Almost a quarter of a century on from the Scotland Act of 1998 that established the devolved Government of Scotland, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies have polled the Scottish public to find out which Government—the Prime Minister and Westminster or the First Minister and Holyrood—they think currently has the most power and responsibility over a range of policy areas, and what they think the devolved Government should have responsibility for. We observe clear patterns based on age and Scottish Independence voting intention.

Polled just before domestic Scottish coronavirus restrictions were lifted, a clear majority (64%) think that the Scottish Government currently has the most power and responsibility over coronavirus restrictions. A further 26% think the Prime Minister and Westminster does, and 11% don’t know. The opinion that Holyrood currently has the most responsibility increases with age, with 52% of those aged 16 to 24 responding this way compared to 80% of those aged 65 and above. However, younger respondents are not significantly more likely to think that the Prime Minister and Westminster have responsibility—instead, they are much more likely to say they don’t know, with 24% of 16-to-24-year-olds saying this compared to just 4% of those aged 65 and above.

Similarly, 62% of Scots think that Holyrood currently has the most power over healthcare, compared to 28% who think it is the responsibility of Westminster, and 11% who don’t know. We observe similar age patterns, with 49% of those aged 16 to 24 compared to 72% of those aged 55 to 64 responding that Holyrood currently has the most power and responsibility.

In domestic policy, a majority of 67% of Scots think that the First Minister and Holyrood have the most responsibility for education compared to 22% who think the Prime Minister and Westminster do. Education is one area that the devolved Government indeed has significant power and responsibility over.

We see slightly slimmer majorities when we ask about policing and crime (59%), drug policy (54%), and transportation (52%). Men are much more likely than women to think that the Scottish Government have more power over policing and crime, with 67% of men compared to 52% of women expressing this opinion.

We observe variances according to Scottish independence voting intention: 67% of those who would vote ‘no’ think Holyrood has greater power both with respect to policing and crime and with respect to drug policy, compared to 60% and 49%, respectively, of those who would vote ‘yes’. This perhaps indicates that those who support independence think that Scotland could have greater power over these areas than they believe the current system of devolution affords.

Scots are less certain concerning the environment and welfare. A plurality of 47% think that Holyrood currently has the most power and responsibility over environmental policy, followed by 40% who think the Prime Minister and Westminster do, and 15% who don’t know. The Scottish Government largely has control over environmental policy, suggesting public unawareness of this aspect of devolution. Concerning welfare, almost exact proportions say the inverse: 47% think that Westminster currently has the most power and responsibility for welfare, while 41% think that the First Minister and Holyrood do, and 12% aren’t sure. This opinion is driven by those who would vote ‘yes’ to Scottish independence, a majority (52%) of whom think Westminster has the most power. Interestingly, the Scotland Bill of 2015 transferred greater control over welfare and benefits to Holyrood, suggesting that not all Scots are aware of this development.

However, clear majorities think that the Prime Minister and Westminster have the most power and responsibility for foreign policy (67%), immigration (67%), and the economy (58%). This is an accurate perception, as Westminster reserves powers over foreign affairs, immigration, and central economic policy. In all instances, older respondents show greater majorities than their younger counterparts. For example, regarding foreign policy, 41% of 16-to-24-year-olds think Westminster has the most responsibility, compared to 81% of those aged 65 and above. Just 33% of those aged 16 to 24 think that Westminster has the most responsibility regarding the economy, in comparison to 66% of those 65 and over.

When we asked who should have the most power and responsibility with respect to Scotland, majorities or pluralities of Scots thought that the First Minister and Holyrood should control all policy areas. However, support is driven by those in favour of Scottish Independence, with those who would vote ‘no’ more divided.

Majorities think that Holyrood should have the most power and responsibility for education (70%), healthcare (68%), and coronavirus restrictions (67%)—three areas that a majority of Scots think are currently the responsibility of Holyrood, suggesting approval for these areas of devolution. In these areas, both those in favour of and opposed to Scottish independence think Holyrood should have the most power.

We see similar proportions concerning transportation (66%), policing and crime (66%), drug policy (66%), and the environment (60%). About a quarter—24%, 26%, 25%, and 30%, respectively—think Westminster should have the most power over these areas. This opinion decreases with age: 72% of 16-to-24-year-olds think Holyrood should have the most power over transportation and policing, and 71% drug policy. Of those aged 65 and above, 64% think transport and policing should be the responsibility of Holyrood, and 59% drug policy.

Near unanimous majorities of those who would vote ‘yes’ to Scottish independence think that Holyrood should have power in these areas—87%, 88%, 89%, and 85% respectively. However, those who would vote ‘no’ are less certain: 52% think Holyrood should have power over transportation, 51% over crime, 46% over drug policy, and just 39% over environmental policy.

Turning to welfare, the economy, foreign policy, and immigration—the areas that Scots think Westminster currently has most power over—we observe slightly smaller margins. In all four areas, those who would vote ‘no’ to independence show majority support for Westminster holding the most power—53% 63%, 74%, and 70%, respectively—against strong majorities of those who would vote ‘yes’ responding that Holyrood should have the most power—90%, 87%, 80% and 85%, respectively.

62% think Holyrood should have the most responsibility regarding welfare, compared to 30% who think Westminster should have responsibility. Regarding the economy, 56% think that Holyrood should have the most power and responsibility, while 36% think Westminster should. Here we observe somewhat of a gender divide: 29% of women think Westminster should have most power compared to 44% of men.

Half of Scots (50%) think that the First Minister and Holyrood should have the most power over immigration, but 41% think that this should remain the responsibility of Westminster. Similarly, a slim plurality of 48% think that foreign policy should be the responsibility of the Scottish Government, while 44% think this should be the responsibility of Westminster. Again, the opinion that Holyrood should have power decreases with age: 56% of those aged 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 think Holyrood should have powers over immigration and 61% over foreign policy, compared to 40% and 32%, respectively, of those aged 65 and above.

Finally, we find that when it comes to political news, 40% of Scots say they read or hear about Westminster and Scottish politics equally. Meanwhile, equal proportions of 26% read or hear about one more than the other.

Older respondents are much more likely to hear about both equally than younger respondents, with 53% of those aged 65 and above compared to 13% of those aged 25 to 34 responding this way, whereas 48% of those aged 25 to 34 hear mostly about Scottish politics in comparison to 19% of those aged 65 and above. These figures are interesting in light of the age trends identified, with younger respondents more likely to think that Holyrood should have power than their older counterparts, perhaps due to the political news they engage with.

Overall, we find that Scots think that the First Minister and Holyrood currently have the most power and responsibility over a wide range of policy areas, apart from foreign policy, immigration, the economy, and welfare. Majorities or pluralities think that the Scottish Government should have the most power and responsibility over all areas of policy. Younger respondents are more likely to respond this way than older respondents, even where younger respondents are less certain who currently holds power. Support for Scottish independence is a clear indicator of opinion—those in favour are much more likely to think that Holyrood should have the most power and responsibility, while those who would vote ‘no’ are more divided, suggesting that their opposition to independence is not accompanied by an overall opposition to devolution and may be informed by other perceived benefits of the union or by an aversion to disruption.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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