In yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday I have been described as, “officially Scotland’s leftiest Englishman”. I must have missed this awards ceremony although I have no difficulty with the accolade, even if it is probably undeserved. Firstly, I presume the award is limited to the mainstream left, as I can already hear the growling from the far left fringe for whom I am a mere bourgeois revisionist. Secondly, I was born in England (Liverpool actually) and have no problem in being classified as English – although the Watsons on my Dad’s Scottish side would not be so relaxed! Thirdly, I can think of a number of comrades who would also be justified contenders for this award - Richard Leonard, Dave Moxham, John Foster and others immediately spring to mind.
The semi-serious point in the piece is the suggestion that I have become a supporter of Devo-Plus. Wishful thinking here I’m afraid. I certainly did give a favourable review to Murdo Fraser’s piece in the Scotsman, and as I have blogged at Red Paper, the last two papers from Devo-Plus have been a useful contribution to the debate. I do think Devo-Plus have done some useful work on the mechanisms of extended devolution, but less so on the purpose. However, that is some distance from endorsing Devo-Plus and certainly their backers Reform Scotland. My critical posts on their reports prove that. Another Scotsman piece by Eddie Barnes more accurately reflects where I, and most, but not all of trade union movement in Scotland, currently are in the constitutional debate.
Perhaps more interesting than my views are the differences between English and Scottish political opinion. John Curtice and Rachel Ormston published a paper on this for ScotCen a year ago based on Scottish and British Social Attitudes surveys. They argue that people in Scotland are only a little more concerned than people in England about issues like income inequality. While I accept the differences may not be as wide as common myth would have it, the differences are significant. For example 43% of people in Scotland think the government should redistribute income, compared to 34% in England. More recent data, after the tax dodging scandals, would suggest that opinion is shifting leftwards on this point across the UK. This statistic and others in my view show significant differences. We can also look at actual voting patterns and the sort of issues people living Scotland highlight during elections.
The English are Scotland’s largest minority group and I have heard it suggested that this might explain the coming together of attitudes. The numbers have grown steadily to over 400,000 since the 1950’s, although we should remember that almost twice as many Scots have gone in the other direction. This was looked at by Murray Watson (no relative) in his book ‘Being English in Scotland’. He concluded that the English tend to adopt the more progressive social attitudes of their adopted country. Difficult for me to judge as I was a lefty Englishman before I came to Scotland 22 years ago. Maybe it’s in the genes!