and 2011 also saw significant cuts to public sector budgets in the UK. The Scottish Government’s total budget for 2011-12 was reduced as a result of UK Government cuts to public spending. In the Scottish Government budgets that followed (Scottish Government, November 2010 and Scottish Government, September 2011), although some areas were protected (for example, the NHS), budgets in other areas were cut. Meanwhile, a pay freeze for Scottish public sector workers (with exceptions for workers earning under £21,000 per year) was announced in November 2010, and extended for another year in September 2011 in order to prevent compulsory redundancies (Scottish Government, September 2011). At the same time, Scottish Government funding for local government was frozen at the same amount as it had been in the previous year.

The 2011 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) took place against this backdrop of political change and economic austerity, with fieldwork from June to October 2011. SSA is an annual survey of social and political attitudes in Scotland. Run by ScotCen Social Research since 1999, it provides a reliable and robust picture of changing public opinion over time. This report presents findings from the Scottish Government ‘core module’ of questions on public attitudes to government, the economy and public services. It reflects on how opinion on each of these areas may have been shaped by the changing political and economic context. The core module has been funded by the Scottish Government Office of the Chief Researcher since 2004 and in many cases continues time series begun in 1999. The 2011 module also included a new section on attitudes to who should fund and provide different public services.