1. One of the aspirations shared by many who supported the creation of the devolved institutions in Scotland was that the new institutions would help create a stronger bond between the government and the governed. For example, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, who was subsequently to become the country's first First Minister, expressed the hope that constitutional reform would 'make the opinion polls about the standing of politicians change quite dramatically' (Dewar, 1998). The Consultative Steering Group, the body responsible for drafting the initial standing orders for the Scottish Parliament, argued that the new legislature should be 'an open, accessible and, above all, participative Parliament, which will take a proactive approach to engaging with the Scottish people'. The group further hoped its work would help 'achieve a Parliament whose elected Members the Scottish people will trust and respect, and a Parliament with which they will want to engage' (Scottish Office, 1999). Meanwhile in practice the Scottish Executive has made consultation an integral part of its normal policy-making process, in order 'to provide opportunities for all those who wish to express their opinions on a proposed area of work to do so in ways which will inform and enhance that work' (Scottish Executive, 2006).
2. This briefing considers to what extent these hopes and aspirations appear to have been achieved. In particular it asks three questions about the devolved institutions:
3. Each of these characteristics - trust, a sense of influence, and an obligation to get involved - can be regarded as an indicator of 'engagement' with the devolved institutions.
- Do people in Scotland trust the devolved institutions?
- Do people feel they have a chance to influence what those institutions do?
- Do people feel they should get involved in what those institutions do?
4. We use two benchmarks to help us answer these questions. The first is to examine what people say when they are asked what difference the introduction of devolution has made to how they are governed. The second is to compare perceptions of the devolved institutions with those of UK level institutions at Westminster. If the aspirations outlined above have been achieved then people in Scotland should, first, think that the introduction of devolution has improved how they are governed and, second, evaluate the devolved institutions more favourably than they do those at Westminster.
5. The Consultative Steering Group hoped that 'in particular those who belong to social groups traditionally excluded from the democratic process' would become more engaged in the political process in a devolved Scotland. This aspiration was further emphasised by the Procedures Committee of the Scottish Parliament in 2003 (Scottish Parliament, 2003). In particular it argued that 'perhaps the most important development task for the governance partners is to widen further the circle of political participation in Scotland' and recommended that 'the Parliament and the Executive should accept a commitment to extend participation and law-making as widely as possible in civic society'. This recommendation was accepted by the Scottish Executive (Scottish Executive, 2003). We thus look in particular in this report at whether there is any evidence that those who belong to groups usually less involved in politics are especially likely to think that devolution has improved how they are governed or to evaluate the devolved institutions more favourably than those at Westminster.
6. Devolution has of course been the subject of controversy. It was opposed by a substantial minority in the 1997 referendum, while even now some still express opposition to the idea of Scotland having its own parliament. Meanwhile, some of the subsequent decisions and actions of the devolved institutions, most notably the cost of the Scottish Parliament building, have been the focus of fierce debate. We can anticipate that those who oppose the principle of Scotland having its own parliament and those who feel unhappy about some of the decisions made by the devolved institutions in practice evaluate the devolved institutions less favourably. We therefore also examine how far the ability of the devolved institutions to strengthen the bond between the government and the governed may have been constrained by opposition to the principle of devolution or unhappiness about what it has achieved in practice.
7. Our data come from the Scottish Social Attitudes ( SSA) survey conducted by the Scottish Centre for Social Research. SSA is an independent survey that aims to provide high quality survey data on a wide range of social and political attitudes in order both to inform public policy and to facilitate the academic study of public opinion. As part of this endeavour SSA has tracked attitudes to devolved government in Scotland annually since 1999, the year of the first election to the Scottish Parliament. This report reports on the survey's most recent findings based on interviews conducted in 2005. Between July and December of that year a random sample of 1,549 adults aged 18 plus resident in Scotland was interviewed, representing a response rate of 56%. Further technical details about the survey are included in a separate technical report. 1