Because our recent Panelbase poll shared a sample with one for the Sunday Times, there was an unasked-for bonus in the data. The ST had asked Panelbase to divide the 1002 Scottish residents into those born in Scotland, those born in England and those born elsewhere (including the rest of the UK).
The paper has a slightly unsavoury track record for doing so, and it did it this time for the sake of running a deeply statistically-iffy question aiming to prove that a lot of Yes voters were anti-English, but we’ll get to that in another article.
What that meant was that we were able to cross-reference the “ethnicity” data against all of our questions, and that resulted in a couple of interesting findings.
It’s a staple of Unionist commentators that there are no differences in the fundamental political ideologies of Scottish and English people. Social-attitudes surveys regularly find that voters on either side of the border are broadly in agreement about many – though not all – of the issues of the day.
(Though inexplicably, such surveys then never seem to make any attempt to find out or explain why, despite the two countries supposedly being politically and socially the same, Scotland hasn’t voted Tory in 60 years while England does so frequently.)
But that wasn’t what we were setting out to discover when we asked a question about income tax in the context of the Scottish Parliament’s imminent(ish) new powers.
As a headline result that wasn’t massively surprising. Voters were split almost down the middle twice – firstly, roughly half wanted income tax kept the same when Holyrood controls it, and in the other half it was close to a 50/50 split between people who wanted the tax increased to fund public services and those who wanted it cut.
The political breakdown wasn’t terribly unexpected either. Only SNP voters were (by just 4%) in favour of paying more tax to keep the NHS and schools running, while supporters of all three Unionist parties wanted it cut – Labour and Lib Dems by narrow margins and Tories by a resounding two-to-one.
That also translated fairly predictably to referendum votes – by a hair’s breadth (32-31) Yes voters wanted to pay more, with 37% saying that the rate should stay the same, whereas the Tory-heavy No group had a modest margin for tax cuts (18-25), with the majority (56%) backing the status quo.
But when – as an afterthought after several days of poring over the poll data – we glanced over to the Sunday Times’ ethnicity column, we spotted something striking.
While Scots-born respondents were evenly split about whether income tax should be raised or lowered, the difference among incomers was dramatic. English-born people in Scotland wanted tax cuts by more than two-to-one, and those from elsewhere by almost three-to-one.
We can only speculate about the reasons for the stark divide. It could be that a high proportion of English-born migrants to Scotland are Tories, for example. We simply don’t know, and we’re not about to start leaping to spurious conclusions.
And lest the usual suspects on social media start wailing tediously again, we should re-iterate our position for the avoidance of doubt: in this site’s view it is absolutely correct that the franchise was, and should be in any future referendum, based on residence and not ethnicity. The people who live in Scotland are the ones who should decide its future, regardless of where they happen to have been born, because they’re the people who’ll be affected by the decision.
But it may be worth bearing in mind the next time a social-attitudes survey of people living in Scotland produces results which seem at odds with the electorate’s political choices that the 10% of the Scottish population born in England, and the other 10% from elsewhere, may not be enough to significantly affect the outcome of elections (especially First Past The Post ones), but they WILL show up in polls.
And for reasons as yet unexplained, they don’t seem to think the way other Scots do.