The SNP lose their lead, the first edition of a new podcast and Yousaf's claim of that Scots have exceptional values unpicked.
Losing Their Lead
The last issue explored the question of how much more movement there might be in the polls. As if to answer, the Sunday Times published a Panelbase poll showing the SNP losing their lead. Projected into a result, the numbers suggest the SNP would win five fewer seats than Labour at the general election.
This was a sensational poll, but not entirely unexpected in the week when Nicola Sturgeon was arrested. We should expect them to recover somewhat in subsequent polls as the survey was taken in the worst possible circumstances.
The cliche is to say ‘It’s just one poll’ but of course, it isn’t. Two years ago Panelbase had the SNP 19 points higher than today. The trend is clear even if this poll is an outlier. You cannot help but imagine what the SNP losing a national vote for the first time since 2014 would do for their arrogant claim to be the only party who can claim to represent Scotland. What will a movement that claims to be a nation’s voice do if people choose someone else to speak for them?
Introducing the NoN Issues Podcast
Last week I launched NoN Sense a new section of this newsletter taking on myths, misinformation and madcap conspiracy theories. Today I’m launching another section: NoN Issues, an occasional podcast with a conversation exploring the issues that are too often crowded out by constitutional rows.
In this first episode, we look at the issue of buffer zones outside of abortion clinics. After the introduction, you won’t hear from me - you’ve had enough of me with these newsletters! Instead, the conversation is with Lucy Grieve, co-founder of the Back Off Scotland campaign, Stella Creasy MP who has campaigned on this issue in Westminster, and Dr Greg Irwin a doctor at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow who has been taking on the protesters targeting women there.
Listen here to their fascinating conversation on a controversial issue.
Taking Exception to Exceptionalism
It’s nearly time for another SNP conference so what hat better way to keep the party faithful happy than a little Founding Father cosplay? Launching a document on a written constitution for an independent Scotland, the First Minister set out a familiar argument that Scots have a different, distinctive set of values from people in rest of the UK:
“I believe in Scotland we have a similar general consensus: a belief in equality; a belief in opportunity; a belief in community. And that we are entitled to certain basic rights. Rights such as the right of workers to take industrial action; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to access a system of healthcare free at the point of need.”
It’s an argument that is made so often that it is often overlooked. We roll our eyes when Lesley Riddoch claims the wicked Southerners don’t thank bus drivers like we do or laugh at the lack of self-awareness when Alyn Smith says people in Scotland would never elect a self-obsessed populist like Boris Johnson.
We should take this stuff more seriously though. Like any exceptionalism, this vain superiority discourages the honest self-analysis that progress relies on and encourages the unattractive othering of opponents and outside groups.
What evidence is there that the values we hold and the rights we expect are fundamentally different in Scotland than in the rest of the UK? Let’s explore it a little starting with the values Yousaf claims for Scotland.
On equality: The British Social Attitudes survey uses the diagram below to explore people’s attitudes about equality in society. When both Scots and English people were asked about what the structure of society ought to look like, near-identical proportions of Scots (51%) and English (50%) choose Type D where most of us are in the middle, rather than at the top or bottom.
Looking at the idea of opportunity, YouGov regularly explores people’s views. In their latest poll 65% of people in Scotland, 61% in the South of England, and 64% in the North agreed with the statement ‘your chances in life are broadly determined by your parents' socioeconomic status’. For the statement ‘everyone has equal opportunities to get where they want to in life regardless of their background’ those agreeing were 15% for Scots, 23% for Southerners and 20% for Northerners.
Measuring people’s commitment to community is tricky but in April, YouGov had a go by asking about people’s willingness to help others within their local area. Asked if they would volunteer to help people in their local community. 52% of Scots said they would do this, or already were doing it, compared to 56% in England.
What about the rights that Yousaf cites as the basis for the distinctive Scottish consensus? On the right to strike, just last month YouGov carried out a large sample poll asking about people’s support for nurses going on strike. Even with this group of workers who are most criticised for going on strike, there was strong majority support for them withdrawing their labour across the UK. 36% of Scots strongly supported the nurses, one point lower than in London.
On the right to an adequate standard of living, there was strong support for gradually raising the minimum wage to £15 an hour across the UK. When Survation asked about this, support ranged between 62 and 70% with Scotland and London at the top of that range. When YouGov asked about support for a Universal Basic Income, almost half of the people in the UK were positive and, again, support in Scotland was at the same levels as in the South.
Finally on the right to access healthcare free at the point of need, the Health Foundation polls on support for the founding principles of the NHS. On the founding idea of the NHS, that it should be free at the point of delivery, 93% of Scots polled and 90% of English respondents think that principle should definitely or probably still apply to the NHS.
If there is a consensus in Scotland on the cherished values and expected rights, it is a consensus that is shared across our island.
Of course, there are differences. The British Social Attitudes Survey notes that people in Scotland (20%) are more likely than those in England (13%) to say that income distribution is very unfair. We could focus on that or we could see that the same survey has identical numbers in Scotland and England (52%) agreeing that income distribution is unfair.
Looking at polling like this offers a choice for political leaders. Do you exploit the differences that exist in the margins to try to create borders, as is a nationalist’s preference? Or instead, do you choose to see what we have in common and work together to make all our lives better?
The consensus Yousaf claims is not exclusively Scottish. It is shared with our friends and neighbours. So instead of imagining divisions, let’s celebrate the progressive values we hold without denying the humanity of others. The things that are great about being Scottish and living in Scotland don’t rely on imagining that the English are villains.
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