A poll probing attitudes to the Smith Commission and its terms of reference has found that 63% of Scots support the full devolution of both taxes and welfare benefits, including unemployment benefit[i]. There were also significant majorities for the devolution of pensions (58%), energy policy (57%) and environmental legislation (62%)[ii]. The Scottish Parliament retained sizeable majority support for control in all policy areas except immigration, defence and foreign affairs.
Asked specifically about whether Holyrood or Westminster should have responsibility for a range of individual taxes and benefits, or whether they should share control, Holyrood is the most popular option in all circumstances, followed by ‘joint control’. Approximately a quarter to a third of respondents opted for the two institutions to share responsibility across all policy areas[iii].
The poll also detected, however, that although voters north of the Border have a clear preference for Holyrood to lead on domestic legislation, there is strong support for policy uniformity across the UK as a whole[iv]. This was particularly true in the area of tax where 43% of respondents felt that taxes should be set at similar rates across the UK, 25% offering no opinion and smaller yet roughly equal numbers favouring the Scottish Parliament setting lower or higher rates (15% and 17% respectively).
Professor Ailsa Henderson, lead author of the report, explains that:
“We can see that there is widespread support for increased powers for the Scottish Parliament in the areas of tax and welfare. We shouldn’t assume, however, that this means people want policies that are radically different than those operating elsewhere in the UK. It’s part of a familiar devolution paradox: Scots want their Parliament to make key decisions about taxes and welfare, but our survey shows they still want the outcomes of those decisions to keep Scotland in line with policy choices made elsewhere in the UK. Obviously, we now know the conclusions of the Smith Commission and people can make their own assessments of the extent to which those conclusions reflect public opinion.”
Notes to Text
[i] The poll was conducted by ICM on behalf of the ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change as part of their work on constitutional attitudes before and after the independence referendum. In two separate pieces of fieldwork 1,500 adults were interviewed in Scotland and 1,000 in England. These analyses are based on the first 1000 responses to the Scottish survey and the full English sample. A Welsh sample will be analysed separately. The Scottish online survey was conducted by ICM from 6-12 November 2014, while the English fieldwork took place 7-13 November 2014.
[ii] See Figure 5 and surrounding text on page four of the attached report.
[iii] See Figure 8 and surrounding text on page six of the attached report.
[iv] See Figures 10, 11 and 12 and surrounding text on pages seven and eight of the attached report.