When we commission polls we don’t like to just ask people easy questions like who their favourite member of One Direction is. We like to put them on the spot and make them actually think about stuff, and this time was no different:
“The UK government is imposing severe cuts to tax credits and benefits in order to save £12 billion from its budget. Scotland’s per-capita share of the cuts would be around £1 billion.
The Scottish Government will in future have the power to compensate those who lose out, by creating new payments it’ll have to fund itself.
Which of the following is closest to your view?”
Because we thought it was unlikely any Scottish Labour MSPs would be taking our poll, we decided to discount the “magic lots of extra money out of thin air” option and only allow respondents to pick from intellectually-coherent choices.
Their answers were enlightening.
– The Scottish Government should increase taxes in Scotland to compensate those who lose out from the cuts: 22%
– The Scottish Government should divert money from other parts of its budget to compensate those who lose out from the cuts: 45%
– The Scottish Government should not compensate those who lose out from the cuts. Scottish people should suffer alongside those in the rest of the UK: 32%
Diverting money from elsewhere was the most popular choice of SNP and Labour supporters, with Tory and Lib Dem voters plumping very heavily for the “let everyone suffer together” option. SNP voters were most likely to back tax increases.
(Women were far more likely to want money redirected and far LESS likely to support tax increases – just 16% of women backed the latter, compared to 30% of men.)
But that was the easy part. Because then, taking the Scottish Government’s budget figures, we made people who’d chosen the cuts option to say WHERE they’d find the money from. (In other words, the tricky question Scottish Labour have been frantically bodyswerving for the last couple of weeks.)
We identified the seven biggest areas of Holyrood expenditure, and asked everyone who’d said they’d find the money from cuts to name which ones they’d specifically slash. (They could tick as many as they liked, from one to all seven.)
This is what people said they’d spend less on:
– culture and external affairs (current budget £0.3bn per year): 57%
– local government (£11bn per year): 47%
– infrastructure: building roads, bridges etc (£3bn per year): 18%
– rural affairs and the environment (£0.6bn per year): 17%
– policing/justice (£2.6bn per year): 11%
– education (£3bn per year): 4%
– health (£12bn per year): 3%
In other words, nobody wants to cut the thing Holyrood spends most of its money on, and everybody wants to hack into the thing that costs by far the least.
(Interestingly, while it’s not quite as black-and-white as this, the figures suggest that if we’d left out the low-hanging fruit of culture and external affairs, everyone would have only picked one department to cut – the other six areas total exactly 100%.)
The finding that really took us by surprise, though, was the second choice. Almost half of respondents wanted the local-government budget slashed to find the savings, even though it’s councils who have to run the services people tend to notice the most. (Their own local libraries, swimming pools, nurseries, refuse collection and so on.)
The results may explain why Scottish Labour have found little traction in recent years for their policy (albeit a policy subject to repeated U-turns and re-U-turns, to the point where we genuinely haven’t got a clue what the party’s current stance is) of ending the council tax freeze to give local authorities more money.
It appears the people of Scotland have little faith in their councillors. Turnouts in local elections rarely get very much above 25%, and voters would seem to be at odds (yet again) with a commentariat that’s constantly calling for more localism and devolution away from central government.
That interpretation perhaps tallies with another question we asked:
“Which of these branches of government do you feel makes the decisions which have the most direct impact and influence on your life?”
– the UK Government: 57%
– the Scottish Government: 30%
– local government (councils): 8%
– the European Parliament: 5%
Either that, of course, or people just feel that local government costs an awful lot of money in relation to the amount of influence it has on anything, and therefore that if they’re going to pay billions for it it should be a lot MORE powerful. That’s the trouble with statistics, readers – you can get them to say just about anything you like.