Anti-austerity protest Glasgow

A Step to the Left

Published: 3 August 2015
Author: Craig McAngus
The assumption that Scotland is a left-wing country and, perhaps more importantly, more left-wing than England is one that pervades discussion of Scottish politics. Of course, Scottish politics has been dominated by parties on the left since the 1980s, and elite political discourse in Scotland is arguably to the left of English discourse, particualry on welfare reform and immigration.  However, analysis of public opinion has consistently found there to be very little difference between Scotland and England when it comes to the left-right spectrum.  Indeed, some research has shown that, if anything, attitudes have converged over time.  However, the independence referendum has shaken Scottish politics up quite substantially, and there was certainly a left-wing flavour to the pro-independence movement and those who voted Yes were more substaintially more likely to be on the left than on the right.
Has the legacy of the referendum led to a shift to the Scottish public becoming more left-wing than their neighbours to the south?  By using very recent data from the British Election Study it is possible to compare Scotland and England.   By combining answers to a range of questions on topics such as ‘redistribution of wealth’ and ‘fair share for ordinary people’, a left-right spectrum can be constructed that can be used to compare Scotland and England.
The first thing to note is that the overall pattern of both lines roughly correspond to one another, and that both lines are skewed to the left.  The accusation that England is a right-wing country does not stand up to the evidence here.  Secondly, the one aspect that does differentiate Scotland and England is the gap between those furthest to the left: 14.5% of the Scottish public are on the most left-wing point of the scale compared with 9.8% in England.   
 Left-Right Scale
Source: British Election Survey
As mentioned above, the left-right scale here is constructed using a number of questions that, when combined, can place a respondent on the left-right scale.  When the mean (or average) score on each of these individual questions is compared between the two countries, Scotland is slightly more left-wing than England on all measures, but the difference is very small.  Interestingly, the area where both countries are the least left-wing is on whether or not the state ought to redistribute income from the rich to the poor.   
This analysis has shown that attitudes in Scotland and England are not only very similar, but that they are both skewed towards the left on these measurements.   However, some caution is advised.  The questions used here help us to construct a very important dimension of political ideology, but divisions between left and right consist of more aspects than these.   Debates between left and right also encompass important and salient issues such as immigration and security that will undoubtedly shape ideological worldviews.  Nevertheless, on these measurements we see that people in Scotland and England are broadly similar to one another and that both lean to the left.