Scots favour welfare devolution, poll finds

8 Apr 15

Scottish voters want the Holyrood parliament to take charge of welfare benefits, according to an Ipsos MORI poll carried out for BBC Scotland.

It also revealed widespread support for Scotland taking full control of income tax, and slightly less strong backing for full fiscal autonomy. But there was little evident enthusiasm for holding another independence referendum within the next five years.

The results came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated in a Scottish television election debate that her Scottish National Party could be willing to call a second referendum if its again wins an overall majority in next year’s Holyrood elections.

It also followed a statement by Chancellor George Osborne that he did not see scope for devolving further welfare powers to Scotland beyond those envisaged by the Smith Commission during the course of the next parliament, assuming the Conservatives regain power at Westminster. ‘Rather than moving on to the next thing, let’s focus on the big job in hand,’ Osborne said.

The BBC poll, however, found clear enthusiasm among Scots for moving on beyond Smith’s proposals for benefits and income tax devolution.

Asked to rate policy priorities for the next UK government on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 meaning it should not be done, and 10 that it should be done immediately), the idea of giving Holyrood power to increase benefits and pensions won one of the highest scores at 7.3, with devolving full policy control over benefits only slightly behind on 7.1 and full devolution of income tax on 6.8.

Full fiscal autonomy, with Holyrood in charge of everything except defence and foreign affairs, was less popular, scoring 6.5. Renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent came joint bottom of the poll, with just 4.0. The highest score of all (8.2) was for increasing the National Minimum Wage to £7.85 an hour, accorded higher priority even than guaranteeing pension increases (7.9).

An in/out referendum on European Union membership scored 6.1, delaying benefit payments to EU immigrants 6.8 and a general immigration cap 6.3.

Respondents did not seem to be in any hurry for another vote on independence, with the suggestion of a fresh referendum within the next five years scoring just 5.6.

The results came as Sturgeon insisted that the people of Scotland would determine the timing of any future referendum, but declined to rule out a promise of a further referendum in next year’s SNP manifesto for the Holyrood elections.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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