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Is Scotland more left-wing than England?

Authors: John Curtice and Rachel Ormston

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Is Scotland really more ‘left-wing’ or ‘social democratic’ in outlook than England, as is frequently claimed? And is there any evidence that devolution has led to greater divergence between Scottish and English public opinion? This briefing addresses these questions using data from the Scottish and the British Social Attitudes surveys

  • People in Scotland are a little more concerned than people in England about income inequality. They are also more willing to support income redistribution.
  • But concern about income inequality and support for redistribution has fallen in both Scotland and England during the last decade
  • Although support for ‘tax and spend’ is a little higher in Scotland than in England, it has fallen heavily in both countries since 1999
  • Only one in five (20 per cent) of people in Scotland believe that no students should have to pay tuition fees – little different from the figure in England (18 per cent)
  • Opposition to students paying any tuition fees has almost halved in both countries since 2000. Although Scotland is more social democratic in outlook than England, the differences are modest at best
  • Like England, Scotland has become less – not more – social democratic since the start of devolution.


In this briefing we ask three questions:

  1. Is Scotland more social democratic (‘left-wing’) than England?
  2. Has Scotland become more social democratic since 1999?
  3. Has the political gap between Scotland and England widened since 1999?

We define a social democrat as someone who is concerned about economic inequality and believes that the state should take action to reduce it. As well as looking at people’s answers to survey questions that express such views directly, we also look at attitudes towards specific policies that might be associated with a social democratic outlook.

Our evidence comes from the Scottish and British Social Attitudes surveys (SSA and BSA) of NatCen Social Research. SSA has tracked trends public attitudes in Scotland since 1999, interviewing an annual sample of approximately 1,500 respondents. Many of the questions asked on SSA have also appeared on the British survey, providing an equivalent set of readings for England.