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06 May 2021

Scotland most negative about UK's Covid response and Boris Johnson's handling of pandemic

55% of the Scottish public say that the pandemic has decreased their level of trust in the UK government

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Covid and trust: how the nations of the UK rate their governments

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Among the home nations, people in Scotland are most likely to think the coronavirus crisis has been handled badly in the UK, to say that the pandemic has damaged their trust in the UK government, and to distrust Boris Johnson on issues relating to Covid-19, according to a new study.

The research, by the University of Bristol and King’s College London, also looked at perceptions of Nicola Sturgeon’s trustworthiness on coronavirus, as well as perceptions of the UK government more generally, revealing that the Scottish public are most likely to feel ignored by Westminster.

The findings are based on a survey of 4,896 UK adults aged 18 to 75 conducted between 1 and 16 April 2021. The large sample size allowed researchers to get a more reliable picture of the different nations, and follows a similar large survey conducted in Nov/Dec 2020, providing trends in opinion on some key measures.

Trust in the UK government in light of Covid

55% of people in Scotland think the coronavirus crisis has been handled badly in the UK – similar to Wales, where virtually the same proportion (51%) believe the pandemic has been mismanaged. This compares with 45% of people in Northern Ireland and 40% in England who feel the same.

55% of the Scottish public also say that the overall experience of the pandemic has decreased their level of trust in the UK government – the only country where a majority feel this way, and far above Wales (43%) and Northern Ireland (43%), where this sentiment is next-highest.

In both Wales (28% vs 21%) and Scotland (26% vs 16%), people are more likely to say the rollout of the vaccination programme and communications about it has decreased their trust in the UK government than increased it.

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon

72% of people in Scotland say they don’t trust Boris Johnson very much or at all on issues related to coronavirus and how we should be responding to it – far higher than the proportions of people in Wales (60%), Northern Ireland (51%) and England (47%) who hold this view.

It is almost the reverse picture when it comes to views of Nicola Sturgeon, with two-thirds (66%) of people in Scotland trusting the first minister on Covid-19. This is virtually unchanged from Nov/Dec 2020 (67%) – although the proportion who trust her a great deal has declined over the same period, from 33% to 27%.

How the vaccine rollout has been handled by the UK’s constituent nations

Large proportions of the public in each of the UK’s constituent nations think their government has done well in rapidly rolling out Covid-19 vaccines – but some are perceived to have done especially well relative to others.

For example, 90% of people in England think the UK government has done well in vaccinating the public as quickly as possible, including 58% who think it has done very well. By comparison, 83% of people in Scotland think their government has done well on this aspect of the rollout, but far fewer – 37% – think it’s done very well.

General perceptions of the UK government among the home nations

Across a range of measures, people in Scotland have the most negative view of the UK government out of those living in any of the home nations:

  • 58% of people in Scotland feel the UK government usually ignores their community – compared with 41% in England who feel the same.

  • 43% of the Scottish public think the UK government acts unfairly towards people like them. In the other countries that make up the UK, around 30% think this.

  • 26% of people in Scotland think that, in general, the UK government does the right thing – the lowest of the four home nations, and compared with 39% of the English public who hold this view.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“Scotland stands out as the most negative of the UK nations for ratings of the UK government’s performance during the coronavirus crisis, and in particular in how this has affected their levels of trust in Westminster. To have over half of Scots saying they trust the UK government less because of their experience of the pandemic is vital context to the Scottish parliamentary election, and to the longer-term challenges facing the United Kingdom.”

Dr Siobhan McAndrew, senior lecturer in quantitative social science at the University of Bristol, said:

“Divergence across the home nations in evaluation of the UK and devolved governments’ handling the pandemic is very interesting to see, since vaccine clearance and vaccination procurement are centrally-governed, while rollout is primarily a devolved issue. The Scottish public are most likely to trust their own government a great deal, as well as having the highest proportion saying their trust in the UK government has fallen because of the pandemic. Perceptions of performance in relation to the pandemic appear to relate to political identification and trust as much as to appraisal of specific successes and failures.”

Technical details
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 4,896 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom between 1 and 16 April 2021. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

The findings in this study are part of “Covid and after: trust and perceptions”, a project funded under the ESRC COVID-19 Rapid Response research call ES/V015494/1.

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