Scottish Voters Views on the Scottish Government’s Autonomy

July 14, 2023
R&WS Research Team
GB Politics | Scottish Independence | UK Government | UK Politics

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Last month, Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf unveiled plans for a new written Scottish constitution.

Making the case for a written Scottish constitution, Yousaf argued that Scotland’s current position within the United Kingdom, which does not have a written constitution, means that the Scottish parliament can be dissolved and devolution reversed by the vote of a simple majority in Westminster. 

By contrast, independence would allow Scotland to adopt a written constitution, which would, according to the Scottish Government, replace ‘the doctrine of Westminster sovereignty with the Scottish constitutional tradition of popular sovereignty, where power and authority rest with the people of Scotland.’

Devolution was granted to Scotland through the Scotland Act 1998, which was enacted following a referendum the previous year in which 74% of voters voted for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Under this arrangement, the Scottish Government can legislate on matters such as health, education, housing, justice and policing, and internal transport—issues that the UK Parliament has not reserved for itself. 

However, the recent controversy over the UK Government’s decision to use its powers to block the passage into law of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill has sparked a constitutional dispute over the current balance of power between Holyrood and Westminster. 

In our latest Scotland Tracker Poll, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked Scottish voters how they feel about the current separation of powers between the Scottish and UK Governments and about the current level of autonomy Scotland enjoys.

We find that pluralities of Scottish voters feel that the UK government has too much influence over Scottish matters and want the Scottish Government to have more power and responsibility over most areas of policy.

When asked how much autonomy Scotland has over its own legislation and policies, 44% say the country has a fair (31%) or significant (13%) amount of autonomy, while 42% say the country has a only a slight amount of autonomy (33%) or no autonomy at all (9%).

By comparison, a clear majority (76%) says the UK Government has a fair or significant amount of influence over legislation and policies in Scotland. Just 23% say that the UK Government has only a slight amount of influence (19%) or no influence at all (4%) over Scottish matters.

In terms of specific policies, majorities identify the UK Government as having the most power and responsibility over foreign policy (75%), immigration (73%), and the economy (65%). A plurality  believes the Prime Minister and Westminster have the most responsibility for the environment (43%).

Majorities identify healthcare (50%) and education (56%) as areas where the Scottish Government has the most power and responsibility, while narrow pluralities believe the Scottish Government has more power and responsibility than the UK Government in the devolved areas of policing and crime (44% vs 41%) and drug policy (44% vs 39%).

On balance, 46% of Scottish voters say that the UK Government has too much influence in regards to Scotland’s autonomy. 22% say that the current balance of power between Holyrood and Westminster is about right, while 19% say that the Scottish Government has too much autonomy.

A majority (77%) of SNP voters from the 2021 Holyrood election say the UK Government has too much influence, while a plurality (47%) of 2021 Scottish Conservative voters think the Scottish Government has too much autonomy.

In addition, majorities of Scottish voters think the First Minister and Holyrood should have the most power and responsibility with respect to Scotland in every policy area surveyed, with the exception of foreign policy (40%) and immigration (44%, tied with those who say that the UK Government should have more say).

One way for Scotland to gain more decision-making power is through independence. Voting intention for Scottish independence currently stands at 45% when undecided voters are included, with the percentage in support of independence having hovered between 42% and 45% since March.

This figure drops to a still considerable 35% when set against other alternative scenarios, including a Scotland within the United Kingdom but with more devolution, a scenario preferred by 21% of Scottish voters. By comparison, 14% prefer the current scenario, while another 21% would prefer a Scotland within the United Kingdom and with more integration with the rest of the United Kingdom (i.e., less devolution than it enjoys now).

With such alternative scenarios presented, a majority (67%) of 2021 SNP voters would still prefer outright independence. By contrast, 64% of 2021 Scottish Conservative voters would like to remain a part of the United Kingdom with more integration with the rest of the country.

But independence itself also comes with the prospect of membership in the European Union, a supranational entity with its own laws and rules which Scotland would have to follow. Comparing the two possibilities in this light, 36% Scottish voters believe Scotland would have greater control over its own affairs as a member of the European Union than as a constituent nation of the United Kingdom.

By comparison, 21% believe that being part of the UK but outside the EU would give Scotland more control over its own internal affairs, while another 27% say that there would be no difference either way.

Overall, nearly half of Scottish voters feel that Westminster exerts too much influence over Scottish legislation, and majorities would like to see policy autonomy on most major issues for Holyrood and the First Minister. Whether greater autonomy should come in the form of greater autonomy for Scotland within the UK or with Scotland becoming independent outside it—or should come at all—remains a key question and one on which the Scottish public remains divided.

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. Follow us on Twitter

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