Scotland: not as different from England as you think. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid
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Social democratic Scotland: a country that doesn't exist

Attitudes north of the border are almost identical to attitudes in the rest of the UK

There is a great myth that Scotland is bursting with left-wingers. 45 per cent of its population plumped for independence from England because it is a nicer and more generous country. Scotland’s political views are why it could never elect a right-wing government. 

It is certainly a seductive notion. But there is nothing exceptional about Scotland: the political views of the Scots are remarkably similar to those of the English, as the British Social Attitudes Survey makes clear. 

Take tuition fees. No policy is seen as a better encapsulation of the differing political climates north and south of the border: while tuition fees were trebled, to £9,000, in England and Wales in 2010, all fees in Scotland were completely scraped in 2008. Yet the countries have almost identical opinions on fees: 67 per cent of English people believe some students should pay, but 64 per cent of Scots do too. While 21 per cent of English people advocate no students paying fees, only 26 per cent of Scots hold the view – a drop of 13 per cent in the last 15 years. 

The picture is similar on different issues. While Scots are 9 per cent less likely to want to leave the EU, those in England and Wales are actually more likely to want to increase the EU’s powers or work towards the formation of a single European government than Scots. Majorities in both England and Scotland want to remain in the EU. The discrepancy is no greater on welfare. Voters north of the border are only 7 per cent more likely to favour increasing spending on health, education and social benefits. Scotland might be a little to the left of England – and it is only a little – but the notion that there is an ideological chasm between the two countries is hogwash. 

“You’d expect there to be a big difference in public opinion but there just isn’t,” says Rachel Ormston, co-head of attitudes at social researcher ScotCen. “Scotland and England tend to track each other. If England moves to the right, Scotland tends to move to the right as well.” 

Even more significant is that, Ormston says, “there is not that much change over time” in the relative ideological positions of England and Scotland. The rise of the SNP and the vote on Scottish independence has not induced any leftward surge north of the border. 

All of which exposes the claims that Scotland is intrinsically different to England as SNP bluster. And, while Labour’s complacency north of the border has rightly been castigated, it also asks some fundamental questions of the Conservative Party. For decades the party has given the impression of meekly accepting its fate in Scotland, but there was nothing inevitable about its decimation there. 

So the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson now has a great opportunity. If Scotland’s main parties are to enter in a bidding war on the left, it will open up political space for the Conservative Party - if it can forge a centrist image - to mop up Scottish voters who do not consider themselves avowedly left wing. As the Social Attitudes Survey reminds us, there are a lot of them.

This article was originally published on May 2015. Read Tim on Labour’s nightmare: The Tories threaten its dominance of the ethnic minority vote

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.