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European Journal of Political Research, 6 (1978) 411-418.



University of New South Wales, Kensington, Australia


The psychology of Scottish Nationalism has been little explored. Using a mainly student sample, Britton (1971) showed S.N.P. voters to be low on authoritarianism where theory would predict them to be high. The Ray (1976) Directiveness scale and 10 items from the Wilson (1973a) conservatism scale were applied to 100 randomly sampled Glaswegians. The S.N.P. voters were neither authoritarian nor conservative. The S.N.P. was identified as being supported by voters of the political centre.


Amid the great volume of literature on Scottish Nationalism, one finds much history, a little sociology and almost no psychology. At the time of writing Webb (1977) appeared to be the most recent book tracing back Scottish Nationalism many hundreds of years into the past. Present-day S.N.P. voters are seen as the lineal descendants of not only Robert the Bruce but perhaps even of the Picts who defied the ancient Romans. Interesting though this undoubtedly is, one must seriously wonder how enlightening about the motivations of present-day S.N.P. voters is information about the long-dead. As it is not long since the S.N.P. itself had only a few thousand members, continuity of sentiment among the Scots in general can scarcely be claimed in the political arena. As Nairn asks rather more pithily: Are we looking at "an episode of resurrection unequalled since Lazarus"? (Nairn, 1975).

Among the small but valuable body of sociological writings that treat S.N.P. voting as a modern social movement requiring study in its own right, perhaps the most useful is that by Miller et al. (1977). In a wide ranging review of existing survey evidence they conclude rather iconoclastically that the growth in the S.N.P. vote was not caused by growing national identity, by increasing demands for self-government, by the impact of North Sea oil or by general disappointment with recent British governments. While the last three of these conclusions are surely open to challenge, it does seem at least that sociological explanations for S.N.P. voting do have some way to go.

In this situation, it seems reasonable to enquire whether more psychological explanations might not be of use in aiding our understanding. The total body of writings in this category, however, appears to be limited to a now rather dated article by Schwarz (1970), an article by White and Dickson (1976) and an undergraduate thesis by Britton (1971).

The study by Schwarz (1970) was of local party leaders rather than of voters and he applied to these a large range of standard psychological scales. Essentially, however, this tells us nothing about the S.N.P. vote unless we are prepared to make the certainly false assumption that what is true of the leaders is also true of the followers. His basic conclusion, however, that the S.N.P. represents a uniquely non-violent brand of separatism, is surely still true today.

White and Dickson (1976) applied five scales to a sample of voters but, unlike Schwarz (1970), these appeared to be scales of unknown reliability and validity. This leaves their findings of uncertain import but what they concluded was that there was more Marxist sentiment among working class S.N.P. voters than among middle class S.N.P. voters. They also examined the influence of the Protestant work ethic and found no overall effect of this on the vote. However, it was true that the highest scores on this were obtained by their sub-group of working-class S.N.P. voters.

In her thesis, Britton (1971) turned to what is surely the obvious first candidate for a psychological explanation of nationalism of any sort. She asked whether S.N.P. voters were authoritarian in the sense of the California work by Adorno et al. (1950). Contrary to expectation, she found that S.N.P. voters scored significantly lowest on authoritarianism. Her sample, however, was in no way random and comprised mainly students.

Well-supported explanations for the increasing S.N.P. vote do then appear rather hard to come by. Perhaps the only really firm piece of information we have is the repeated public opinion poll finding that S.N.P. voters are more likely to be found among the young.

There does then seem to be some scope for further psychological investigations of Scottish Nationalism and the present paper is an attempt to study more rigorously the questions first touched on by Britton (1971). The California work by Adorno, et al. (1950) that she referred to has long been influential in psychology and is still probably the best known psychological attempt at an explanation of political behaviour. Fortunately for us, the behaviour it attempted to explain was in fact nationalism. In original intention, the nationalism they wished to explain was German nationalism (Nazism) but most of their work was in fact done in the thoroughly English-speaking society of California. They concluded that support for nationalist politics stemmed from deep within the personality of the supporters and that the personality type responsible was in fact authoritarian and conservative.

Before we ask whether Scottish Nationalists are also authoritarian and conservative, however, we must take note of two facts: the California work has been widely and energetically challenged on both methodological and substantive grounds and Scottish Nationalists seem to be as pacific as German Nationalists were aggressive.

However, the latter point cannot be used simply to dismiss claims that Scottish nationalists might be tarred with a familiar brush. Obviously the social circumstances of a nationalist movement do affect the form it takes but this is not to say that the underlying motive for nationalism is any different. That the Scottish nationalists are less aggressive could simply mean that their grievances are less easily sheeted home to a particular enemy -- though there is, of course, no doubt who the favoured candidate for an enemy is. If for no other reason, we need some empirical data to help reduce the already wide field of speculation.

The methodological grounds on which the California work has been challenged mainly centre on their prime measuring instrument - the 'F' scale. It was said to have a built-in Rightist bias and to be unprotected against acquiescent response set. With the availability of many alternative scales of the same or similar constructs now, however, this is no longer an objection. We simply choose one of the alternative scales that best seems to overcome the objections we deem important.

Nonetheless, there are certainly no clear independent lines of evidence suggesting that Scottish Nationalists are particularly authoritarian. Their lack of a single charismatic leader and their highly decentralized branch structure are in fact particularly non-authoritarian. Our experimental hypothesis in fact must be that the Adorno et al. (1950) account of nationalism is either false or inapplicable in this case. Nonetheless, the Adorno et al. theory does, because of the great influence on thinking about nationalism that it has had, at least deserve examination -- if only as a deck-clearing exercise. It is proposed here, then, to give the theory a formal test with psychological data. What is true of organizations is only too often not true of the individuals in those organizations. If English working people can be represented in parliament by and large by bourgeois intellectuals (the Labour party) then it is at least conceivable that authoritarian Scottish nationalist voters could be politically represented by a non-authoritarian Nationalist party.


The scale chosen to measure authoritarianism was the Ray (1976) Directiveness scale. As well as having no inbuilt political bias and being balanced against acquiescent response set, this scale had from the outset been shown to be a good predictor of authoritarian behaviour. In a field of research where behavioural validity often seems to be the missing link, this was an important qualification. In this study, the scale was used in its short form of 14 items because of the usual pressures towards brevity in a door-to-door study.

Conservatism was a more difficult concept to measure. There is a very lively debate about whether or not conservatism is a unitary concept (Lipset, 1960; Boshier, 1972; Wilson, 1973a). While it does seem that a general factor can be extracted from a pool of conservatism items, it also seems to be true that each item (or issue) has a lively existence of its own. In this situation, the work of the man who is the main protagonist of the unitary position was turned to. In Wilson (1973b) ten items from his C-scale are given which were selected for their interest as independent issues. Possibly, then, these items could enable us to have our cake and eat it too.

These items were supplemented by a further single item on attitude to the E.E.C. because of the rather anomalous attitude taken by the S.N.P. regarding the E.E.C. With splendid emotional logic, these nationalists emphatically reject this pride and joy of internationalism. On the other hand Britain's entry into the E.E.C. has probably done even more than the discovery of North Sea oil to make Scottish independence viable. It provides a means whereby Scotland can have access to its traditional markets and sources of supply without the former necessity of political union with England. The question here, then, is how logically the average S.N.P. voter views it.

These items, together with the usual demographic items, were put into a questionnaire and administered to a cluster sample of Scots living in Strathclyde (centred on Glasgow). Cluster sampling is the method used by all British opinion polls and does there generally give quite accurate results.

The Glasgow area was chosen for several reasons. The foremost was simply that it contains roughly half of Scotland's population. What is true there will have a massive effect on Scotland as a whole. On the other hand, because of its large Irish Catholic population, Glasgow has always been a great Labour stronghold and it was only in the 1977 local council elections that the S.N.P. began to make inroads there comparable to what it had long been achieving in the rest of Scotland. Thus Glasgow is an area of study of great interest in its own right. Glasgow was also a good area for enabling some comparability with earlier work as Britton (1971), Brand and McCrone (1975), White and Dickson (1976) and Budge and Urwin (1966) all centred their surveys there.

The n chosen for the survey was 100 as numbers greater than this offer little gain in statistical significance. As always, it is of course the representativeness rather than the sample size which counts. It might be noted that the Scottish sample of Budge and Urwin (1966) was -- at 101 -- also of a similar size. Nonetheless, had the prior indications for the appropriateness of the California theory as an explanation for Scottish Nationalism been stronger, a larger sample might have been indicated. Although psychologists have long used tests of significance to obviate the need for large samples, there still seems something a little odd about making generalizations about a group represented by a number of individuals who are very few in relation to the total population. As it is, the present research is perhaps best regarded as research done to see whether further research is indicated.


The survey revealed 28% S.N.P. voters, 25% Conservatives, 35% Labour, 11% undecided and 1 % Liberal. Seeing late 1977 was a time of great unpopularity for Labour in most of the rest of Britain, these figures do justify Glasgow's descriptions as a Labour citadel. In Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system, a split such as the above would ensure a resounding Labour majority in parliament. By comparison with the rest of Britain, however, one might say that the Labour vote is similar -- it is only that the anti-Labour vote has been fairly evenly split.

Reflecting the way in which massively bureaucratized Britain reaches even into the heart of industrial Glasgow, the proportion of manual workers in the sample was only 47% (versus 53% non-manual). Office services are clearly Britain's most voraciously consumed commodity.

Scores on the Directiveness scale were divided into four equal intervals and cross-tabulated against vote. With d.f.s of 12, the Chi-squared of 13.03 was not significant. Authoritarianism does not then affect voting. As a further test of nationalist sentiment, the questionnaire included an item giving all voters a choice between three futures for Scotland - Union as before, Devolution, or total independence. Treating this choice as a simple scale scored 1, 2, 3, the correlation with Directiveness score was -0.190 which is significant at the 0.05 level and indicates that more authoritarian people prefer Union. It should be noted, however, that this coefficient is significant on a one-tailed test only and understandable as the result might seem after the event, the original hypothesis was in the opposite direction.

The proportion of preferences for Scotland's future were: 23% for union, 59% for devolution and 18% for independence. Clearly, then, it is Labour who were on the right track electorally as far as Scottish policy is concerned. Equally clearly, not all S.N.P. voters go as far in their demands as the party itself does. As expected, an S.N.P. vote is in part a "tactical" vote.

While the reliability of the Directiveness scale was - at 0.71 - quite satisfactory for a short form, the reliability of the short C-scale was poor - 0.40. As the items were however specifically selected for their individual interest, this is not very surprising. Clearly, in this study Conservatism must be measured separately for each issue.

Significant Chi-squareds were obtained for the following when tabulated against vote: Divorce (Labour voters were more permissive); Death penalty (Labour voters rejected it more); Coeducation (no conservative voters rejected it); Socialism (Labour voters chose it, Conservatives rejected it and S.N.P. voters were evenly divided); the E.E.C. (S.N.P. voters opposed it); and Scotland's future (only S.N.P. voters chose independence). An interesting non-significant Chi-squared was for the tabulation of age with vote. This is greatly at variance with the figures regularly reported for Scotland as a whole -- where the S.N.P. sometimes grab as much as 50% of the under 35 vote (e.g. in the System Three Scotland polls for 1977). In this Glasgow survey taken in late October, 1977 the proportion was only 28.6%. Note that of the significant Chi-squareds, only two (Scotland's future and the E.E.C.) were caused by distinctive S.N.P. preferences. In other words, none of the Wilson conservatism items predicted S.N.P. vote.. S.N.P. voters were not particularly conservative.

There were however two of the Wilson items that correlated with the scale of preferences for Scotland's future. These were 0.195 with Death penalty and -0.182 with Birth Control. This indicated that the more one favoured Union, the more one opposed the death penalty and the more one favoured Birth Control. Other correlations with choice for Scotland's future were -0.282 with attitude to the E.E.C., -0.293 with Occupation and -0.213 with Education. This meant that Unionists favoured the E.E.C., were in non-manual occupations and tended to be better educated.


Whether or not the Adorno et al. (1950) account of Nationalism applies to anyone else, the present results indicate that it does not apply to Scottish Nationalism. S.N.P. voters were neither particularly authoritarian nor particularly conservative. Even when we examine the single issue of Scotland's preferred relationship with England, it is the Unionists who are slightly more authoritarian, not the nationalists.

The picture that emerges of those who favour increased independence for Scotland is then of people who are less authoritarian, who favour the death penalty, who oppose birth control, who oppose Britain's presence in the E.E.C., who work in manual occupations and who are less well educated. However, these people are not coterminous with S.N.P. voters. In fact 37% of those who favoured devolution were Labour voters - as were 16% of those who favoured independence.

It might seem then that we have once again failed to find anything that characterizes S.N.P. voters. All we have found so far is that they oppose the E.E.C. -- which is hardly surprising in view of their party's stance on the issue. In fact, however, what we have found is precisely that which does characterize S.N.P. voters: they are in the middle on all things. The S.N.P., as it itself says, is neither Left nor Right but Scottish. Except on the one issue of Scottish independence, they are the perfect centre party. This is also true if we look at the System Three Scotland poll of voting intent for 26 September to 6 October, 1977. Using the cross-tabulations from that poll with social class, we find that the Conservative vote is skewed towards the top of the four categories, the Labour vote is skewed towards the bottom of the four categories and the S.N.P. vote is firmly placed in the middle two categories. It is often said that in the two party system that characterizes the politics of the English-speaking world, we have no effective or lasting centre party because the two major parties are in fact centre parties -- occasionally identified as tweedledum and tweedledee. In the light of these Scottish findings, this verdict might perhaps have to be reconsidered. It is possible for a party to stay fairly in the middle without toppling either to one side or into oblivion.

That authoritarians should prefer Union with England is not intrinsically surprising. To the extent that those who are dominant in their conduct towards others prefer similar strength and dominance in government, a central government at Westminster would certainly fill the bill better than a federalized U.K. To be fair, the California theory was not designed for a situation where nationalism and a strong central authority were in conflict. Since it is however most usual for nationalism to be in conflict with the traditional source of authority, the California theory must be regarded as remarkably ad hoc at the least. It would certainly be most misleading as an account of Scottish Nationalism.


Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.

Boshier, R.W. (1972). "To rotate or not to rotate: The question of the Conservatism scale," British J. Social & Clinical Psychol. 11: 313-323.

Brand, J. and McCrone, D. (1975). "The SNP: From protest to nationalism," New Society 34: 416-418.

Britton, Sheila D. (1971). "Authoritarianism and Scottish Nationalism." Unpublished senior honours psychology project, University of Glasgow, 1971.

Budge, I. and Urwin, D.W. (1966). Scottish Political Behaviour: A Case Study in British Homogeneity. London: Longmans.

Lipset, S.M. (1960). Political Man. New York: Doubleday.

Miller, W.L., Sarlvik, B., Crewe, I. and Alt, J. (1977). "The connection between SNP voting and the demand for Scottish self-government," European Journal of Political Research 5: 83-102.

Nairn, T. (1975). "Old Nationalism and New Nationalism," in: The Red Paper on Scotland by G. Brown (ed.). Edinburgh: E.U.S.P.B.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Schwarz, J.E. (1970). "The Scottish National Party. Non-violent separatism and theories of violence," World Politics 22: 496-517.

Webb, K. (1977). The Growth of Nationalism in Scotland. Glasgow: Molendinar.

White, S. and Dickson, J. (1976). "The future of the SNP," New Society 37: 663664.

Wilson, G.D. (1973a). The Psychology of Conservatism. London: Academic Press.

Wilson, G.D. (1973b). "Liberal extremists," New Society 26: 263-264.

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