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News just in: Scots believe rocks will melt by 2025

November 29, 2015

There was a lot of reporting last week of an IPSOS-MORI poll asking Scots what they believed might happen by 2025.  The link to the full results is available here.

The findings included that a clear majority – 59% – believed that by 2025 “Scots born in Scotland would be paying to go to university in Scotland”.

Who are these unbelievers?  I ask so that we can see who should be required to pay a penitential visit to the Heriot Watt campus.  Look, it’s there.  On an actual stone.  What more do they want?

It turns out that a failure to find masonry politically compelling is undifferentiated by sex (though women are a bit more sceptical), rural or urban location, whether people have children or work in public or private sector.  Owner-occupiers doubt more, but there’s a majority for disbelief among all forms of occupancy status.  Similarly, all age groups are off-message, though those age 25-34 are a bit more faithful than the rest.  Those not working are much less sceptical than retirees – but still sceptical overall.

By affluence there’s an obvious gradient: people are less likely to believe the policy will continue as affluence rises. However, even in the least affluent group, a majority – just – believe free tuition won’t continue.

The only sub-groups identified in the survey where there’s a majority view that tuition will still be free in 2025 are SNP and “other” supporters. As this table shows, even among these it’s a surprisingly close thing.  Supporters of other parties are very sceptical indeed.  Bear in mind that 71% of SNP supporters also believe that Scotland will be an independent country by that year and 81% that it will be a fairer society  – so there must be plenty who don’t see free tuition as guaranteed by independence  or necessary to a fairer society.

Tuition fees by 2025 are … Con Lab LD SNP Other
Likely 70 73 69 46 47
Unlikely 27 25 26 52 51
Net 43 48 43 -6 -4

What conclusion might be drawn? Evidently this doesn’t tell us whether respondents believe the loss of free tuition would be a good or bad thing. It does though suggest that Alex Salmond’s rock-melting rhetoric is taken with a large pinch of salt by the Scottish electorate, including quite a lot of SNP supporters, for whatever reason.

In its rhetoric, the Scottish government attaches a quasi-mystical degree of importance to free tuition and two of the three opposition parties also regard it as untouchable. That turns out to be pretty detached from what most Scots think is realistic.   That wouldn’t matter so much if free tuition wasn’t used by government as a cudgel against raising other difficult issues – especially the erosion of grant and the skewing of debt towards the poorest – which are adversely affecting people right now.  The government hyperbole around free tuition is used systematically as a tactical device for deflecting attention from uncomfortable things and keeping the opposition on the back foot.

Meanwhile, most of the Scottish public, including many government supporters, appear able to see fine well that universal free tuition is vulnerable in a grown-up debate about how we make fair political choices in a resource-constrained world.  Either that, or they are predicting a geological apocalypse.  In the land of James Hutton, the first option seems more likely.



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