By Dave Taylor
The 29th British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey has been published and, as usual, has a section on attitudes to Scottish independence. They take a year to analyse the data, so it all comes from attitudes collected in June-Sep 2011.
The Scottish data, that the Scottish Government paid for, was published in June, so we already knew that “Attitudes towards the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament were significantly more positive in 2011, compared with 2010.
On a wide range of measures more people said they trusted the Scottish Government ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time’ to act in Scotland’s best interests (61% in 2010, 71% in 2011) and people were more likely to feel the Scottish Parliament strengthened Scotland’s voice in the UK (49% in 2010, 69% in 2011).” 
However, the more “political” questions were differently funded, and this is the “new” data that the BSA has revealed.
Academics (and pollsters) like to ask the same questions over time, so that they can track changes. From its inception in 1999, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey have offered identical options on the constitutional issue –
- Scotland should become independent, separate from the UK and the European Union
- Scotland should become independent, separate from the UK but part of the European Union
- Scotland should remain part of the UK, with its own elected parliament which has some taxation powers
- Scotland should remain part of the UK, with its own elected parliament which has no taxation powers
- Scotland should remain part of the UK without an elected parliament
These options seem rather dated now, but they have historical (if not political) relevance still.
Future historians will doubtless note that John Curtice (author of this part of the BSA) showed a remarkable lack of understanding in equating “independence” and “separation” in 2011 (no matter how relevant the term “separate” might have seemed in 1999) when he said “at 32 per cent the level of support for independence now is still in the range within which it has oscillated during the last dozen or so years”.
They might even speculate that his academic rigour was modified by his own political predilections.
For the benefit of any future historians reading this article, they may care to note that this independentista doesn’t want “separation” from my friends and family in other parts of the UK, the EU, or the rest of the world, either. That has nothing to do with the powers that the Scottish Parliament should have – a totally different issue, and Scots recognise that difference.
When the term “separation” is removed, very different attitudes are revealed. Offered the alternative choice of independence as “Scottish Parliament make all decisions” 43% opted for that compared with 28% in 2010.
The “Devo Max” option – “UK government should make decisions about defence and foreign affairs; the Scottish Parliament should decide everything else” had 29% support in 2011, a 3% drop since 2010.
The status quo – “UK government should make decisions about taxes, benefits and defence and foreign affairs; the Scottish Parliament should decide the rest” dropped 6% from 2010 to 21% in 2011.
The British imperialist model of “UK government should make all decisions for Scotland” halved from 10% to 5% as the advocates of such a position transferred their views from the political present to the afterlife (the existence of Ian Davidson means that representatives of the living dead remain within us).
Being the British Social Attitudes Survey, they do examine English attitudes to Scotland. A sensible person might have assumed that any meaningful examination of “British” would also have included the Welsh, but the BSA ignores them completely.
Out of respect for our Welsh friends (and because it really doesn’t matter a damn what English attitudes are), I’ll draw a veil over that part of the report – but Hint! – they really don’t seem to understand that Dylan was right and The Times They Are a-Changing.