Interest in politics in Scotland stands at its highest level since devolution, with 40 percent of Scots now reporting an interest in politics compared with around a quarter (24 percent) at the advent of the Scottish parliament in 1999. In this era of heightened political dynamism, new figures from ScotCen’s Scottish Social Attitudes survey released earlier this week show that levels of civic participation in Scotland are also continuing their upward trajectory. The latest survey found that in the past few years almost 7 in 10 (69%) people in Scotland have done something – such as sign a petition, donate money to a campaign, or contact a local MP or MSP - to demonstrate their views on an issue. This is a significant increase from the 61% who said this in 2013.
Does this reflect a ‘referendum effect’? Of the 69% who had registered their views on an issue, 3 in 10 did so specifically in relation to the independence referendum. Moreover, our analysis shows that younger people were more likely to have taken part in an activity related to the independence referendum than older age groups (44% of 18 to 29 year olds compared with 26% of those aged 65 or over).
However, although a substantial number of young people in Scotland may have been actively engaged with the independence debate, older voters were still more likely to make it to the ballot box on polling day, suggesting that there is still more to be done to encourage younger people to fully participate in the democratic process.
More generally, a closer look at the data also suggests that particular groups in society, such as those with lower levels of formal qualifications and those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland, remain less likely to register their views. With the referendum over, it remains to be seen whether this upward trend in political interest and civic participation will continue, and whether it can take all groups of society with it.
This blog was first published in The Scotsman.