Headlines: April 3rd, 2008

People in England are increasingly unhappy over the level of public spending in Scotland but there is little evidence of a backlash against devolution, according to a new study. It found that only one in six people in England supported a separate English parliament and even fewer wanted an assembly in every region.

The findings come in a detailed study of English attitudes to devolution produced as part of the 2007 British Social Attitudes survey from NatCen, the National Centre for Social Research. Because the study used the same questions that had been used in previous Social Attitudes surveys it is uniquely able to chart whether dissatisfaction about devolution for Scotland and Wales has increased. It shows that while in 2000, a year after devolution, only one in five people in England felt Scotland got more than its fair share of public spending, the figure has now risen to 33 per cent.

More than half those questioned, though, believe England should continue to be governed from Westminster and fewer than one in six people felt it would be better if the Union with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were to be ended. Similarly, 19 per cent of people in England believed Scotland should become independent, compared with 24 per cent in 1999.

The study, though, does reveal unhappiness about some aspects of the current arrangements between the parts of the UK. Three-quarters of respondents agreed with the statement, ‘Now that Scotland has its own parliament, it should pay for its services out of taxes collected in Scotland’ and 70m per cent felt Scottish MPs should no longer be able to vote on English legislation.

Professor John Curtice, who presented the findings to members of the Justice Committee, said, “For the most part there is relatively little evidence of an ‘English backlash’. But there are signs of possible trouble ahead unless the issue of how public spending is distributed and funded across the UK is seen to be satisfactorily addressed.”