Election 2015 Scotland

Election 2015: Voters ponder the 'tax more or cut more' question

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What did an Ipsos Mori poll, which was commissioned by BBC Scotland, tell us about voter views ahead of the 7 May election?

As ever, how much the next government should spend and how much it should tax is proving to be one of the central issues of the UK general election campaign.

And there seems to be little doubt as to where the majority of Scots stand on this issue, at least if the evidence of BBC Scotland's issues poll is to be believed.

Conducted by Ipsos Mori, the poll asked people to give a series of policies that the next UK government might pursue a mark of between one and 10.

A score of one meant it "should never be put in place" while 10 meant "it is very important and should be put in place quickly".

So the higher the score, the more popular the policy, while any policy that on average secured a score of 5.5 or more can be said to have more advocates than opponents.

The poll strongly suggests that:

  • Scots want spending increases more than they do tax cuts
  • are relatively unconcerned about eliminating the deficit
  • are happy to see the rich pay more in tax.

On the one hand, the proposition that the government should increase spending on public services, even if that meant the deficit were not to be eliminated by the end of the next parliament, is relatively popular.

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Image caption The so-called "mansion tax" on £2m plus properties scored well in the BBC poll

On average it received a score of 6.4. In contrast the suggestion that taxes should be cut even if that means making reductions in public services was awarded a score of just 4.0.

Meanwhile, although opinion is almost evenly balanced on the idea that the amount the government borrows should be reduced by cutting spending rather than increasing taxes - that was seemingly regarded as a tough choice and the average score was 5.6 - it is clearly weighed against eliminating the deficit by 2020 if that were to be achieved by reducing spending on services.

But if the prospect of a general tax increase - as opposed to borrowing more - is not particularly popular, increasing taxes for the better off does have widespread support.

The idea of introducing a tax on homes worth more than £2m enjoys a score of 7.4, while introducing a 50p top rate if income tax is almost as popular, with an average rating of 7.3. Doubtless relatively few Scots anticipate being asked to pay either tax.

While the UK-wide debate about tax, spend and the deficit is an important part of the election campaign north of the border, inevitably the specifically Scottish question as to how Scotland should be governed is also the subject of argument and dispute between the parties.

Here too, there appears to be a clear pattern to public opinion. The more radical the proposed change, the less popular it appears to be, though that still means a majority of Scots would like much more devolution than Scotland enjoys now.

Of the various possibilities for constitutional change addressed by the poll, the most popular, with a score of 7.4, was that the Scottish Parliament should have the ability to increase benefits and pensions above the level being paid to recipients in the rest of the UK.

Still, the idea that the Scottish Parliament should have full control of welfare benefits north of the border was only a little less popular with an average score of 7.1. That came narrowly ahead of the idea of full devolving taxation to Scotland, which received a score of 6.9.

Scots are seemingly rather more willing to trust the Scottish Parliament to spend their money than they are for it to tax them.

In any event when the idea of "devolution max" was put to respondents - that is making the Scottish Parliament responsible for everything other than defence and foreign affairs - the average score fell to 6.6 - though that still means the idea is more popular than not.

However, the least popular option was the suggestion that there should be another independence referendum within the next five years. That only scored 5.7.

Independence question

Such a score might be thought to show that Scots are not quite sure whether they want another referendum or not. Not so. In fact it proves to be the proposition that divides Scots like no other in the poll.

On the one hand, 32% gave the idea a score of 10, indicating an impatience to see a referendum happen soon, while almost as many, 30% marked it down as a one, and an apparent wish never to have to go through the referendum experience again. Scotland is more or less divided down the middle on the subject - just as it was last September.

As it happens, the outcome of the general election seems unlikely to affect the timing of any future referendum. However the debate about whether there should be one seems set to continue.

  • John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University and is Chief Commentator at the What Scotland Thinks website.

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