9 August marked the lifting of most domestic coronavirus restrictions in Scotland, three weeks after ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July in England. Despite most restrictions being lifted, face masks will still be legally required in indoor spaces.
The latest research from Redfield & Wilton surveyed the Scottish public prior to this reopening for their views on the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Government’s approach to managing it, and the impact the pandemic has had on the Union. We find high levels of optimism regarding the coronavirus crisis’ end and mixed opinions regarding the role of the Union during the pandemic.
A majority of 57% of Scots think that the worst is behind us regarding the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic. Just 21% think that the worst is yet to come, and 22% don’t know. This optimism is shared amongst all age groups, with 51% of 16-to-24-year-olds and 58% of those aged 65 and above expressing this opinion. Further, the overall optimism regarding the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic is supported by majority approval of the current measures being taken by the Scottish Government: two-thirds (66%) of Scots think that the Scottish Government is currently taking the right measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, against 22% who think it is not and 12% who don’t know.
Similarly, we observe significant support for the lifting of most domestic coronavirus restrictions in Scotland on 9 August, with 61% in support of the decision to lift restrictions on 9 August, including a quarter (25%) who strongly support it. In comparison, 19% oppose the decision, and 18% neither support nor oppose it. This figure contrasts with the sharp divide amongst the British public as a whole regarding the decision to lift domestic restrictions in England on 19 July: a poll from July 2021 found that a marginal plurality (41%) of Britons were in support of lifting coronavirus restrictions in England, against 39% who opposed it.
Amidst the lifting of restrictions in Scotland, the Scottish Government has decided to maintain the face mask mandate indoors beyond 9 August. We find strong public support for this decision, with 72% of Scots in support of maintaining the mask mandate indoors, including 43% in strong support. Just 15% oppose this decision, and 11% neither support nor oppose it. Support is highest amongst those aged 65 and above, at 81%—including a majority (55%) who strongly support the decision. In comparison, a smaller yet clear majority of 67% of 16-to-24-year-olds support this decision, showing a strong consensus across generations.
Beyond these specific decisions, the Scottish public expresses plurality support for the overall timing of the Scottish Government’s approach to lifting restrictions. A plurality of 42% think that the Scottish Government has struck the right balance in its approach to lifting coronavirus restrictions, against 37% who think it has been too cautious and 16% who think it has been too impatient. Again, these levels of support contrast with the more divided responses of the British public regarding the UK Government: in July, one-third (33%) of Britons responded that the Government had struck the right balance, while another third (32%) thought that the Government had been too impatient in its approach and 21% thought that the UK Government had been too cautious.
In comparison to the management of the pandemic by the UK Government, a majority (57%) of Scots think that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s overall handling of the coronavirus crisis was better than Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s, while 20% think she handled it about the same and 18% think she handled it worse. This relatively less favourable view of the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic is reaffirmed in that 43% of Scots think that Westminster was mostly unhelpful for Scotland during the coronavirus crisis. Nevertheless, 38% think that Westminster was mostly helpful, and 18% don’t know. The opinion that Westminster was helpful is highest amongst those aged 65 and above, with a majority of 54% expressing this opinion. In comparison, just 31% of 25-to-34-year-olds share this view, with 50% instead responding that Westminster was mostly unhelpful.
We nevertheless observe a more mixed outlook regarding the role of the Union and the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood more broadly. Overall, a plurality of 38% think that the coronavirus pandemic has made no difference to arguments in favour of the Union. The remaining respondents are split: a quarter (26%) thinks that the pandemic has strengthened arguments in favour of the Union, while another quarter (23%) thinks it has weakened them.
Younger respondents are the most likely to say that the pandemic has weakened arguments in favour of the Union, yet they appear split: 28% of 16-to-24-year-olds think that the pandemic has weakened arguments for the Union, followed closely by 26% who think it has made no difference and 23% who think it has strengthened them. Conversely, older respondents reach a closer consensus, yet appear more neutral, with 47% of 55-to-64-year-olds and 45% of those aged 65 and above saying that the pandemic has made no difference to arguments in favour of the Union. This generational difference suggests that the split in public opinion is largely driven by younger respondents, while older respondents have clearer opinions on the Union.
More specifically, the vaccination programme has been a source of tension between Holyrood and Westminster in its early stages, with Scotland initially falling behind the vaccine progress made in England. The Scottish Government claimed that vaccination in Scotland was being undermined by a lack of doses, and more recently, low supplies of the Pfizer vaccine have threatened Scotland’s summer vaccination efforts. Now, with 91% of Scots having received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, our polling asked who deserves the most credit for the success of the vaccination rollout in Scotland. A plurality of 38% think that the First Minster and Holyrood deserve the most credit, against 22% who think that the Prime Minister and Westminster deserve the most. A quarter (25%) thinks that credit should be shared equally between Holyrood and Westminster, and 9% think neither deserve any credit.
In contrast to earlier patterns, older respondents appear more divided, with 34% of those aged 65 and over crediting the First Minister and Holyrood, 26% crediting the Prime Minister and Westminster, and 29% thinking both Holyrood and Westminster deserve equal credit. Those aged 16 to 24 are slightly less split, though division is still present: 42% think that the First Minister and Holyrood deserve the most credit, against 30% who believe credit is most due to the Prime Minister and Westminster and 11% who think they deserve equal credit.
Even so, a majority of 56% agree with a statement suggesting that the successful early procurement of vaccines by the UK Government demonstrates the benefits of the Union—including one-third (33%) who strongly agree with this statement. Just 13% disagree, and 24% neither agree nor disagree. Those aged 65 and above are most likely to agree that the successful procurement of vaccines demonstrates the benefits of the Union, at 64%, including almost half (49%) who strongly agree. In comparison, a somewhat lower proportion of 53% of 16-to-24-year-olds share this view. The strong positive response to the role of the Union in procuring vaccines suggests that, despite mixed opinions on the Union generally, the partnership between England and Scotland is viewed by many Scots as having proven valuable in this particular regard.
Overall, we observe significant optimism amongst the Scottish population regarding the timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, bolstered by majority support for the decision to lift domestic restrictions in Scotland on 9 August. Similarly, there is plurality support for the overall Scottish Government’s approach, including the timing of the removal of restrictions and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s overall handling of the pandemic in comparison to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s. With respect to the role that Westminster and the Union overall have played throughout the pandemic, we find opinions are mixed, though a majority agree that the successful procurement of vaccines by the UK Government demonstrates the Union’s benefits.