New figures from the Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey, conducted by ScotCen Social Research, show that 40 per cent of people in Scotland now have ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of interest in politics.
In 1999, 24 per cent of Scots expressed an interest in politics. By 2005, that figure had risen to around a third and it was still much the same level in 2013 (32 per cent).
But in the summer of 2014, by which time Scotland had already been intensively debating independence for many months, the proportion who expressed a strong interest in politics was up to 35 per cent. Now, following on from the independence referendum and the SNP landslide in last year’s general election, the level of interest in politics has not only been sustained, but has risen to 40 per cent.
And how does this increase in appetite for politics compare with our neighbours south of the Border? British Social Attitudes, SSA’s sister study, shows that in 1999, 28 per cent of Brits said they had ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of interest in politics, marginally higher than the 24 per cent of Scots who said the same. But by 2007, Scotland had caught up with Britain as a whole, and this new high in political interest north of the Border means that Scotland surpassed the rest of Britain where the level of interest in politics stood at 36 per cent.
The level of interest in politics might also be partly related to an increase in the proportion of those who identify with a political party – a figure which has gone up from 32 per cent in 2014 to 39 per cent in 2015. This is in part due to the surge in the support for the Scottish National Party – 41 per cent of Scots in our survey now say they identify with the SNP, compared to 17 per cent just five years ago.
Interest in politics matters: an interested electorate is more likely to show up at the ballot box.
Elections and referendums with low turnouts are seen as less legitimate than those with high turnout, and turnout in general elections has been consistently lower in recent years. In the run up to the EU referendum, some pollsters have predicted that low turnout could have a significant impact on the result.
This article was first published in The Scotsman