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Chapter Five: Survey of Petitioners

Chapter Aims

This chapter analyses responses to a survey of petitioners conducted during the summer of 2006. Analyses specifically focus on:

  • the extent to which petitioners are reflective of the Scottish population
  • the expectations of petitioners prior to submitting petitions
  • petitioners’ evaluations of the petitioning process

5.1 Introduction

1. One of the primary goals of the petitions system was to help open the Parliament to the Scottish public. In contrast to other parliamentary systems, and particularly the Parliament at Westminster, the Scottish petitions system was specifically designed to provide a mechanism for the people of Scotland to take their policy concerns directly to the Parliament.

2. One concern with the system, however, has been the patterns of use within and across the Scottish public. Certainly given the extant research on public political engagement we might imagine that petitioners, as a group, represent a more engaged, politically active segment of the population than would the average person in Scotland. The simple fact that petitioners have submitted a petition to the Parliament would indicate that they are more engaged with the political process than is the average individual.

3. To date, however, there has not been a systematic attempt to examine petitioners as a group. Further, we know very little about their experiences with the petitioning process. After petitioning the Scottish Parliament, how do they feel about the response they received and the outcome their petition achieved? To address these questions, this chapter analyses the responses to a survey of petitioners conducted during the summer of 2006.

5.2 Survey Data and Responses

4. To gauge petitioners’ evaluations of the petitions system, and to develop a fuller picture of petitioners as a group, a survey was conducted during the summer of 2006. All primary petitioners were sent a questionnaire by post using the contact information they provided with their original petition. Repeat petitioners (discussed in chapter three) were sent one copy of the survey. In all, 722 questionnaires were sent by post to petitioners.65 Petitioners were provided with a postage-paid, addressed return envelope. A follow-up letter was sent to non-responders approximately three weeks after the first questionnaire packet was sent. Two weeks later, all petitioners who had not yet responded to the questionnaire were again sent another copy of the questionnaire and a postage-paid, addressed envelope.66 In all, some form of response to the questionnaire was received from approximately 65% of the population of petitioners. The usable response rate, or the percentage of petitioners who returned a completed (or mostly completed) questionnaire at the time this report was drafted was approximately 51%.

5. Determining the extent to which the survey respondents are representative of the entire population of petitioners is problematic. As there are no comparable data on the entire population of petitioners, it is not possible to say exactly how well responses reflect all petitioners.

6. That said, one factor that is known is the proportion of the population of petitioners from the different electoral regions across Scotland (discussed in chapter three). Figure 5.1 replicates the figure presented in chapter three displaying the distribution of all petitioners (from 1999 to June 2006) across Scotland’s regions. Figure 5.2 presents the distribution of respondents to the survey of petitioners across the same regions. While there are some differences (e.g. Glasgow and Lothians petitioners are somewhat under-represented in the survey and South of Scotland petitioners are somewhat over-represented), generally the respondents to the survey reflect the overall geographic distribution of the population of respondents.

Figure 5.1

Figure 5.2

7. Further, approximately 62 percent of valid responses were received from petitioners who submitted their (first) petition during the first session of the Parliament. Referring back to the data presented in chapter three, we find that roughly two-thirds of all petitions were submitted during the first session of the Parliament. Therefore, responses to the petitioner survey generally duplicate the relative proportions of first and second session petitioners in the general population of petitioners.

8. While there are inevitably self-selection effects in petitioner responses and therefore we cannot say how ‘representative’ of all petitioners are the respondents to the survey, using the distribution of respondents across regions and parliamentary sessions, we can have some degree of confidence that survey respondents will reflect the general population of petitioners.

5.3 Petitioners’ Characteristics

9. To gauge how representative petitioners are of the general population, the survey sent to all petitioners asked respondents to provide some basic demographic information, as well as information on political attitudes and preferences. These responses were then compared to a large, national, random probability survey sample to determine how well petitioners reflect Scottish society.

10. For this purpose, petitioners were initially compared to respondents of the Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey conducted in 2003. The SSA survey has the advantage of (1) being a large sample survey that is conducted by a reputable organisation and (2) is readily available. The survey sample is drawn by means of a random probability sample (using post code and address) and is conducted using a combination of initial face-to-face interviews followed by a self-completion survey that is left with respondents at the end of the face-to-face portion of the survey.

11. Starting first with basic demographic indicators, we find that petitioners67 seem to be somewhat older on average than respondents to the SSA 2003. Whereas the average respondent to the SSA 2003 was 49.8 years old, petitioners are, on average, 57.3 years of age. The General Register Office for Scotland reports that the average age for Scots is about 40 years old. Clearly, petitioners seem to come disproportionately from older segments of the population. Primary petitioners also seem to be disproportionately male. While the general population of Scotland is about 52 percent female, approximately 66.6 percent of primary petitioners (survey respondents) are male.68

12. In terms of social class, petitioners also do not seem to reflect Scottish society. In the SSA 2003, 69.4 percent of respondents reported that they were ‘working class,’ while 30.6 percent reported they were ‘middle’ class. Petitioners, however, seem to come disproportionately from the middle class. Of those respondents who rated themselves,69 43.8 percent claimed to be from the ‘working’ class while a substantial 56.2 percent declared themselves to be ‘middle’ class.

13. In addition to being generally older, more male and middle class, petitioners also seem to be, on average, better educated than the average member of Scottish society. While 30.3 percent of respondents to the SSA 2003 stated that they had undertaken at least some coursework at a higher education institution, almost 58 percent of petitioner survey respondents stated that they had a university degree (23 percent of these indicated they had a post-graduate degree). Additionally, 11.9 percent of SSA 2003 respondents reported their highest qualification at O level or equivalent. Only 6 percent of petitioners reported their highest qualification at O level.

14. The differences between SSA 2003 respondents and petitioners do not stop with demographics, however. Looking at national identification, both the SSA 2003 and the survey of petitioners asked respondents the classic ‘Moreno scale’ of national identity. This question asks respondents to place themselves on a five-point scale that ranges between ‘Scottish not British’ to ‘British not Scottish’. Table 5.1 presents a comparison between respondents to the SSA 2003 survey and the survey of petitioners. Fewer petitioners identify themselves as Scottish (or ‘more Scottish’) than do SSA 2003 respondents. Conversely, petitioners are more inclined (as a group) to identify themselves as ‘equally Scottish and British’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘more British than Scottish’. Some of this may come from the fact, as discussed in chapter three, that several petitioners reside outwith Scotland. However, even accounting for this fact, Scottish resident petitioners are, on average, slightly more likely to place themselves on the middle of the nationalism scale.

15. Next, we turn to political party affiliation. Table 5.2 compares the party identification of SSA 2003 respondents and petitioners. Here we find that the Scottish Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Nationalists and Socialists are all represented in roughly (within a percentage point) the same proportion among petitioners as they are among Scottish Social Attitudes (2003) respondents. The Greens are only slightly over-represented among petitioners. However, two distinct differences between respondents to the two surveys are immediately clear. First, while 34.7 percent of respondents to the SSA 2003 identified themselves as Labour supporters, only 13.4 percent of petitioners identified themselves as supporting Labour. One obvious possibility here is that Labour supporters may be generally less inclined to challenge their party when it is the lead partner in government by raising issues through the petitions process. Or, it is also possible that Labour supporters are generally receiving the policies they prefer from the Scottish Executive and Parliament and therefore have fewer reasons to petition.

Table 5.1: Comparison of National Identification for Respondents to Petitioners and Scottish Social Attitudes, 2003 Surveys
  Petitioners SSA 2003 Difference
Scottish not British 24.6% 33.7% -9.1
More Scottish than British 29.8% 34.0% -4.2
Equally Scottish and British 31.3% 23.5% +7.8
More British than Scottish 6.7% 4.5% +2.2
British not Scottish 3.2% 4.3% -1.1
Note: Petitioners column does not show the 4% of respondents who classified themselves as ‘None of the above’. Substantive interpretation of difference remains the same.

16. The other striking difference in party identification between petitioners and the general population is the relative difference in individuals claiming no party affiliation. In the SSA 2003, 13 percent of respondents claimed to not hold a party affiliation. In the survey of petitioners, almost 35% of respondents declared that they do not have a party affiliation. This could well be an indication that the petitions system serves, at least partly, as a mechanism for individuals who are somewhat more politically disaffected and have fewer connections to the established political party system to bring concerns directly to the Parliament.

Table 5.2: Comparison of Political Party Self Identification for Respondents to Petitioners and Scottish Social Attitudes, 2003 Surveys
  Petitioners SSA 2003
Conservative 15.5% 16.5%
Labour 13.4% 34.7%
Liberal Democrat 12.2% 11.7%
Scottish National Party 17.6% 18.3%
Green 4.2% 1.7%
Scottish Socialist Party 2.1% 3.1%
None 34.9% 13.0%

17. To compare petitioners to the Scottish public in terms of broader assessments of the political system, we turn to the set of Scottish respondents to the British General Election Study 2005 (BGES 2005). The survey of petitioners contained a series of questions similar those included in the BGES 2005 that ask respondents to rate how much they ‘trust’ various political institutions and groups of people on a 0-10 scale with a score of 0 equalling ‘no trust’ and 10 equalling ‘a great deal of trust’. Interestingly, given the substantially higher proportion of petitioners who do not claim a party affiliation, we do not find many substantively large differences between the levels of trust of political institutions across the two sets of survey respondents. This is not to say that differences do not exist. Petitioners seem generally less inclined to trust political institutions than do general members of the population. Both sets of respondents do not seem to hold ‘politicians’ in high regard. BGES 2005 respondents had a mean level of trust at 3.81 (standard deviation 2.3), while petitioners report slightly less trust in politicians with a mean of 3.25 (standard deviation 2.2). The Scottish Parliament receives almost the same degree of trust, with mean levels of trust at 4.44 (standard deviation 2.5) for BGES 2005 respondents and 4.39 (standard deviation 2.7) for petitioners. There is, however, a clear difference in levels of expressed trust toward the UK government and the Parliament at Westminster. While Scottish BGES 2005 respondents reported a moderate degree of trust for the ‘present government’ (mean = 5.08, standard deviation = 2.48), petitioners reported far less trust in the ‘British government’ (mean = 2.01, standard deviation = 2.47).70 Similarly, the mean level of trust in the Westminster Parliament for Scottish BGES 2005 respondents is 5.07 (standard deviation = 2.08), while the mean for petitioners is a lower 2.89 (standard deviation = 2.5). Hence, while we find moderate differences between petitioners and national survey respondents in levels of trust of Scottish political institutions, we find substantial differences in the degree to which petitioners and national survey respondents report they trust the UK’s main political institutions.

18. What about levels of community activism? Respondents to the BGES 2005 were asked ‘over the past several years, how active have you been in a voluntary organisation, like a local community association, a charity or a sports club?’ Petitioners were asked how often they ‘participate in voluntary organisations’. Though the response categories are slightly different, there is a striking difference in the degree of participation between petitioners and Scottish BGES 2005 respondents. Table 5.3 displays the response categories for the two sets of survey respondents and response rates. Petitioners are clearly much more participatory and engaged than are general members of the public. Almost 75 percent of petitioners report that they participate in voluntary organisations ‘sometimes’ or ‘frequently’ while approximately 30 percent of BGES 2005 respondents said they are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ active in voluntary organisations (which includes sports clubs). At the other end of the scale, almost 70 percent of BGES 2005 respondents said they are only ‘a little’ or ‘not’ active in voluntary organisations, while 25 percent of petitioners said they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ participate in voluntary organisations. Even allowing for the differences in question wording, the differences are clear.

Table 5.3: Comparison of Voluntary Organisation Participation for Respondents to Petitioners and British General Election 2005 Surveys
Petitioner response categories Petitioners BGES 2005 response categories BGES 2005
Frequently participate 44.1% Very active 15.7%
Sometimes participate 30.4% Somewhat active 14.4%
Rarely participate 14.0% A little active 14.6%
Never participate 11.5% Not Active 55.2%

5.4 Petitioners and Their Petitions

19. This section addresses how petitioners describe their own petitions and their expectations when they first submitted petitions. In assessing how petitioners describe their petitions and how they expected their petition to be handled by the Public Petitions Committee (PPC), we not only gain insights on what people may think about their petitions when entering the system, but also build a baseline for the next section, which takes up petitioners’ evaluations. Asking petitioners to retrospectively describe their expectations when they submitted their (first) petition is obviously a less than perfect measure of petitioners’ initial expectations. It is certainly a measure that is likely to be contaminated by their actual experiences. However, short of developing a time machine, it is not possible to survey petitioners prior to their submission of petitions. We therefore make use of the best measure we have.71

20. Asked to classify their petitions, petitioners were first asked whether their petitions ‘mostly reflected a specific policy proposal or did it reflect a call for a public enquiry on an issue?’ Two-thirds of respondents classified their petition as a policy proposal, while one-third indicated that their petition called for a public enquiry.

21. Respondents were then asked to classify their petition as one that ‘mostly related to a local (community level) matter, or a national (Scottish) matter’. Seventy-six percent of respondents indicated that their petition related to Scottish, national matters, while just under a quarter classified their petition as mostly relating to local matters. These responses closely reflect the results from our interviews of petitioners. Almost all of the petitioners we interviewed indicated that one of the motivating factors in submitting a petition was to initiate a policy that would benefit all of Scotland.

22. About 70 percent of respondents indicated that they sought the support of at least one MSP prior to submitting their petition. Of those, nearly 75 percent of respondents indicated that they were ‘satisfied with the response(s) and level of assistance’ they received from the MSP(s) they contacted. Again, the survey data are supported by the interviews. Of the petitioners interviewed, nearly two-thirds of interviewees indicated that they had received some degree of encouragement from the MSP they contacted to submit a petition. Most of the interviewees indicated their first MSP of contact was their constituency MSP, though a few indicated that they also contacted their regional MSPs.

23. What did petitioners expect going into the petitioning process? We should reiterate the caution noted above that these data should be read as retrospective reports of expectations after (most) of the petitioners have been through the entire process. That said, we find that petitioners generally report that they went into the process with positive expectations. Table 5.4 displays petitioner reports of their expectations for three questions.

Table 5.4: Petitioners’ Expectations of Petitions System
  When I first submitted a petition I expected that…
  it would change policy in Scotland. it would be handled fairly. my concerns would be listened to by the Parliament.
Agree strongly 19.4% 33.3% 33.6%
Agree 34.8% 56.3% 52.4%
Neither agree nor disagree 31.2% 7.8% 9.8%
Disagree 10.1% 0.6% 2.0%
Disagree strongly 4.5% 2.0% 2.2%

24. Most importantly, nearly 90 percent of respondents indicate that they expected that their petition would be handled fairly when they first submitted a petition to the Parliament. Additionally, 86 percent thought that petitioning the Parliament would give them a voice in the Parliament – that their concerns would be listened to. In contrast, 54 percent of respondents report that they thought their petition would change policy in Scotland.  Hence, while a very large percentage of petitioners seem to believe that their petitions will be handled fairly (when initiating a petition), far fewer actually expect that the petition will influence policy. In many ways this could be considered a positive aspect of the system – petitioners generally believe they will receive fair treatment, though their petition may not be a ‘success’. 

5.5 Petitioners’ Evaluations

25. This section moves to an assessment of petitioners’ evaluations of the petitions process. While the analyses presented in chapters three and four are useful in developing an understanding of how the petitions system functions within the Scottish Parliament, the analysis of petitioners’ evaluations of the petitions system discussed in this section may provide the clearest sense of how well the system performs. If petitioners, after having gone through the process of petitioning the Parliament, describe the process as ‘fair’ and believe that it gives them a voice in Scottish affairs, then the system could reasonably be thought of as a ‘success’. If, however, petitioners see the system as less than fair, then further consideration should be given to how the Scottish Parliament implements its primary, showcase mechanism for public engagement with Scotland’s law-making body.

26. The survey of petitioners contained several questions designed to assess petitioner evaluations of the petitions system. Since it is not possible to adequately answer the question of how many petitions have been ‘successful’72 (though this is often the question raised in the popular media), we instead rely on petitioner evaluations of their experiences to assess system performance. If the petitions system is meeting its goal of providing members of the public access to the parliamentary system and ensuring the Scottish public’s ability to raise policy concerns directly with the Parliament, petitioners should see the system as ‘fair’ and politically neutral. If, on the other hand, petitioners perceive the system as lacking in fairness then the goals of the petitioning system are not being adequately met.

27. This evaluation begins with a discussion of several survey measures of petitioner perceptions of system ‘fairness’ and neutrality, then proceeds to compare petitioners’ self-reported expectations and evaluations and finally briefly discusses the statistical results of a model predicting petitioner evaluations.

28. We begin with a series of process oriented questions asking to what extent respondents agreed that the petitions system is ‘easy to understand’, that the PPC kept them informed of their petition’s progress and that the petitions system ‘helps to bring the Parliament closer to the people of Scotland’. Figures 5.1 – 5.3 display petitioners’ responses to these questions. Petitioners report that the petitions system is generally easy to understand with approximately 82 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement. However, petitioners felt much less in touch with their petition throughout the process, with 64 percent agreeing that they had had been kept informed of their petitions progress and almost 24 percent reporting they had not been kept informed. Interestingly, and in keeping with the findings reported in chapter four of differences between the first and second sessions’ PPC staff in management of the petitions process, there is a statistically significant difference (at p=.02 level) between perceptions of petitioners during session one and session two. Session two petitioners were slightly more likely to report that they had been kept informed than had petitioners during the first session. This, however, makes sense in light of interviews with PPC staff. Staff members reported that during the first session of the Parliament, the PPC was simply trying to find its way and developing procedures for dealing with petitions and petitioners as the session progressed. As has been discussed elsewhere in this report, the PPC began with a series of goals, but not a clearly defined mission nor set of procedures. It therefore makes intuitive sense that as the procedures and mechanisms for contacting petitioners evolved, so would petitioners’ perceptions of the extent to which they were kept informed of their petition’s progress while under PPC consideration (and beyond).

Figure 5.1 

Figure 5.2

Figure 5.3

29. The greatest variance is found on the question asking whether petitioners believe that the petitions system brings the Parliament closer to the people of Scotland. Adding together those who agree and strongly agree, about 55 percent of respondents thought the petitions system develops stronger links between the people of Scotland and their Parliament, while almost 28 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement. Again, there is a statistically significant difference (p=.02) in the responses of first session petitioners and second session petitioners. Second session petitioners are slightly more likely to say that the petitions system does bring the Parliament closer to the people. Here, again, this would seem to indicate that the PPC is ‘learning’ how to administer the system and this is reflected in petitioner evaluations.

30. Turning to outcome oriented evaluations, Figures 5.4 – 5.6 display petitioner marginal response rates to questions asking them to what extent they agreed that their petition was handled fairly, that their petition was a success and that they were satisfied with the outcome. Looking first at whether petitioners agreed that their petition was handled fairly by the PPC, we find that almost 63 percent thought that their petition was handled fairly, while 22 percent did not think that their petition received fair treatment from the PPC. Looking back at Table 5.4, there is a drop of about 30 percent from the 90 percent of petitioners who expected their petition to be handled fairly to the 63 percent who actually thought their petition was handled fairly.73

31. There is a clear shift, however, when we turn to whether petitioners thought their petition was a ‘success’. Approximately 54 percent of respondents to the survey of petitioners disagreed with the statement, ‘I consider my petition a success’, while 30 percent rated their petition a success and nearly 16 percent neither agreed nor disagreed. Table 5.5 displays the correlations between the three outcome evaluations. We find that while there is a strong relationship between petitioners’ evaluations of fairness and success,74 the questions do tap into different sets of evaluations. Many petitioners do seem to distinguish between the petitions process and their petition’s outcome.

Figure 5.4

Figure 5.5

Figure 5.6

32. Finally, we look to petitioners’ general evaluations of the outcome of the petitioning process. Approximately 55 percent of petitioners are not satisfied with the outcome of the petitioning process. Conversely, nearly a third of petitioners are satisfied with the outcome. Again, looking at Table 5.5, the indication is that while there is a strong relationship between evaluations of fairness and outcome satisfaction,75 these are not necessarily the same thing. On the other hand, with a correlation of .86, we find an extremely strong relationship between evaluations of petition success and overall satisfaction with the outcome of the petitioning process. Hence while many petitioners do disassociate their perceptions of the fairness of the process with their evaluations of outcomes, most petitioners seem to equate petition success with outcome satisfaction.

Table 5.5: Correlations of Petitioners’ Outcome Evaluations
  Fair Process Petition a Success Satisfied with Outcome
Fair Process 1.0    
Petition a Success .64 1.0  
Satisfied with Outcome .69 .86 1.0
Note: all correlations are significant at p<.000.

5.6 Predicting Petitioner Evaluations

33. This section provides a brief description of a multivariate statistical model designed to determine the statistically significant predictors of petitioner outcome evaluations. These ordinary least squares regression models simultaneously use several measures of petitioner expectations and characteristics to predict an outcome evaluation indicator. The purpose of these models is to determine which of the several indicators discussed above independently and significantly helps in the prediction of petitioner evaluations.

34. The first model, presented in Table 5.6,76 predicts respondents’ evaluations of how fairly their petition was handled. This model uses several sets of predictor variables measuring petitioner characteristics (petitioner sex and social class), petition characteristics (number of signatures attached, duration of time the petition was ‘open’ for consideration and whether the petition was referred to a committee) and petitioner expectations (extent to which the petitioner expected the petition to be handled fairly and extent to which the petitioner expected the petition would change policy in Scotland). A final indicator in the model helps to determine if there is a significant, independent relationship between the session of Parliament a petition was introduced and petitioner fairness evaluations.

Table 5.6: OLS Regression of Petitioner Fairness Evaluations on Indicators of Petitioner Characteristics, Expectations and Petition Processes
  ‘b’ Coefficient Standard Error
Petitioner Expectations:    
Fairness .44* .12
Change Policy -.22* .09
Petitioner Characteristics:    
Sex (Female) .13 .18
Social Class (Working) .09 .17
Petition Processes:    
Number of Signatures -.00 .00
Open Duration (Days) -.00 .00
Referred to Committee -.21 .13
Parliament Session (Second) -.14 .20
Constant 2.59* .42
R2 adj = .05    N = 254
* significant at p<.01

35. The model shows that there are two clear, independent and significant predictors of petitioner fairness evaluations: the petitioners’ expectations of fairness and policy influence. Petitioners who expect the process to be fair are significantly more likely to evaluate it as fair. On the other hand, petitioners who thought that their petition would change policy in Scotland were significantly less likely to rate the overall process of petitioning as fair. All of the other predictors in the model do not achieve statistical significance. That is, the duration of time a petition was considered, petitioner sex and social class as well as the session the petition was introduced do not have any significant, independent influence on petitioner evaluations of fairness. 77 Note, however, that the overall explained variance of the model predicting fairness evaluations is rather low.

36. These findings again highlight the benefit of the PPC staff engaging in ‘expectations management’. While it is certainly the case that some petitions have had a dramatic effect on public policy in Scotland, the committee staff should take care not to artificially raise petitioner expectations.

37. The next model, presented in Table 5.7,78 uses the same set of indicators discussed above, as well as petitioners’ evaluations of fairness to predict petitioners’ overall satisfaction with the outcome of the petitioning process. Here we find that the only statistically significant, independent predictor of petitioner satisfaction with the outcome of the petitioning process is their evaluation of how fair the process was. These findings comport with the extensive social science research on procedural justice. Generally, this research has found that if individuals perceive a process to be fair, they are much more likely to acquiesce to outcomes that they otherwise did not prefer.

Table 5.7: OLS Regression of Petitioner Satisfaction with Petition Process Outcome on Indicators of Petitioner Characteristics, Expectations, Fairness Evaluation and Petition Processes
  ‘b’ Coefficient Standard Error
Petitioner Evaluation:    
Process Fairness .71* .05
Petitioner Expectations:    
Fairness -.07 .10
Change Policy -.04 .07
Petitioner Characteristics:    
Sex (Female) -.05 .15
   Social Class (Working) .04 .14
Petition Processes:    
Number of Signatures .00 .00
Open Duration (Days) .00 .00
Referred to Committee -.11 .11
Parliament Session (Second) -.18 .18
Constant 2.15* .37
R2 adj = .44    N = 239
* significant at p<.01

5.7 Conclusions

38. The conclusions from this chapter can be separated into three broad categories relating to petitioners’ characteristics, expectations and evaluations.

39. While assessing how well respondents to the survey of petitioners reflect the general population of petitioners is difficult, respondents do seem to reflect the regional patterns of the population of petitioners. Petitioners, however, do not seem to reflect the other demographic patterns of the general Scottish public. Petitioners are, on average, older, more middle-class, better educated and more likely to be male than the general population. They also seem to be less likely to be Labour Party supporters, but are more likely to declare themselves as political independents with no political party affiliation. Yet, this should not be interpreted as assuming that petitioners are disengaged from Scottish society. Far from it. Petitioners are far more likely to report that they are involved in voluntary organisations than are members of the general public.

40. Petitioners also seem to enter the petitions system with rather high expectations. About 90 percent of respondents to the petitioners survey indicated that when they first submitted a petition they expected it to be handled fairly. Approximately 54 percent of respondents thought that their petitions would actually change policy in Scotland. On the surface this would seem to make sense. Why else would a petitioner submit a petition unless she thought it would have an influence on policy? On the other hand, there is no guarantee that any petition will be acted upon. There is a right to petition the Parliament and have that petition considered by the Parliament, but there is no right to have a petition incorporated into policy.

41. Generally it seems that petitioner survey respondents believe that their petition received due consideration by the Public Petitions Committee. Consistent across both sessions of the Parliament, 63 percent of petitioners indicated that their petition was handled fairly. Of course, that leaves one in five petitioners who do not believe that their petition received fair treatment by the PPC. Extending this to satisfaction with the outcome of the petitions process, over half of respondents indicated that they were not satisfied with the outcome of the process. Though this is clearly related to whether or not the petitioner thought their petition to be a ‘success’ or not, excluding the ‘success’ indicator, the largest single predictor of outcome evaluation was the indicator of how fair the petitioner thought the process was. Procedural fairness and transparency is a vital component in petitioner assessments of the petitions system.

Chapter Six: Petitioner Interviews

Chapter Aims

This chapter develops a deeper perspective on petitioners’ evaluations of the petitions system. Specific areas of concentration are:

  • general evaluations of the petitions system
  • petitioners’ perceived role in the system
  • petitioners’ areas of concern

6.1 Introduction

1. This chapter assesses responses to a series of interviews conducted with participants in the Scottish Parliament’s petitioning system. The quantitative analysis of the survey of petitioners discussed in the preceding chapter was designed to provide a broad overview of petitioners’ views on the petitions system. This chapter uses a different approach. Here a qualitative assessment of petitioners’ reactions and observations gathered during interviews is used to develop a deeper understanding of petitioner interactions with the petitions system.

2. This chapter begins by briefly discussing the interview procedures. Next, the chapter moves to a discussion of interviewees’ general assessments of the petitions system and their perceptions of their role in the system. The final section highlights several concerns voiced by interviewees.

6.2 Petitioner Interviews

3. In order to develop a deeper understanding of petitioner experiences with the petitions system and the Public Petitions Committee (PPC), a series of interviews were conducted with petitioners. Half of those petitioners interviewed were randomly selected from the list of petitioners. The other half of interviewees were specifically selected to ensure interviews were held with repeat petitioners and petitioners from certain (generally under-represented) groups. The interviews were generally conducted by telephone during June, July and August 2006. The interview used a semi-structured technique, with an interview protocol designed to ensure that petitioners had a broad degree of latitude in responding. A series of broad open-ended questions were used, followed by more specific, probing questions. In all, 15 interviews were conducted. The duration of the interviews ranged from 21 minutes to one hour and 32 minutes. The average interview duration was approximately 47 minutes.

4. Interviewees were generally responsive with many being quite eager and willing to discuss their petitions and their experiences. All interviewees were promised anonymity to encourage a direct and forthright interview. Several interviewees expressed concern that comments associated with their names could impair their chances of success should they want to submit petitions in the future. For these reasons, petitioner comments are not attributed to individuals in this report.

5. Finally, the standard caution applies when interpreting interviewees’ comments and making inferences to the population. Interviews are, of course, anecdotal in nature and therefore care should be taken when attempting to generalise to the population. Keeping this in mind, this report highlights themes that are mentioned by multiple interviewees and deemphasises specific complaints made in relation to discrete cases.

6.3 Petitioners and Their Role in the System

6. Interviewees were initially probed about their broad assessment of the petitions system. Virtually all (13 of 15 interviewees) expressed a moderate to great deal of support for the petitions system. The two interviewees who did not offer any positive comments about the petitions system both thought that the system was ‘run for’ commercial associations or interest groups. One of these interviewees reported that he was told his petition did not deal with an area of policy devolved to the Scottish Parliament. He believed, however that this evaluation (made by the PPC) was ‘rubbish’. In written comments on surveys returned by petitioners, several survey respondents also complained that they were informed that their petitions dealt with policy areas outwith the Parliament’s competence. Given evidence from published surveys, these complaints are not terribly surprising. A common finding across analyses of Scottish public opinion is often confusion over the policy areas devolved to Scotland and those reserved by Westminster.79

7. In general, however, interviewees were positive about the concept of the petitions system. It seems to be regarded as one of the great innovative mechanisms incorporated into the institutional design of the Parliament. One interviewee stated that

the ability of ‘common folk’ to bring their concerns to the Parliament through the petitions system is ‘democracy in action’.

Another petitioner stated that

the ‘petitions mechanism is one of the few good achievements’ of the Parliament.

The most positive comments generally seem to be voiced by those petitioners assessing the petitions system in the abstract.

8. Other petitioners interviewed were somewhat more circumscribed in their praise for the petitions system, however. For example, one interviewee said that

the petitions system does begin to give the people of Scotland a ‘voice’ in their Parliament, ‘but not a strong one.’

In a similar vein, another petitioner was clear in disassociating their evaluation of the petitions system in the abstract versus its implementation by the PPC saying,

‘I back the petitions system, though the committee was a disappointment’.

9. As noted earlier in this report, about a third of petitioners interviewed clearly disassociated their evaluation of the petitions system and their evaluation of their petition’s ‘success’. These petitioners tend to find great value in the opportunity to ‘raise the issue’ and the ability to draw attention to their policy concerns. One interviewee stated,

‘You may be discouraged, but you do not need to be successful. At least you have a say and get to raise issues’.

Another petitioner said,

‘You aren’t always going to get what you want but at least the [Scottish] Parliament has to look at your petition – that’s more than can be said of Westminster’.

Still another petitioner noted,

‘It is getting to raise issues in petitions that is the important part of the system. If you have something you think is a problem, you can submit a petition and raise the issue and maybe someone will pay attention’.

There is also a notion in some of these statements that politics and policy change is a long-term process. One repeat petitioner said,

‘If you don’t get what you want, you sit back and think, right, what do I need to do to get more support to show that this is something that really matters and then you start on that.’

10. This long-term perspective ties in with a general sense, voiced by approximately two-thirds of the petitioners interviewed, that petitioners essentially must be ‘entrepreneurs’ to purse the petitions process.80 Indeed, three interviewees spontaneously used the term ‘entrepreneur’ to describe themselves. One petitioner said,

‘I had to be an entrepreneur. I decided nobody else was working on [the problem] and that if anything was going to be done I had to do it’.

Another petitioner stated,

‘Taking a petition to the Parliament is like being an entrepreneur. You see that there is a problem and you decide that something should be done about it so you petition the parliament.’

This entrepreneurial spirit ties to the finding in the previous chapter that petitioners tend to be much more involved in voluntary organisations than are members of the public in general.

11. The initial inspiration for most petitioners interviewed seems to be highly personalised experiences or strongly held beliefs. Often, the motivating factor seems to be a conviction that what happened to the petitioner should not be allowed to happen to someone else. Other petitioners hold very strong beliefs about what is ‘right’ and what ‘should be done’. These interviewees often stated that they wanted to ‘stand up for’ the people of Scotland to ensure fair and equitable laws and policies.

12. However, in practice, the personal stories that lead petitioners to decide to submit their petition in the first place must be disassociated from the larger policy issue. Michael McMahon, convener of the PPC in the second session of the Parliament, noted that this is one of the difficult aspects of the petitions process for the committee’s staff and members. Recognising that petitioners are motivated by issues that are often highly personal, committee clerks and members encourage petitioners, often to the point of suggesting the wording of the petition, to set their experiences within the context of a larger policy question that the Parliament could address. The PPC’s guidance, staff, and members all point out that the PPC is not ‘a court of appeal’.

6.4 Petitioners’ Concerns

13. While petitioners were inclined discuss their general thoughts on the petitions system and their role as petitioners, all interviewees very quickly began discussing the problems and shortcomings they saw with the system and the PPC more specifically.

14. Generally, concerns may be categorised as those dealing with ‘gatekeeping’, the role of the clerks, the lack of a right of appeal of PPC decisions and the use of informal decision mechanisms within the committee (and between the PPC and other committees). These categories are not mutually exclusive and there is a fair degree of overlap across them. Many petitioners moved quickly from one category of concern to another, often blending them together. For instance, the PPC as gatekeeper concern quickly blends into the role of the clerks as one of the perceived central agents in establishing the PPC’s ability to act as gatekeeper. As each of these concerns should be considered fully, this section will address them separately.

15. One of the most common concerns expressed across interviewed petitioners is that the PPC acts as a gatekeeper, not allowing petitions that could ‘rock the boat’ to be considered fully. One petitioner said that

the PPC exhibited a ‘pattern of obstruction’, making sure that petitions would not interfere with the Executive’s plans, or the plans of parliamentary leaders.

Another interviewee who had submitted multiple petitions, said that, especially in the second session of the Parliament,

the PPC acts like a ‘bouncer at the door’ and ‘shuts down’ petitions that the Executive sees as problematic.

Several interviewees expressed concern that the current PPC convener, Michael McMahon, is ‘close to Jack McConnell’ and does ‘the bidding’ of the First Minister.

Look,’ said one petitioner, ‘it is well known that McMahon is close to Jack [McConnell] and isn’t going to allow anything to challenge [the Executive]’.

16. Related to the concern over the PPC acting as a parliamentary gatekeeper, interviewed petitioners were quite concerned over the role of the clerks in the petitions system. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that the clerks play a vital role in the petitions process. Michael McMahon stated that ‘everything starts with the clerks’. The clerks are the initial point of contact for individuals interested in submitting a petition. The clerks examine the initial petition and seek advice if necessary on the legality and policy viability of the proposals. The clerk to the PPC will often suggest wording changes to petitions to either clarify the proposal or to ensure that the scope of the petition falls under the Parliament’s powers. And, as discussed by one interviewee, the clerks draft briefings that are distributed to the PPC members that describe the petition as interpreted by the PPC staff and the possible courses of action on the petition that the staff suggest.81

17. The extensive role the clerks play in the petitions process has not gone unnoticed by petitioners. Interviewed petitioners said that the ‘clerks control a great deal’ and that the clerks’ advice is ‘bowed to [by MSP committee members]’. Another petitioner said that

‘the clerks aren’t elected, yet they control the system’.

At the same time, it should be acknowledged that many interviewed petitioners made positive comments about the PPC staff. Many petitioners thought that the clerks were genuinely trying to be helpful and guide the wording of petitions to make the petitions system accessible.

18. In interviews, MSPs acknowledged that, given the constraints on MSPs’ time and their other obligations, the clerks have a great amount of input in the petitions system and on how petitions are handled. One MSP noted that it is very difficult for PPC members to keep up with petitions as the MSPs must read and research all petitions and their background information for each meeting. If an MSP wants to keep track of a particular petition, this becomes very difficult once it is referred to another committee. Therefore, the clerks’ interpretations of petitions are relied on as well as their initiative to follow the progress of petitions.

19. Another recurring concern among interviewed petitioners is the lack of a petitions appeal mechanism. Once the PPC has closed a petition, there is no mechanism for the petitioner to appeal the decision that was taken by the PPC. One option that did exist, to resubmit the petition, has been removed by the PPC’s alterations to the rules. As mentioned elsewhere in this report, the PPC has limited the ability of petitioners to resubmit petitions, and for petitioners to submit petitions on issues that have already been covered by the PPC within the preceding twelve months. One interviewee stated that

if a petitioner does not agree with the outcome there is, ‘no appeal, end of story, book shut, that is it’.

Two interviewees raised the issue that in their opinion the lack of an appeals mechanism could well violate human rights conventions.

20. A final issue of concern, related to several already discussed, is the degree to which decisions are, if not taken outright, steered on the basis of informal discussions outside of the committee rooms. Legislative scholars have long noted that parliaments and legislatures are heavily influenced by informal discussions and decisions. The briefing documents supplied to MSPs would seem to suggest that some possible decisions are discussed outside of the committee meetings. Fewer petitions are referred to committees (and are thus directly dealt with by the PPC) in partial response to complaints made by subject committee conveners about their committees’ workloads. Given that transparency is one of the defining principles of the Scottish Parliament, care should be taken by the PPC to ensure that petitioners are kept fully informed of all decisions taken in relation to their petitions, formal and informal.

6.5 Conclusions

21. Interviews with petitioners highlight several areas relating to the Scottish Parliament’s petitions system. First, even those petitioners who were negative about the PPC’s handling of their specific petitions tended to be quite positive about the idea of a petitions system. The petitions system is generally seen as being one of the more positive innovations included in the institutional design of the Parliament.

22. Further, petitioners interviewed for this report were often quite positive about the degree of assistance offered by the clerks. While there was certainly a fair degree of scepticism expressed about the amount of control the clerks exert on the system, most of the individuals interviewed generally seemed to believe that the clerks were acting out of good intentions.

23. That said, interviewees were rather concerned about a perceived lack of transparency in the system, the degree of discretionary control exerted, and the complete lack of an appeals mechanism.

Chapter Seven: ‘Successful’ Petitions?

Chapter Aims

This chapter discusses several of the issues in determining what constitutes a ‘successful’ petition.

7.1 Introduction

1. How many petitions have been successful? While this is it probably the most frequently asked question relating to the public petitions system in the Scottish Parliament, it is also the most difficult to answer. This is mostly the case as ‘success’ is a highly subjective term that could be taken to mean or imply a variety of outcomes. One clear result from this research report is that petitioners, as a group, are not unified on what is meant by success. With that being the case, defining ‘success’ is quite difficult.

7.2 Assessing Petition ‘Success’

2. To reiterate the footnote from chapter five: Given the vagaries of any political system and the less than linear nature of ‘political time’ it is not possible in all cases to determine if a petition directly led to a particular political outcome. If, for example, a petitioner submits a petition in year X1 and the Executive pursues the same policy in year X2 or X3 we cannot say whether the petition is directly related to the Executive’s decision. It is possible that the petition encouraged the Executive to bring forward the policy. However, it is also possible that the Executive had been working on the policy for some time. If so, it is possible the petition encouraged the Executive to bring forward the policy faster than it otherwise would. Or, it is possible that the Executive would have brought forward the policy irrespective of a petition being submitted on the same topic. In many ways this is the classic ‘chicken or egg’ problem. To establish ‘causation’ in this sense (i.e., that petition X caused the adoption of policy Y), we would have to be able to establish temporal sequence as well as have access to all policies under consideration at each point in time.

3. Yet, we cannot know the full range of proposals being considered by the Executive at any one time. Therefore, again, it is not possible to determine if a petition directly, or indirectly, led to a particular decision being taken. Discussions of to what extent petitions have been ‘successful’ (or what proportion of petitions are ‘successful’) then necessarily rely on anecdotal stories of a few ‘successful’ and ‘failed’ petitions that do not allow us to generalise to the petitions system and provide little help in assessing system performance.

4. Further, while a petition may, on the surface, appear to be ‘failed’ (i.e., did not result in the Parliament adopting the policy proposed by the petitioner), the petitioner may still see value in the very fact that they heightened awareness of the issue and had the opportunity to raise the issue within a deliberative system. One interviewee, for example, noted that while her petition was closed without achieving her desired outcome, she still rated the petition a ‘success.’

5. Hence, while it would be problematic to specify objective criteria to define success, chapter five, instead, turned to petitioners’ subjective evaluations. If we use the criteria of whether petitioners believed their petition was handled fairly, then well over half of respondents to the survey would believe that they had been allowed to exercise their right to have the Parliament consider their petition. Using the different criteria of whether petitioners report they are satisfied with the outcome of the process, over half would seem to be less than satisfied. Finally, asking petitioners directly if their petition was a ‘success’, we find that about 30 percent thought they had achieved some degree of success with their petitions.

6. Another difficulty in establishing how many petitions have been ‘successful’ is related to data, or information, quality and availability. As was discussed in chapters two and four, the detail and quality of information recorded by the PPC is highly variable across time. Given this, to track adequately all petitions and determine their relative degree of ‘success’ would require not only examining the minutes and all information available from the PPC, but all actions and minutes of all the committees to which petitions were referred.

7. An example of the difficulties in determining petition ‘success’ using information from the PPC is illustrated in the interview conducted with PPC convener Michael McMahon. Convener McMahon stated:

We have had some pretty big successes. We received a certificate last week from a petitioner, or an organisation, who petitioned about the effects of the building regulations on hot water supplies. We got that built into the new building standards bill. That organisation has been campaigning for that for so long. It all of a sudden came to the petitions committee, got it in front of the Executive; Executive said bang it is in the legislation, they could not believe it; they called it democracy in action. Sometimes that is quite a rewarding thing just to hear. They wanted to present [something] to [the] committee, so they turned up last week with a certificate and a frame so we have given it to the Presiding Officer to find a proper place for it to be put up.82

8. However, looking at the records of the PPC83 relating to that petition, PE786, there is no indication that this petition should be counted a ‘success’ by any criteria. The PPC’s records show:

24 November 2004: The Public Petitions Committee heard from Alan Masterton, Darren Ferguson and Ken Stewart and agreed to write to the Minister for Communities, Scottish Building Standards Agency, Thermostatic Mixing Valve Manufacturers’ Association and the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation.

11 May 2005: The Public Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Building Standards Agency.

05 October 2005: The Public Petitions Committee agreed, on the basis of the response received from the Scottish Building Standards Agency, to close consideration of this petition.

9. Yet, turning to the last minuted discussion held by the PPC on PE786 (5 October 2005), one finds a very different interpretation of the petition’s outcome. Here the Official Report reads:

Col 2048: Building Regulations
(Thermostatic Mixing Valves) (PE786)

The Convener: PE786, which is by Alan Masterton on behalf of the Scottish Burned Children's Club, calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Executive to include in Scottish building regulations a mandatory requirement for thermostatic mixing valves to be installed in the hot water systems of all new build and renovated properties. At its meeting on 11 May 2005, the committee agreed to write again to the Scottish Building Standards Agency to seek an update on the working group that is reviewing section 4 of the technical handbooks for the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004. A response has been received.

Jackie Baillie: The response is extremely welcome. I know that the Deputy Minister for Communities was involved and I am pleased that the Executive and the Scottish Building Standards Agency have acknowledged the problem and acted on it. We might want to encourage the petitioner to respond directly to the consultation, but the petition has served its purpose.

John Scott: I agree; the petition was very successful and it achieved the desired outcome.

The Convener: Congratulations are due to the petitioners. A simple solution has been taken on board and, as Jackie Baillie said, the petition achieved the desired effect. That is another success for petitioners and the petitions system.

10. Hence, to develop a complete, thorough and fully specified list of ‘successful’ petitions, one could not rely on the information provided by the PPC. All proceedings and minutes of not only the PPC, but all committees to which petitions were referred, would have to be examined. Further, as discussed above, even this effort could not necessarily establish that a petition caused any particular action or policy. Certainly, in many cases this would be relatively plain and obvious; however, it is equally likely that in many cases a highly subjective judgement call would have to be made. Finally, we must recall that petitioners may still see value in raising issues and receiving public acknowledgement regardless of whether their petition resulted in their desired outcome. Many petitioners, it seems, count this as a ‘success’.

11. With all of these caveats in mind, this chapter presents Table 7.1 which highlighting several petitions that may be considered ‘successful’ in that some action similar to that requested by the petitioner was taken. As this list is only intended to be indicative, it should not be considered exhaustive, nor necessarily authoritative. It is quite possible petitioners may disagree with items included in this list.

Table 7.1: Indicative List of ‘Successful’ Petitions 1
Petition Title and Action Taken 2
PE001 Title: ‘Petitions calling for the Scottish Parliament to take the necessary steps to introduce prayers to the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament.’
Action: ‘The Parliament reached a decision to hold multi-denomination prayers, which the petitioner was informed of.’ (10 September 1999)
PE002 Title: ‘A77 between Fenwick and Newton Mearns’
Action: ‘The A77 was included in the Strategic Road Review for upgrade.’ (10 December 1999)
PE023 Title: ‘Petition on saving the Wemyss Ancient Caves.’
Action: ‘The Education, Culture and Sport Committee agreed to write the petitioners and agencies involved and to recommend to the Executive, Fife Council and Historic Scotland that the remedial work be done.’ (6 March 2001)
PE060 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to hold a debate on genetically modified crops and food.’
Action: ‘The Parliament held a debate on Genetic Modification Science.’ (23 March 2000)
PE082 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to take active steps to recognise the validity and educational benefits for Gaelic-medium education.’
Action: ‘The Education, Culture and Sport Committee agreed to note the petition and arrange to take evidence on the issue during Stage 2 consideration of the Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Bill.’ (11 March 2000)
PE113 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to consider ways of re-installing a railway into and through the Borders by way of a debate in the Parliament and by consideration by its committees.’
Action: ‘The Rural Affairs Committee agreed unanimously to support the petition…’ (2 May 2000); ‘A full Parliamentary debate was held on the Borders Rail Link.’ (1 June 2000).
PE139 Title: ‘Petition by Platform Adult Learning Centre calling for the Scottish Parliament to provide translation services for meetings of the Parliament and Committee meetings for the deaf, deaf/blind people and for people with hearing difficulties.’
Action: ‘the SPCB had agreed a number of the items related to issues raised in the petition.’ (13 December 2001)
PE223 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to ensure that Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in Lothian are not denied opportunity to be prescribed Beta Interferon.’
Action: ‘The Public Petitions Convenor reported the Scottish Executive’s recently announced intention to make beta-interferon available to all Multiple Sclerosis sufferers, regardless of location in Scotland…’ (5 February 2002)
PE342 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to (a) consider framing national guidelines to school closures that are at least as fair and comprehensive as those adopted in England, and (b) ask councils to consider deferring decisions on any school closures until these new guidelines have been established.’
Action: ‘The Education Committee noted the Scottish Executive’s proposed guidance on school closures. The Committee agreed that PE342 can now be disposed of.’ (29 September 2004)
PE347 Title: ‘Petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to investigate the practice of shoeing Clydesdale Horses and introduce legislation to make such style of shoeing illegal unless sanctioned, for medical reasons, by a Veterinary Surgeon.’
Action: ‘The Committee noted the Deputy Minister for the Environment and Rural Development’s commitment to include the issue of the shoeing of horses in the forthcoming consultation on the Animal Health and Welfare Bill. (2 March 2004)
PE374 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to act urgently to investigate and redress the under funding of Chronic Pain Management Services, to debate the matter in Parliament and to urge the Minister for Health and Community Care and Health Boards to move chronic pain up the health agenda.
Action: ‘Full parliamentary debate on topic of Chronic Pain held in Chamber.’ (27 February 2002)
PE376 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to amend the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912 so that it becomes an offence to allow an animal to exist in a condition likely to cause it suffering.’
Action: ‘The Committee noted that legislative change was proposed that would address the petitioner’s concerns.’ (11 September 2001)
PE455 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to initiate an independent inquiry into the cruelty and animal welfare implications of shooting red deer out of season.’
Action: ‘The Public Petitions Committee considered a response from the petitioner and noted that a meeting had been arranged with the Deer Commission for Scotland and Forest Enterprise, with a view to addressing the petitioner’s concerns. The Committee accepted the petitioner’s request that the petition be withdrawn on this basis…’ (11 February 2003)
PE477 Title: ‘Petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Executive to provide assistance in setting up an aftercare programme in the form of a halfway home to help people who have been wrongfully incarcerated and have served long terms of imprisonment or whose conviction has been annulled at the appeal court.’
Action: ‘The Justice 1 Committee agreed, in relation to petition PE477 on miscarriages of justice that, in light of the Minister for Justice’s indication in correspondence previously considered by the Committee that the Scottish Executive had decided to offer MOJO [Miscarriages of Justice Organisation] a grant, to close its consideration of the petition.’ (27 April 2005)
PE512 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to (a) endorse the 1989 guidance published by the Ministry of Defence which defines the blue of the Saltire as Azure Blue and (b) urge the Scottish Executive to publish guidance on the matter.’
Action: ‘The Committee agreed to suggest that a voluntary code or guidance, recommending the use of Pantone 300 for the colour of the Saltire, should be agreed and published by the relevant societies with an interest in the matter.’ (25 March 2003)
PE554 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to take the necessary steps to improve the planning process by proposing that once a planning application has been refused and not appealed, or appealed and refused, no substantially similar planning application for the same site should be accepted unless there is a material change in circumstances.’
Action: ‘The Public Petitions Committee considered a response from the Scottish Executive in relation to the issues raised and welcomed the Executive’s commitment to include relevant proposals in the context of a future Planning Bill as a direct result of the petition.’ (3 September 2003)
PE620 Title: ‘Petition calling for the Scottish Parliament to investigate whether (a) grant practices of Historic Scotland are fair and reasonable and (b) the use of Listed Places of Worship funding offset against Historic Scotland grants is proper.’
Action: ‘The Public Petitions Committee reported that Historic Scotland had amended its guidance on grant applications to reflect concerns of the Committee, as highlighted in petition PE620.’ (26 November 2003)
PE786 Title: ‘Petition by Alan Masterton, on behalf of the Scottish Burned Children’s Club, calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Executive to include within the Scottish Building Regulations a mandatory requirement for thermostatic mixing valves to be installed in the hot water systems of all new-build and renovated properties.’
Action: ‘The Public Petitions Committee agreed, on the basis of the response received from the Scottish Building Standards Agency, to close consideration of this petition.’ (5 October 2005) Note: See text of annex C for discussion.
PE803 Title: ‘Petition by Hugh Sinclair on behalf of the Movement for a Register of Freemasons calling for the Scottish Parliament to amend its Standing Orders to ensure that the Petitioner receives an official copy of the full text of the Petition stating that it has been accepted as admissible for consideration by the Committee prior to its publication on the web-site of the Committee and that such text is duly published on the web-site.’
Action: ‘The Public Petitions Committee agreed to make a minor change to the Scottish Parliament’s website and to close the petition.’ (2 February 2005)

11 As noted in the chapter’s text, this list is not intended to be exhaustive and should only be considered as indicative of a sample of successful petitions.

2 Title and Actions directly quoted from closed petitions listed on PPC website, available on-line at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/petitions/index.htm

Chapter Eight: General Conclusions

Chapter Aims

This chapter summarises findings and conclusions from the previous chapters, highlighting several key implications.

8.1 Overview

1. There is little doubt that the Public Petitions Committee (PPC) has significantly reinterpreted its mission and role in the Parliament’s second session. The core of the issue seems to be that the PPC is attempting to find a balance between efficiency and effectiveness. The PPC needs to ensure that it can handle its workload and that it is not over-burdening the Parliament’s other committees, forcing them to displace their working agendas. Considering petitions is a time-consuming enterprise involving numerous discussions between parliamentary staff and petitioners, significant research efforts, time and resources devoted to contacting and following up on enquiries to Ministers and other public bodies, legal enquiries, records management and interactions with other committees. In short, maintaining an open system whereby virtually anyone in the world may petition the Scottish Parliament on a matter within the Parliament’s competence is a resource-intensive process and efficiency concerns are important to maintaining the integrity of the process. If the system becomes over-burdened, it cannot meet the needs and desires of petitioners.

2. At the same time, in order for the system to be effective it must provide a meaningful avenue for individuals to bring their policy concerns and proposals to the Parliament. To be ‘meaningful’, this system must hold the Parliament, the Executive and other public bodies in Scotland accountable for their actions and inactions. The PPC cannot simply be a talk-shop that is ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. To be effective, the PPC must pursue the hard and easy, mundane and extraordinary issues raised by petitioners. Further, the petitions system cannot be seen as an aspect of the Scottish political system that only involves the PPC. The petitions system must be supported and respected by institutions within and outwith the Parliament.

3. Finding the proper balance between effectiveness and efficiency is not an easy task.

8.2 Issues

4. This report raises several issues relevant to the efficiency and effectiveness balance. First and foremost, petitioners do not represent a broad cross-section of Scottish society. Petitioners are disproportionately male, older, middle-class and better educated. While petitioners tend to be less attached to established political parties, they are, conversely, more engaged in community affairs than the average person residing in Scotland. Finally, the evidence indicates that we are less likely to find petitioners coming from areas with a greater proportion of housing owned by local councils. A petitions system that is meaningful and effective for all the people of Scotland should attempt to connect with all the people of Scotland. Currently, it is a system that is mainly used by individuals characterised by one MSP as ‘grey men in suits’. By default the current system allows one segment of society to voice its concerns while not serving as a venue that all Scots know they can use to raise their concerns. One aspect of this, well beyond the remit and budget of this research, is to possibly investigate how much the people of Scotland know about their petitions system.84 The PPC has begun to attempt to raise its profile across Scotland, using a series of ‘road show’ meetings in communities across Scotland. The evidence from this report indicates that the PPC should ensure that these events are designed to connect with as broad a cross-section of the population as possible. Another possibility would be to begin another series of ‘road show’ meetings specifically targeting areas to enhance social inclusion and engagement with the petitions system.

5. One aspect of the petitions system that perhaps, more than the others discussed here, directly speaks to the efficiency and effectiveness balance, is the extent to which the PPC has adopted the role as the gatekeeper to the Scottish Parliament. One of the starkest findings in this report is the shift between the percentage of petitions forwarded to other committees in the first session of the Parliament and the percentage of petitions closed after initial consideration in the second session of the Parliament. In the first session, the PPC saw itself as the means by which members of the public may directly access the policy process within the Parliament and therefore forwarded a large percentage of petitions on to other committees for consideration. This, however, raised concerns that the Parliament and its committees could become so over-burdened with petitions that it could not effectively consider legislative matters and pursue its agenda. In the second session, the committee sought to limit the number of petitions referred on and increase its own consideration of petitions. This raises the question of whether the PPC is getting the balance right. Looking at petitioner evaluations of fairness and satisfaction with the outcome of petitioning, there are no statistical differences between the first and second sessions of the Parliament. While that does not necessarily indicate that the balance the PPC is seeking to achieve is the correct one thus far, it also does not demonstrate any drop in petitioners’ evaluations of the system.

6. Looking at transparency, there could be some concerns over the extent to which decisions are made informally, particularly in relation to dealings with other committees and the procedures used to rule petitions inadmissible. We must recognise that informal discussions serve a valuable function in parliamentary processes. Information is shared between committee members and staff that greatly improves the overall efficiency of the system. Further, we must be careful not to make petition admissibility into a larger issue than it actually is: the evidence indicates that there are, after all, relatively few inadmissible petitions. Even when the PPC was keeping records on inadmissible petitions in their database, there were 50 recorded inadmissible petitions between January 2001 and November 2003. The evidence also indicates that the clerks genuinely attempt to work with petitioners to help them craft a petition that will be admissible. However, this raises questions about the extent of informal gatekeeping. If the clerks advise petitioners to alter their petition, does it always reflect the original concerns of petitioners? We also cannot know the number of potential petitioners who are advised that they should not submit a petition on a particular subject as it would not be considered admissible. Finally, depending on the interpretation and enforcement of the new rule on petition resubmission by committee clerks, it is possible that individuals will be advised that petitions are not admissible. While we certainly should not assume that the inadmissible petitions rules are used to ‘shut-down’ petitions, given the lack of transparency in reporting, we could not definitively show that they are not.

7. Perhaps one of the clearest findings of this report is the importance of maintaining a fair, open and transparent process for considering petitions in the Scottish Parliament. Individuals’ initial interactions with the PPC and their expectations about fairness are significant predictors of their evaluations of the petitioning process. The clerks and conveners of the PPC are right to worry about managing petitioners’ expectations. The more an individual enters the petitioning process with overly-inflated initial expectations and a strongly held the belief that their petition will make it through the political process in the Parliament and result in significant policy change in Scotland, the more likely it is that they will be disappointed. This is not necessarily because the system is unfair. Nor because it is biased. This is the case because the petitioning process is a political process. Political processes necessarily involve bargaining and compromise. It is very rare that any one individual’s policy proposals, whether made by a petitioner or an MSP, make it through the sausage grinder that is politics to result in a grand, significant policy change. Helping petitioners realise at the outset that petitioning is a political process may help to ‘manage expectations’. As one petitioner indicated, the value in petitioning is not in ‘winning’. In a democratic system one cannot expect to ‘win’ all the time. Instead, the petitioner indicated that the value in the petitions system is raising issues in a public, constructive venue.

8. That said, there are several potential threats to a fair, open and transparent petitioning process. The use of informal decision-taking mechanisms, such as the procedures in determining petitions’ inadmissibility discussed above, reduces the transparency of the system. The lack of a right of appeal of the decisions of the PPC is another issues raised by petitioners interviewed for this report. All decisions of the PPC are final and there is no mechanism for appealing those decisions. On the one hand this makes sense. One could certainly imagine that petitioners motivated by highly personalised issues may not happily accept when their petition is closed by the PPC without it resulting in any significant policy change. These dissatisfied petitioners may be highly likely to appeal the decisions of the PPC if an appeals mechanism were available. That said, it is a widely held convention that for a system to be ‘fair’ and transparent the decisions made by political entities must be open to scrutiny (that is, after all one of the key rationales for the petitions system in the first place). If the decisions of the PPC are not open to scrutiny, one could easily imagine that petitioners may question its transparency and political neutrality. Given that the PPC has implemented a rule severely limiting the ability of petitioners to resubmit petitions they would like reconsidered, the only quasi-appellate avenue that did exist (asking the PPC to reconsider its decision) has been closed. To maintain confidence in the system, the PPC clerks and convener should be careful to narrowly interpret the resubmission rule.

8.3 What the Petitions System is Not

9. This report has shown that some of the perceptions held by MSPs of the petitions system are not accurate. George Reid, for example, indicated that ‘I think [the petitions system] is getting close to popular initiative. It is not quite there because is has not been punted as such’. However, given the control exerted by the PPC, the ability to close petitions after initial consideration, the levels of discretion available to the PPC convener and clerks, and the fact that the Parliament (through the PPC) is ultimately responsible for taking decisions on petitions, it cannot be the case that the petitions system is approaching a public initiative system. In fact, given that during the second session of the Parliament the PPC exerted more independent control over petitions, closing almost a third after initial consideration, the system may be moving away from Mr. Reid’s ‘popular initiative’. The petitions system in Scotland is firmly entrenched as a form of advocacy democracy where the public is given a point of access to the Parliament but not a role in the decision-taking process. The Parliament should avoid any attempt to oversell the petitions system or package it as something it is not. The PPC has been correct to manage the expectations of petitioners and to maintain a focus on what the petitions system can realistically deliver. The petitions system is a valuable mechanism that affords Scots access to their Parliament, but not any capacity to determine outcomes or take decisions.

10. Similarly, a PPC member has referred to petitions as ‘barometers of public opinion’. Clearly a broad cross-section of the public is not participating in the petitions system, therefore we should be very cautious in assuming that petitions reflect a broad public consensus, or even concern, on the importance of the issues raised through petitions.

11. None of these observations, though, should be taken to imply that the public petitions system is ineffective. The petitions system is a valuable component of the parliamentary system and clearly provides a vital link between the public and the Parliament. With the landmark submission of the 1,000th petition and the dissolution of the second session of Parliament, this is, however, the opportune time to reassess the system to ensure that it is appropriately calibrated to guarantee the CSG’s founding principles of accessibility, transparency and power sharing are the guiding principles of the public petitions system in Scotland.

Annex A: Data Description

1. This annex briefly describes the different data sources used for the research on the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions system.85 The Public Petitions Committee’s (PPC) database is discussed first, followed by the survey of petitions.

A.1 Public Petitions Committee Database

2. The PPC uses Microsoft’s Access programme to maintain a database that includes information on petitions and petitioners. This database was used as the basis for the databases constructed for this report. The information on petitions stored in the Access database was used as the basic starting point for the database constructed by the research team to analyse the petitions (discussed in chapters three and four).

3. It should be noted, however, that the data from the Access database were only a starting point in preparing the data for this report. Upon examination of the PPC’s database, several extensive flaws in the data were discovered. For example, the coding in the database of groups as either ‘community groups’ or ‘pressure groups’ contained multiple errors. In many instances, a group coded as a ‘community group’ at one point in time would be classified as a ‘pressure group’ at another time (for those groups that submitted multiple petitions). In other instances, trade unions were classified as ‘community groups’ though two distinct categories for ‘trade unions’ had also been created in the database (with the same union appearing in both categories at different times). Periodically, there was simply no attempt to classify a group as a trade union, a community group or a pressure group. Additionally, the PPC’s classification of petitions on the basis of their subject or topical area was found to be highly problematic and inconsistent. We attempted to correct as many errors in our own database as possible. However, given time and resource constraints we cannot, at this time, ensure that we were able to eliminate all errors in the data that were used in compiling this report.

4. Substantial errors will remain in the database maintained by the PPC. We speculate that given the Parliament’s policy of periodically shifting committee staff, the PPC’s database has been maintained by multiple clerks’ overtime. If they are not well trained in database management and if there are not clear and specific guidelines to ensure data integrity (e.g., on the criteria used to classify different groups) errors are likely to be made in entering data and maintaining the database.

5. A more significant problem in the PPC’s data is its information on petitioners. This information served as the starting point for database on petitioners as well as the mailing list used to contact petitioners for the survey component of this project. The initial database supplied by the PPC (i.e., the primary database used by the PPC) was missing all contact information for petitioners on all petitions PE1 to PE693. The PPC clerks were very helpful in using what information they had to fill in the gaps in the contact information. However, even after this exercise, there remained 102 missing petitioner postcodes in the PPC’s database. The research team used various on-line postcode finders to fill in as much of the missing data as possible, leaving only 4 petitioners with missing postcodes.

6. The clear recommendation from this exercise is that the PPC clerks should make every attempt to update and formalise their data management practices. It simply would not be possible for the PPC, with the database it currently maintains, to monitor itself to ensure that it is expanding its outreach.

A.2 Survey pf Petitioners of the Scottish Parliament

7. As described in chapter five, this report makes use of data collected from responses to a survey of petitioners of the Scottish Parliament.86 This survey was conducted between May 2006 and August 2006. All primary petitioners identified in the PPC’s database were sent a questionnaire by post using the (corrected) contact information they provided when they submitted their petition. Individuals who submitted multiple petitions to the PPC were sent only one copy of the survey. Slightly different versions of the survey were sent to individuals with ‘open’ and ‘closed’ petitions; whereas individuals with ‘closed’ petitions’ were asked about their degree of satisfaction with the process and outcomes, individuals with ‘open’ petitions were not asked the outcome satisfaction questions.

8. In all, 722 questionnaires were sent to individual petitioners. Each questionnaire packet contained an introductory letter identifying the principle investigator and the funding body, a copy of the survey instrument and a postage-paid, addressed return envelope. Approximately three weeks after the initial mailing was posted a follow-up letter was sent to all non-respondents. Two weeks after the follow-up letter, another full questionnaire packet, duplicating the first packet, was posted to all non-respondents. A final follow-up letter was posted to all non-respondents after another two-week period.87

9. Of the 722 surveys posted to petitioners, approximately 65% were returned. Of the returned surveys, approximately 8% were unusable as the petitioner had moved or deceased and almost 12% responded that they were not willing to participate in the survey. This left an overall useable response rate of approximately 51% (of the 722 surveys posted).

Annex B: Distribution of Petitioners

1. The following table displays the distribution of individual petitioners across all constituencies and regions in Scotland and the number of petitions submitted from each constituency and region.

Table B.1: Numbers of Petitioners Resident and Total Petitions Submitted for All Constituencies and Regions in Scotland
Constituency Number of Resident Petitioners Number of Petitions Submitted
Aberdeen Central 4 4
Aberdeen North 2 2
Aberdeen South 5 5
Airdrie & Shotts 9 9
Angus 9 9
Argyll & Bute 13 26
Ayr 17 18
Banff & Buchan 13 15
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross 13 13
Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley 12 12
Central Fife 3 3
Clydebank & Milngavie 5 5
Clydesdale 7 7
Coatbridge & Chryston 2 2
Cumbernauld & Kilsyth 10 11
Cunninghame North 8 8
Cunninghame South 2 2
Dumbarton 10 10
Dumfries 15 23
Dundee East 8 8
Dundee West 5 6
Dunfermline East 6 6
Dunfermline West 16 21
East Kilbride 8 10
East Lothian 17 20
Eastwood 8 16
Edinburgh Central 43 46
Edinburgh East & Musselburgh 14 14
Edinburgh North & Leith 18 21
Edinburgh Pentlands 9 10
Edinburgh South 14 18
Edinburgh West 16 43
Falkirk East 3 3
Falkirk West 3 7
Galloway & Upper Nithsdale 18 25
Glasgow Anniesland 5 13
Glasgow Baillieston 2 2
Glasgow Cathcart 10 11
Glasgow Govan 8 9
Glasgow Kelvin 38 96
Glasgow Maryhill 9 9
Glasgow Pollok 7 8
Glasgow Rutherglen 6 7
Glasgow Shettleston 3 3
Glasgow Springburn 6 6
Gordon 6 7
Greenock & Inverclyde 2 2
Hamilton North & Bellshill 5 5
Hamilton South 7 7
Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber 17 18
Kilmarnock & Loudoun 8 8
Kirkcaldy 11 11
Linlithgow 4 4
Livingston 11 17
Midlothian 6 6
Moray 10 11
Motherwell & Wishaw 6 6
North East Fife 9 11
North Tayside 12 13
Ochil 6 33
Orkney 1 1
Paisley North 2 2
Paisley South 5 5
Perth 13 16
Ross, Skye & Inverness West 15 22
Roxburgh & Berwickshire 18 21
Shetland 3 3
Stirling 13 15
Strathkelvin & Bearsden 6 12
Tweeddale, Ettrick & Lauderdale 17 22
West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine 18 22
West Renfrewshire 5 7
Western Isles 5 7
Region    
Central Scotland 56 63
Glasgow 95 166
Highlands and Islands 81 106
Lothians 138 182
Mid Scotland and Fife 89 127
North East Scotland 68 77
South of Scotland 123 150
West of Scotland 50 66
Outwith Scotland 18 23

Footnotes:

65 This equates to the number of unique primary petitioners.

66 This general methodology is suggested by T.W. Mangione, Mail Surveys: Improving the Quality (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995).

67 For the duration of this chapter, ‘petitioners’ will be used to refer to respondents of the survey of petitioners.

68 The SSA 2003 over-represented women: 56.3 percent of respondents were female.

69 The self-assessed social class question received the fewest number of responses (292). Survey respondents generally seemed to view the demographic and political attitude/preference questions with a fair degree of scepticism. Several respondents wrote on their questionnaires that they could see no reason why we would want to collect this information. One interviewee declared that she believed the entire questionnaire was designed to gather information that would help ‘the Executive’ in the next electoral campaign.

70 Note that the question wording between these questions is not identical. While the BGES 2005 refers to the ‘present government’, the survey of petitioners refers to the ‘British government.’ While the differences in question wording should imply caution when comparing the results for this question, it is also important to note that the trend in reduced trust of the UK political institutions carries on to trust in Westminster, where question wording differences did not exist.

71 Additional statistical tests found no difference in the reported expectations of individuals with ‘open’ petitions and those with ‘closed’ petitions.

72 Given the vagaries of any political system and the less than linear nature of ‘political time’ it is not possible in all cases to determine if a petition directly led to a particular political outcome. If, for example, a petitioner submits a petition in year X1 and the Executive pursues the same policy in year X2 or X3 we cannot say whether the petition is directly related to the Executive’s decision. Further, we cannot know the full range of proposals being considered by the Executive at any one time. Therefore, again, it is not possible to determine if a petition directly, or indirectly, led to a particular decision being taken. Discussions of to what extent petitions have been ‘successful’ (or what proportion of petitions are ‘successful’) then necessarily rely on anecdotal stories of a few ‘successful’ and ‘failed’ petitions that do not allow us to generalise to the petitions system and provide little help in assessing system performance. Further, while a petition may, on the surface, appear to be ‘failed’ (i.e., did not result in the Parliament adopting the policy proposed by the petitioner), the petitioner may still see value in the very fact that they heightened awareness of the issue and had the opportunity to raise the issue within a deliberative system. One interviewee noted that while her petition was closed without achieving her desired outcome, she still rated the petition a ‘success.’ This is taken up in more detail in chapter seven.

73 The correlation between fairness expectations and evaluations is only .18 (significant at p<.001). As this is a positive correlation, the finding is that petitioners who expected their petitions to be handled fairly generally were inclined to say they were handled fairly, while petitioners who expected unfair treatment, reported that they were treated unfairly. However, the relatively low correlation coefficient (fairness expectations may only be said to ‘explain’ about 3 percent of the variance in fairness evaluations) indicates that the overall relationship between fairness expectations and evaluations is relatively weak.

74 ‘Fairness’ evaluations account for approximately 40 percent of the variance in success evaluations.

75 ‘Fairness’ evaluations account for approximately 48 percent of the variance in satisfaction with outcome.

76 The dependent variable is a five-point scale measuring petitioner agreement with the statement ‘My petition was handled fairly by the Public Petitions Committee’. Strong agreement is coded at the value 1; strong disagreement is coded at the value 5. The expectations variables are coded in the same manner. Petitioner sex and social class as well as parliament session and committee referral are dichotomous (1, 0) variables indicating if a petitioner is female, self-identified as ‘working class’, submitted a petition during the second session of the Parliament and if the PPC referred a petitioner’s petition to a committee. The variable ‘number of signatures’ indicates the number of signatures a petitioner collected on their petition (or first petition for ‘serial’ petitioners). The variable ‘open duration’ indicates the number of days between a petitioner’s petition being lodged and the date it was closed (for first petition for ‘serial’ petitioners).

77 The statistical models presented are intended to be indicative and should not be taken to be fully specified statistical models. Further analysis may include other indicators such as petitioner general political affect, efficacy and levels of social capital. Preliminary tests show that the inclusion of these indicators dramatically improves model performance but do not substantively change any of the findings reported here. The primary goal for this analysis was to present parsimonious models reflecting petitioner characteristics and attitudes discussed in this report.

78 The dependent variable is a five-point scale with petitioners agreeing ‘strongly’ to the statement ‘I am satisfied with the outcome of the petitioning process’ coded at the value 1; strong disagreement was coded at the value 5. All other variables coded as discussed in footnote 12.

79 Recognising this as an issue, the PPC has attempted to give guidance to petitioners as to what areas are covered by its remit. However, the lack of clarity over devolved and reserved matters also seems to cause some uncertainty among members of the PPC in terms of what petitions the PPC may consider and its range of possible options. In considering PE709, which called on the Parliament to initiate an enquiry into the health aspects and ‘other devolved issues’ relating to Gulf War Syndrome, the committee discussed the fact that while Gulf War Syndrome was seen as a matter reserved to the Ministry of Defence, it may be possible for the committee to discuss the issue in the context of the Scottish NHS. The petition was eventually closed by division.

80 This raises the observation that one may apply John Kingdon’s ‘policy streams’ model of policy development to the petitions system. Kingdon argued that there are three different ‘streams’ in any policy system: the policy stream, the politics stream and the problems stream. Though these ‘streams’ are usually separate from each other, occasionally, due to real world events or ‘problems’, there is a recognised need for a change in policy at the time that the political climate is receptive to a particular policy being proposed by a ‘policy entrepreneur’. In this model of policy development, the role played by the ‘policy entrepreneur’ is vital to achieving changes in extant policy. See, John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (Boston: Little Brown, 1984).

81 These briefing documents are not readily available to members of the public. Again, to maintain a fully transparent system, the PPC may consider archiving these briefings on its website with the petitions and committee’s actions.

82 Interview with Michael McMahon, 26 April 2006, at the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood.

84 This report could not possibly address how much ‘the public’ knows about the petitions system. Further, this report could not address the number of people who would raise a petition if they knew more about the system. That would require a large survey effort designed to tap into the knowledge, perceptions and preferences of a random cross-section of Scottish society.

85 To reiterate a footnote from the beginning of this report: Murray Leith provided invaluable support in the preparation of data for this research.

86 This report makes extensive use of research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, ESRC grant RES-000-22-1820.

87 This general methodology is suggested by T.W. Mangione, Mail Surveys: Improving the Quality (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995).

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