Tag Archives: tom devine

The Elusive ‘Scottish’ Values – a response to Sir Tom Devine

I was surprised and more than a little disappointed when I read that Tom Devine has recently decided to ‘switch sides’ and support the ‘Yes’ campaign. In particular, his claims that Scotland has become ideologically divergent from the rest of the United Kingdom (by which, of course, he is referring exclusively to England) are statistically misled. ‘Scottish people are wedded to a social democratic agenda and the kind of political values which sustained and were embedded in the welfare state of the late 1940s and 1950s’, he has claimed, and that it is ‘the Scots who have succeeded most in preserving the British idea of fairness and compassion in terms of state support and intervention. Ironically, it is England, since the 1980s, which has embarked on a separate journey.’

Such claims have long been the domain of the Yes camp, who have traded heavily on the axiomatic innate fairness of the Scottish people without enough challenge. The data exposes a truth that those of us who have lived and worked away from Scotland – unlike Sir Tom – would regard as patently obvious. The 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey shows a remarkable homogeneity for a union of nations proud of culturally distinct individuality. That there are distinct cultural differences isn’t in dispute here, only whether or not those differences come in to play for a referendum vote. After all, Wales shows at most 12% support for independence for themselves, despite even having a different official language.[1] This cultural difference is not at play, then, so much as value judgements. The argument is not that the Scottish people are culturally distinct (the kilt in my wardrobe is surely testament to that), but that the nature of those values held by them is different enough that that identity is therefore irreconcilable with wider ‘British’ identity. If that were to be the case, the Yes camp – and Tom Devine – would certainly have an argument that the will of the Scottish people was being in some way subverted by being part of a wider electorate with which its views did not ring true. This goes beyond simple elections, with many Yes voters simplistically claiming that Scotland does not get the government it votes for: of course it does, just as those in Yorkshire are unlikely to widely support the Tories, yet they still get the representation they voted for as part of that system (but they have no devolution to smooth things over, and would perhaps be justified in complaining that the Scottish are protesting despite having their cake and eating it). The fact is that there is little evidence to suggest that this is the case, which should come as no surprise when one considers that we are looking at a nation that has developed those values over a long history together.

In 2011 ScotCen found that only one in five 20 per cent of people in Scotland believe that no students should have to pay tuition fees, whilst in England the number stood at 18 per cent. All evidence suggested that since devolution, Scotland has become less social democratic (just like England). Their outcome was that, ‘although Scotland is more social democratic in outlook than England, the differences are modest at best.’[2]

referendum2 ze referendum

The truth is, then, that Scotland tends to fall in line with the views of the rest of the United Kingdom. Professor Ailsa Henderson comments:

When asked to describe whether they are more left or right wing, Scots, for example, are significantly more likely to report themselves as being left wing than other Britons. But when we ask about the types of values that would indicate whether someone is left wing or not, there aren’t usually meaningful differences across the regions of Britain. The 2014 Future of England Survey asked about basic attitudes to immigration and legalising same sex marriage, as well as whether people thought attitudes in their ‘region’ were more supportive of each of these policies than elsewhere in the UK. The Scottish answers are revealing: although Scottish attitudes are actually similar to those in England and Wales, Scots believe that they are more in favour of these policies than they are and the gap between actual attitudes and perceived attitudes is larger in Scotland than in any other part of Britain.[3]

As an historian of immense talent, Tom Devine is in a position to explore this interesting wilful self-misunderstanding that the Scottish people exhibit. There are many questions which demand answers that few are better qualified to offer: what is it about the nature of ‘Scottishness’ that creates this misunderstanding; what is it about the Scottish mind-set that struggles so much to reconcile the duality of being both Scottish and British (and that being ok). Of course, many of the points that Devine has argued are simply interpretive; it would be reckless for me, or anyone on either side of the debate, to argue that there is an objectively correct answer. This is not an inquest in to the voting practices of Tom Devine, nor an argument that there is no empirical argument to vote for independence. Whilst his arguments on the economy are not ones I would agree with, they are at least an interpretation of evidence.[4] Yet the lazy suggestion that the Scottish people are somehow more ‘fair’, or operating from a different set of values is simply not supported by any meaningful evidence, and fully deserves to be challenged.[5]

[1] http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/09/economist-explains-6?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/bl/ee/whywaleswontindependence

[2] http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/files/scotcen-ssa-report.pdf

[3] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/09/the-myth-of-meritocratic-scotland/

[4] I would tend to agree with Krugman: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/opinion/paul-krugman-scots-what-the-heck.html

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/15/rational-case-scotland-tom-devine-diverging-cultures-claim-research-disproves?CMP=twt_gu