Contemporary Review, 1979, Vol. 234, 158-159.


by John J. Ray

THE Scots are very fond of stressing how different they are from the English. To outsiders from the British scene entirely, the nature of this difference is not immediately obvious. The accent differs, the pubs seem more down-at-heel and the people are perhaps kindlier North of the border but otherwise the similarities seem overwhelming. Bearing in mind the debate on devolution, the survey to be reported here may be of interest. Possible differences of two basic sorts were investigated: differences in modal personality and differences in attitudes. The first would be the more basic sort of difference. Deep in their way of coping with the world, Scots and the English might be different. The second is more superficial, but nonetheless important: possible differences, not in the type of people within the two groups but in the attitudes they hold about political and social issues. Given the rather different voting pattern North of the border, some differences of this kind seem almost guaranteed.

While attitudes to particular issues can be fairly easily assessed by single questions, personality assessment is a rather more elaborate matter. A 'scale' consisting of many questions is generally thought necessary just to measure one attribute or trait. Since there is a practical limit to the time that can be spent interviewing people on their doorsteps, one has to be highly selective in deciding, what personality traits to assess in a survey such as the present one. In the event, what are perhaps two of the most popular constructs among social psychologists today were chosen: authoritarianism and achievement motivation. Does traditional Scottish thrift and respect for education spring from a generally higher level of achievement motivation? Does traditional Scottish egalitarianism (presbyters rather than bishops, massive preference for socialism at election time) indicate that Scots are less authoritarian in their make-up? These were the two personality hypotheses considered. The scales used to measure the two concepts were the Ray (1976) 'Directiveness' scale (for authoritarianism) and the Ray (1975) 'AO' scale (for achievement motivation). Both of these scales had been given extensive prior validation. The attitude questions chosen for use were the ten chosen by Wilson (1973) from his well-known 'Conservatism' scale plus two extra questions on attitudes to Scottish independence and attitude to the Common Market.

Because of the requirement for brevity characteristic of doorstep administration, both the personality scales were used in short forms of only 14 items each. Although achievement motivation is most generally measured by projective tests, both tests in the present study were in self-report format. This is because projective tests have now fallen into disrepute among the mainstream of psychologists (see Entwisle, 1972; Weinstein, 1969).

The questionnaire was given in doorstep interviews to random cluster samples of people in the Glasgow and London areas. The sampling frame in each case was the area covered by local-street atlases. Cluster sampling is the method universally used by British public opinion polls, where it generally gives very accurate results. Glasgow and London were chosen as the largest cities in their respective societies. Some comparability could therefore be claimed. The sample size in each case was 100. Sample sizes larger than 100 give very little gain in statistical significance and it is in any case the representativeness rather than the sample size which counts.

The two samples were found to show no significant differences on demographic characteristics. This indicates that they were similarly drawn and are hence comparable.

On neither of the two personality scales were there any statistically significant differences. In fact the mean scale scores were so close that there were almost no differences of any sort. This indicates that there are no basic personality differences between the Scots and the English -- at least on the attributes studied here. The Scots and the English are much the same type of people.

On the attitude questions, however, there were very widespread differences indeed. Compared with the English, it was found that the Scots favoured coloured immigration more, the death penalty more, Sabbath observance more, co-education more and socialism more. They oppose divorce, birth control, and the Common Market more. In fact, on only four issues of the twelve examined were the two groups not significantly different. These were censorship, working mothers, evolution theory and whether Scotland should get greater independence. Insofar as there is any common thread in these differences, we could probably say that the Scots are somewhat more moralistic.

In conclusion we might perhaps be a little amazed at how two such similar groups of people living on one small island can have become so different in their outlook. 'History' and perhaps religious history in particular is probably to blame. If it is held that attitudinal differences should be given political expression, then the present results certainly give the strongest possible warrant for continued devolution.


Entwisle, D. R. (1972) To dispel fantasies about fantasy-based measures of achievement motivation. Psychological Bulletin 77: 377-391.

Ray, J.J. (1975) A behavior inventory to measure achievement motivation. J. Social Psychology 95: 135-136.

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

Weinstein, M. S. (1969) Achievement motivation and risk preference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 13: 153-172.

Wilson, G. D. (1963) Liberal extremists. New Society 26: 263-264.

[John J. Ray is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of New South Wales.]

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