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Smith Commission - will voters be satisfied?

Posted on 28 November 2014 by John Curtice, Senior Research Fellow .
Tags: Smith Commission, devolution, scotland

The Smith Commission was, of course, the product of concern in the No camp that the referendum vote might be lost.  By offering Scotland a firm promise of more autonomy within the framework of the UK, it was hoped voters would be persuaded they did not need to leave the UK after all.

But now that Smith has been unveiled, will voters be satisfied that they are in fact being offered the autonomy that they want?

At first glance this looks unlikely to be the case. Most polls find that a majority of Scots think that more or less every single aspect of their domestic affairs, including taxation and welfare benefits, should be handled in Holyrood, not London. Smith, in contrast, is simply proposing further partial devolution of tax and some seemingly limited devolution of welfare.

But there is also another side to public opinion north of the border. Voters are relatively disinclined to embrace the idea that income tax rates in Scotland might be different from those in England, while they certainly do not like the idea that the state pension might be different.

Equally, a clear majority believe that major welfare payments such as pensions and unemployment benefit should be paid for out of UK-wide taxes, not just out of revenues raised in Scotland.

In short, while Scots like the idea of Holyrood making its own decisions, at the moment at least they are less keen on some of the potential implications of more devolution.

Smith will give Scots an opportunity to see whether or not they can in fact live with the consequences of being responsible for their own affairs. If they find that they can, then doubtless there will be a demand that yet more tax and welfare be devolved. If not, then maybe this undoubted compromise will indeed come to be regarded as giving Scotland the ‘best of both worlds’.

This was orginially published on the LSE's British Politics and Policy blog.

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