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Scotching a myth: Scotland is not as left-wing as you think it is

21 May 2014

Alex Salmond and David Cameron have more in common than a shared appreciation for Andy Murray’s tennis. Not, of course, that you would ever persuade either of them to admit that.

At the very least, their supporters are more alike than either man would like you to believe. A new survey commissioned by Dundee University’s Five Million Questions project confirms as much. On a range of issues SNP supporters are as close, or closer, to Tory voters as they are to Labour voters:

This will not surprise diehard leftists, of course. If the First Minister was ever a socialist he ceased to be a comrade long ago and if SNP voters think* like Tories that may be because a good number of them used to be Tories.


The poll, in which Survation asked 1003 Scots for their views, also confirms another truth Scotland’s blethering classes prefer to deny: this is a much more right-wing country than it is thought to be.

True, Scots are more likely than other Britons to identify with the left but when it comes to actual individual policies they are much closer to the British average than is commonly presumed. Nice, kind, progressive Scotland is a myth as cherished as it is, well, mythical. Clear majorities of Scots favour tougher immigration** controls and tougher welfare policies. Even in Glasgow, 47 per cent of poll respondents support workfare programmes.

The referendum is sometimes caricatured as a choice between cuddly social democratic Scotland and ruthless neoliberal Britain. It’s a point of view, certainly. Though one you might think dented by the awkward fact that the differences in attitude between Yes supporters and No supporters are much less substantial than sometimes claimed:

*A note on methodology: the figures in these charts are based on Westminster voting intention. That is: diehard Tories and diehard Nationalists.

**A small problem for the SNP, incidentally, since their economic policies depend on high levels of immigration into an independent Scotland.

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  • JohnC

    Scotland is far more left wing than the UK as a whole. That is clear from looking at any electoral map. It is also true that this was not always the case. The Conservatives used to be larger than Labour (before the SNP was relevant). But the far left has always been strong: Scottish Communists were elected to the Commons in the 1920’s and 1945, and recently to the Scottish Assembly

  • Susan Solomon

    Bummer. If Scotland were more socialist I might try it. I was in England in the 70’s, when it was far more traditional/socialist than now, and life was amazingly wonderful compared to the states. Fantastic TV with a picture better than anything we had then, and at least as good as anything we have now, and with terrific programming too. Medical care was free for visitors as well as residents, food was so healthy it looked and tasted totally different than the ‘same’ food in the states. People were totally trusting compared to what I was used to in US cities, and schools were more intellectual, with less homework and BS. I have NO idea why people think socialism is a bad thing.

  • Jan Hansen

    No matter what kind of politics you support, you should all vote YES to Scottish independence! In Norway we sure are happy that we’re not in a union with Denmark or Sweden anymore. Norway used to be one of the poorest countries in Europe. But now, sharing the income from North Sea oil with just 5 million people makes for a rich nation. And so it would be in Scotland as well.

  • Dusty01

    ” differences in attitude between Yes supporters and No supporters are much less substantial than sometimes claimed” Ya dont say!
    I think it is commonly known whatever the outcome, on the 19th we’ll all still be SCOTS.

  • Dusty01

    I can’t believe I actually read that.

  • Dave_Coull

    “A new survey commissioned by Dundee University’s Five Million Questions project”

    The pretence of academic “objectivity” by the 5 Million Questions project is false.

    As a Member of the University of Dundee, I formally raised the matter of the obvious bias of this project with the University. I was not satisfied with the response to me doing so, and I do not regard the matter as closed. History will prove me right….

    I left school and started full time work in July 1956. At the time of the 1979 referendum on a Scottish Assembly, I was living, working as a bricklayer, and raising a family, in London; so I couldn’t vote in that one. Thirty eight years after leaving school, I became a “mature student” (well, at least, an old one) of History at Dundee University. One of my tutors was Chris Whatley. It was well known to practically everybody connected with the History Department of Dundee University that he took an extremely Unionist slant on Scottish history. At least 18 years ago, it seemed pretty obvious to me that, when we did eventually have a referendum on independence for Scotland, Chris Whatley would play a prominent part in the NO side.

    Nowadays, Chris Whatley isn’t just a lecturer, he is the Deputy Head of the entire University of Dundee, he is the Chairman of the Five Millions Questions Project (the very name of which was chosen by him) and he has appeared on “Better Together” platforms as a spokesman for that anti-independence organisation.

    Last year, when I first heard about Chris Whatley’s plans for his “5 Million Questions” (about independence) project, my immediate reaction, as a Member of the University of Dundee, was to write, on the “5 Million Questions” web page of the University, questioning how this could possibly be “neutral”, given both Chris Whatley’s extremely well-known bias, and his choice of a title which seemed to fit so well with the game-plan of the “Better Together” campaign.

    Chris Whatley responded to my criticism, saying that, regardless of any personal feelings of his own, this series of events (his own idea, mark you, with his own choice of title) would indeed be neutral. I was not convinced, and I remain un-convinced. Any “information” coming from his project has to be regarded as of questionable academic value.


    Of the 5 issues shown SNP are closer, or as close, to Labour in 3 of them. Am I missing something?

  • Al

    If you read the small print on this article the figures are based on Westminster voting intention. In 2010 less than 20% of those that went to the polls voted SNP (out of a 63% turnout). So not very representative of Scotland.

  • Bill_der_Berg

    For some reason, socialism is seen as purely a matter of domestic politics. Foreign policy does not count. A government may sell armaments to vile dictators, yet it can still be socialist if it espouses redistributive policies at home.

    Not that Scotland is able to have its own foreign policy. Yet.

    • jon

      “For some reason, socialism is seen as purely a matter of domestic politics”

      Yes. History bears you out, the desire for equality is tribal and better expressed as our willingness to share advantage. In good times our concept of tribe is wider and less discriminatory in the bad times our concept of tribe shrinks. The behaviour is historically and geographically widespread suggesting perhaps that it is hard wired, only monks seem to be able to free themselves from its grip.

      People gave to Ethiopia but few seriously considered swapping places with them, striking miners may have sympathised but they did not demand equality in that direction – Not a jab at miners – the condition is universal.

      Most are generous to a degree, its human nature to place limits, it is of course better if we can reflect on our own selfishness and come to terms with the implications of our desire to make sure that our son or daughter does well, we will still do it but being aware of our selfishness seems better than outright denial.

  • ilpugliese

    We know it’s wall to wall socialist because in 2010, 18% of Scottish voters voted for right wing parties, while in the rest of the UK it was 43%.

    • Bomius

      How is 18% wall to wall? Surely that would be 100%

      • ilPugliese

        No. Socialist is left wing. So it was 82% left wing. Now if you took two walls, and put 82% of the population between them you wouldn’t have room for any more. So it would look like wall to wall of left wing people. Another way to look at it, is that if you took a random group of people, the majority would be left wing, so if you asked them “Wasn’t Maggie Thatcher the best thing ever?”, you would have the stuffing kicked out of you. This would happen wherever you went, so it would seem like wall to wall.

        • Bomius

          That’s just balls mate..Wall to wall implies (and you meant this implication) that it’s everyone.

          • ilPugliese

            Out of 59 seats, there is 1 Conservative MP and he is ex SDP. I’ve no doubt there are pockets of enlightenment, but the overwhelming culture is left wing of the bitter chip on the shoulder variety. What kind of people think it part of their culture to stick a traffic cone on a statue?

  • RolftheGanger

    The article is a mishmash of tangled half truths and half perceived insights.

    To untangle:

    The “Scotland is all socialist” is a southern stereotype and completely incorrect.

    The SNP is centrist, pro business and pro community welfare. Empatically not “socialist” in the “nationalise and featherbed the workers” of their Labour opponents – sitting in perpetual seething rage on the opposition benches in Holyrood.

    Labour is led by Blairist “Red Tory” Westminster ‘elite’, has more Old Labour activists and a hardcore backbone of tammany hall unprincipled gangster friendly local government mafia.

    The LibDems are rapidly fading away as the LibGlums,
    The Greens are a more environmentally oriented version of the SNP.

    The Tories will go nowhere with the stain of satan word “Unionist” in the title.

    In reality there is a substantial small c conservative pool of potential support for a reborn moderate, patriotic and cautiously civic-minded conservative party , with more appetite for gradual evolutionary change than in the south. Rank Ukipper and right-wing tory attitudes and policies will continue to be a class-based minority taste.
    Scottish politics has a different tenor and different import. Not better – just different.
    Second, just like Churchill’s quip about the UK and USA. “Two countries divided by a shared language” so there are marked masked differences in the expression of even shared views on particular policies.

    Put as succinctly as possible, Scots electors and southern do not differ that much on “WHAT” is their preference. They differ very markedly on the “How” of how the policies should be implemented. That is what Salmond sought to articulate with his comment that it was not SO MUCH what Thatcher set about doing as the sheer callousness of the way (the How) she and her government went about doing it all.
    Where Scottish and southern values, attitudes and politics are diverging at a steadily accelerating pace is in the mode of expression of politics.

    There is a growing nastiness, intolerance, vindictiveness and sheer callousness in How the southern politics is evolving that repel Scottish electors of all parties and all levels and areas of society. You can see that rejection of southern attitudes and values fought out in the debate columns of major newspapers.

    • allymax bruce

      A little light shed on the issue, Rolf. However, I’m attending another iReferendum debate on Monday, and expect to hear more about 21st century ideals of ‘Socialism'; as opposed to all the tired stereotypes of what socialism has been for Society as it morphed & changed into its relative social ‘tool-use’ over the last 100 years.

    • JohnC

      The Conservative Party used to be strong in Scotland. As few if any of its supporters favoured the idea of independence, association with Unionism did and does it no harm. There are other reasons for the decline in the party north of the border.

  • weescamp

    What a load of nonsense. Try asking people if they support Tory/Labour neoliberal economic policies and see what sort of answers you get then.

  • swatnan

    Always said that Salmond was Mrs T in a skirt. Same goes for most nationialist Parties inc Nigel’s English Independence Party.

  • Gavin Williamson

    Sorry, but where was it decided that these five measures are any sort of indication of left wingness? nor in fact any kind of indicator other than what they are.
    What they do seem to be is an indicator of how successful the media are in shaping peoples perceptions.

    • Shinsei1967

      Attitude to immigration, attitude to inherited wealth and attitude to welfare-to-work are pretty key determinants of left-wing beliefs.

      • Gavin Williamson

        Says whom? And where? More inclined to define it in terms of social justice and common weal. Any who shows SNP to the left of Labour (not much of a claim) but is another measure.

        • Shinsei1967

          Social justice and common weal aren’t actual policies. You need to be specific.

          Being against inherited wealth is a centre piece of pretty much every left commentator I have read on social justice. And it is a classic dividing line between left and right. The right belief that parents should be able to pass on (their hard-worked for) advantages to their kids. The left believe in everyone having a level playing field start to life. Hence why private education is opposed by the left. Hence why the left are so concerned about the admissions policies of Oxbridge.

          Polly Toynbee wants much higher IHT. Fraser Nelson would probably want it abolished.

          • JohnC

            The Left is based on greed and envy, and levelling everyone to the same mediocre level. Except of course the children of the politicians, who continue to go to public schools.
            All inheritance and gift taxes ever did was break up estates, which could no longer afford to employ locals; ensure stately homes are sold off to foreigners; and break up historic collections of art and furniture.

  • Bill_der_Berg

    Even the Red Clydesiders were not as left-wing as we imagine. In 1947, they campaigned against the employment of East Europeans in Scottish mines. It’s true that they were probably following orders from Moscow.

    • Whyshouldihavetoregister

      The average Labour cabinet minister in 1947 was about as racist as the average BNP member is today.

      • HookesLaw

        Really? An interesting claim. Should BNP hiearchy be hanging their heads in shame?

        • Bill_der_Berg

          Would Richard Crossman’s remarks about ethnic cleansing be of interest to you?

      • Bill_der_Berg

        Faced with the demand by Vice-Admiral Taylor, a Conservative MP, that no Pole be forcibly sent back, a Labour Minister, Bellenger, refused to rule it out.

        On another issue, Richard Crossman supported ethnic cleansing, although it was not called that back then. He was talking about Palestine.

  • abystander

    That’s why all 12% of us vote Tory.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      You’re part of a myth. Didn’t you get the memo?

      • abystander

        Apparently the Scottish people haven’t got the memo either.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Oh dear, maybe the troll at the top of this byline forgot to send them out?

          • HookesLaw

            Keep the black shirt well pressed you never know when you might need it.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …and speaking of socialist trolls…

  • rosebery

    The only possible upside from a ‘Yes’ vote that I can see would be the formation of a right-of-centre political movement that would be more successful than the excuse for one that there is now. The old ‘Tartan Tories’ jibe has been resurrected here, but, even in the venal, vile and corrupt Labour Establishment fiefdom of the West of Scotland, there are a few former Labour politicians who have crossed the floor and politicians are never as naive as their voters. Those described in a comment as ‘shell-suits-in-tartan’ may not be falling for the pro-propaganda, but they may, just, at last, have seen through the Labour Party’s lies and failure to deliver more than bread and circuses. Whatever the outcome, things will not stay the same, and Yeats’ terrible beauty will either be born, or have an extended gestation period. It certainly won’t go away.

    • allymax bruce

      “there are a few former Labour politicians who have crossed the floor and politicians are never as naive as their voters.”

      Very well said; rosebery. We’ll see Labour members happy to accept Scottish independence, after the Yes vote. In-fact, I’m sure there’s many good Labour polly’s & councillors who are quietly hoping for ‘Yes’ to win; it will give them the platform to construct a proper Labour Party for Scotland; without all the Westminster Establishment-Led Design policies working as Counterproductive measures to maintain a Class System of Political Democracy.

  • Peter Arnott

    Old news. Election choices and opinions don’t exactly match anywhere, and the situation is especially distorted where the constitutional arrangements are dysfunctional. People compensate by voting tactically, being much more intelligent than journalists think they are. Oh, and Scotland does indeed have its share of knob-heads…but also has a civic and democratic culture that doesn’t fold like wet broccoli in front of the powerhouse that is that absurd blowhard Farage…who appears to be capable of manipulating and scaring the politicians of a big powerful country, while entirely failing to make an impact in a wee weak one – where according to this drivel, everyone secretly agrees with him. Funny that.

  • you_kid

    Correct, Scotland is not left-wing per se, yet in a proportionally representative democracy that just will not show on ballot day. Curious that.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Wait, so now you switched sockpuppets AGAIN, lad?

      • HookesLaw

        How well pressed are your BLACKSHIRTS?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …what are you blathering about now, lad?

  • Kitty MLB

    Dearest Alex. Are you somewhat befuddled. Socialism is the beating heart of Scotland.
    Most but not all, believe Conservatism is a evil. And Conservatives spend their time hiding beneath the cities for fear of being fed to Nessie.
    If Scotland votes for independence, I have no idea how long she will cope with such

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Another skipper, lad. It seems it’s impossible to even get by the titles of your dross:

    “Jockistan isn’t as leftist as you think and UKIP is even more waaaaaaaaycist than you think.”

    Does trolling pay well, laddie?

  • monty61

    Shhhhhh … they might hear this in Glasgow and the SNP game’s a bogey. Half of their shell-suits-in-tartan support over there think they are voting for a £5k Giro and a Chavez-style divvy from the new nationalised state oil company.

    • David Devlin

      Could you be any more offensive to Glaswegians with this?

      • monty61

        I’m from Lanarkshire. And I know exactly who I’m talking about.

        • David Devlin

          Regardless of where you are from and your self assurances, it was still a pretty offensive thing to say.

          • Anton Le Grandier

            truth often offends.

  • LadyDingDong

    Dear Alex, have you completely lost your marbles? The Scots are Europe’s Venezuela and are Labtard’s finest creation. Addicted to Government jobs, welfare and with giant chips on their shoulders, there is little hope that Scotland will ever be successful, either independent, or as a continued drain on hard working English taxpayers.

    • Des Demona

      Ummmmm…. just to let you know …. the unemployment rate in Scotland is 6.4% , lower than the UK average, and it has a public sector employment percentage pretty much the same as the rest of the UK.
      But carry on, you ignorant twot.

      • LadyDingDong

        Don’t be silly dear. From

        In Q3 2013 there were 579,700 people employed in the public sector in Scotland, a decrease of 1,200 (0.2%) since Q3 2012. This level is similar to that seen in 2003.

        There were 2,549,000 people employed in Scotland in Q3 2013, an increase of 74,600 (3.0%) over the year. In Q3 2013 public sector employment accounted for 22.7% of total employment, down from 23.5% in the previous year and the lowest proportion seen since the series began in 1999.

        In Q3 2013, there were 1,968,900 people employed in the private sector in Scotland, an increase of 75,800 (4.0%) over the year. Private sector employment in Scotland accounts for 77.3% of total employment; the highest proportion seen since the series began in 1999.

        • Des Demona

          So your point is?

          • LadyDingDong

            My point is, I am right and you are wrong. Without public sector jobs accounting for almost 23% of the total and the UK’s assistance in shipbuilding and finance (lost on independence) Scotland is a socialist dystopia and a busted flush. You are welcome to it.

            • Des Demona

              What ? On the basis that public sector jobs in Scotland are a percent above the uk average and falling?
              That private sector jobs are growing at a rate of 4% by your own figures? And yet it is a sociailst dystopia?
              Like I said, ignorant twot.

              • MichtyMe

                Also private/public sector jobs can be difficult to categorise. Many public sector jobs in England have been outsourced to private sector but are of course still paid for by the public purse.

              • JohnC

                How is 23% only 1% above 19%?
                I am afraid that I have no faith in any of your comments if you are so ignorant and/or unintelligent.

                • Des Demona

                  Public sector employment in Scotland is currently 21% against the national average of 19.6%. You really want to argue over half a percent?
                  Go away you silly little person.

            • Keith D

              Dont let facts get in the way of your agenda. Apart from London Scotland contributes more per capita GDP to the treasury than any other region.

              You idiots that want to lose Scotland have no single clue about the benefits to all parts of the UK that union provides.

              Socialist dystopia? Get a grip, the real world is missing you, do feel free to rejoin it.

              • global city

                Scottish enterprise and dynamism is being squashed by Scottish statism… and an appalling narrative that many feel too cowed to scoff.

            • dalai guevara

              How’s Greece, underclass troll?
              Your attitude stinks and I will be happy to balance your snide remarks, neoteletroll. When you onesidedly subscribe to centrally structure your (well, not ‘yours’ at all) entire economy, what do you expect?

              • the viceroy’s gin

                So you’ve switched sockpuppets again, lad?

            • BillFraser

              Of course those public sector jobs include the employees of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Scottish Water,

            • pyronite

              “Far be it from me to get into a dialogue with an innumerate, and, frankly lower class troll”

              This guy’s got to be joking. This + Margaret Thatcher image… it’s a joke, right?

          • Inverted Meniscus

            That you are an idiot.

            • Des Demona

              Oh my goodness what a shaft of wit you are. Or is it a waft of sh…

      • ilpugliese

        “Facts” that could easily be made up and foul insults. The SNP must be proud to have such a supporter.

      • Kitty MLB

        Stop throwing the toys out of the pram.

      • IainRMuir

        Did you actually read the whole page before linking to it?

        “Mr Salmond has based his calculations on the assumption that the Scottish people are ‘geographically‘ entitled to 85-95% of the oil revenues.”

        But the Scottish people do not generate the oil revenues, they were allocated to Scotland by the positioning of the median line in the North Sea. What does that tell you about the ability of the Scottish people to “generate” tax revenue compared with the rest of the UK?

        It goes on to say: “If the total revenue is shared equally among the nations of the UK according to their population size, then the same experimental statistics show that Scotland would have been taking out more than it had been putting in, compared to the other countries in the UK.”

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