Devolution promises could be game-changer, finds BES

17 Jun 2014

Many Scots want more devolution, but think those additional powers will be achieved without independence, according to new data released by the British Election Study (BES).

Devolution promises could be game-changer, finds British Election Study
Devolution promises could be game-changer, finds British Election Study

The findings by Professor Ed Fieldhouse from The University of Manchester, who Co-directs the BES, reveal that half of voters think more powers will be achieved, even if Scotland votes ‘No’.

The research is published three-months to referendum polling day.

As the Yes and No campaigns reach the finishing straight, the Conservatives, Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have all emphasised their commitment to more devolution should Scotland choose to remain in the Union. BES data suggest this could pay-off on September 18th.

Of the BES sample, 41% wanted more powers but thought it would happen anyway. Of those, only 35% said they would vote ‘Yes’ in September. By contrast, of those who wanted more powers but did not expect it, 71% intended to vote yes.

Professor Fieldhouse said: “Our data shows that wanting more devolution is not sufficient on its own to achieve support for independence. It has to be accompanied by a belief that it will not be achieved in the Union.”

The BES, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and run by a consortium of Manchester, Oxford and Nottingham Universities, conducted an internet panel survey of over 4000 Scottish voters between 20th February and 9th March this year.

Professor Fieldhouse said: “While much remains unclear, the possibility of a vote for independence is already re-shaping the future powers of the Scottish Parliament with three months to go.

“Our data suggests that what really matters is not just the level of support for more devolution, but the extent to which supporters of further powers think their aspirations will be met within the Union.

“Half of voters, we find, think that more devolution will happen even if Scotland votes ‘No’.”

He added: “The Yes Scotland campaign has two related problems: First, many voters are convinced their demands will be satisfied within the Union. Second, even among those who do not expect the Union to satisfy their wishes, a substantial minority say they would vote ‘No’ anyway or are undecided.”

According to the BES a majority of Scottish voters want the most important powers to rest with the Scottish Parliament in all policy domains except defence.

A significant minority of voters wanting more tax and welfare powers intend to vote No, potentially affecting voting intentions in the coming three months before September 18th 2014.

Notes for editors

All data form British Election Study Internet Panel wave 1 collected between 20th February and 9th March 2014. The next survey is currently being fielded.

The questions were:
•    If Scotland votes to remain part of the United Kingdom, *should* the Scottish Parliament have more powers than it does at present, fewer powers, or should the Parliament's powers stay about the same as they are now.
•    And if Scotland votes to remain part of the United Kingdom, do you think that the powers devolved to the Scottish parliament *will* change?


The BES is one of the longest running election studies world-wide and the longest running social science survey in the UK. It has made a major contribution to the understanding of political attitudes and behaviour over fifty years.

The 2015 BES is run by a consortium of the Universities of Manchester (Professor Ed Fieldhouse, Professor Jane Green and Professor Hermann Schmitt), Oxford (Professor Geoffrey Evans, Nuffield College) and Nottingham (Professor Cees van der Eijk).

The BES work on powers attitudes is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Future of the UK and Scotland activities to inform the referendum debate and the policy environment whatever the outcome. For more details visit  Follow @ukscotland

Professor Fieldhouse is available for comment

For media enquires contact:

Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567