Since 2002 when SSA first included questions on discrimination, a range of new equality legislation has been introduced and there has been considerable media and public debate on some specific equalities issues, most notably the campaign for equal marriage rights for same sex couples. The period has also seen changes in the composition of Scottish society, with a higher proportion of people now aged 65 or over, and an increase in the ethnic diversity of the country.
However, between 2002 and 2010, the overall pattern shown in SSA surveys was one of little or no change in the majority of discriminatory attitudes measured. There were two notable exceptions to this. First, discriminatory attitudes towards lesbian and gay people declined, markedly fewer people thought that sexual relations between two adults were wrong and there was an increase in the proportion who thought that a gay man or lesbian would be suitable as a primary school teacher. This appeared to represent the latest stage of a long-term trend towards more liberal attitudes towards lesbian and gay people.
Second, between 2002 and 2006, in the wake of a number of terrorist attacks associated with people who professed an Islamic faith, there had been an increase in discriminatory attitudes towards Muslims. More people felt that 'Scotland would lose its identity if more Muslims came to live in Scotland', while there was also a small increase in the proportion who said they would be unhappy if a close relative married a Muslim. This increase was maintained but did not grow bigger between 2006 and 2010.
Changes between 2010 and 2015 showed a very different pattern. The predominant trend was one of discriminatory attitudes declining across a wide range of measures and towards a wide range of people with or who share certain protected characteristics. There was a decline in the proportion of people who felt that 'sometimes there is a good reason for people to be prejudiced against certain groups' and an increase in the proportion who would prefer to live in an area 'with lots of different kinds of people', suggesting a greater acceptance of diversity.
In particular, the proportion of people who said they would be unhappy about someone from one of nine groups of people who share certain protected characteristics marrying a close relative declined in all but one of these groups. The largest changes were seen in attitudes towards those groups that had been subject to the most prejudice in 2010, that is someone who cross-dresses, someone who has undergone gender reassignment and lesbian and gay people. Smaller changes were seen in views towards those groups who already only elicited low levels of discriminatory attitudes, for example someone who is black or Asian or a Muslim.
There were two groups for whom the pattern was more negative, Gypsy/Travellers and someone who experiences depression from time to time. Although there was a decline between 2010 and 2015 in the proportion who said they would be unhappy about a Gypsy/Traveller marrying a close relative, the decline was considerably less than that recorded towards other groups. This suggests that attitudes towards this group are changing more slowly than towards other groups, most notably those associated with sexual orientation and gender identity. And, in relation to whether people thought a Gypsy/Traveller was suitable as a primary school teacher, as in 2010 Gypsy/Travellers were still the group that people were most likely to think were unsuitable as primary school teachers.
There was no significant decline in discriminatory attitudes between 2010 and 2015 towards someone who experiences depression from time to time marrying a close relative. However, people's views on the suitability of someone who experiences depression from time to time as a primary school teacher did become more positive, although they were still the group that elicited the third highest level of discrimination.
Since 2002 SSA has shown that those who are more likely to hold discriminatory attitudes are older people, those with no formal education and those with a religious affiliation (in relation to attitudes to gender identity, sexual orientation and Muslims). People who were less comfortable with diversity also hold more discriminatory attitudes as do those who are less likely to know someone from a group who share certain protected characteristics. This suggests that policies and campaigns that particularly target discriminatory attitudes held by people in these groups might be one way to further reduce the levels of discriminatory attitudes in Scotland.
The decline in discriminatory attitudes between 2010 and 2015, however, was seen across all groups in Scottish society. So, although older people are still more likely to hold discriminatory attitudes, levels of discrimination among people aged 65 or over have still become more positive over this five year period. The same is also true for those with no formal educational qualifications and those with a religious affiliation. Overall levels of contact with people from groups who share certain protected characteristics have increased and this partly explains the decline in levels of discrimination. However, as levels of discrimination towards someone with certain protected characteristics have declined both among those who know someone, and among those who do not know someone from that group, this can only account for some of the decline.
Attitudes between 2010 and 2015 have changed the most with regards to lesbian and gay people, people who have undergone gender reassignment and people who cross-dress. The level of media debate and high profile campaigns, for example for same sex marriage, are likely to have been influential in these changes. Certainly, attitudes to all three groups seem to be linked, with those who are less likely to hold discriminatory attitudes towards lesbian and gay people, also being less likely to hold negative attitudes towards transgender people.
However, attitudes have not changed significantly in relation to all measures. Views on the acceptability of an employer asking someone to remove a religious symbol or item of clothing have remained stable between 2010 and 2015. People are still most likely to think it is acceptable for an employer to ask a woman wearing a veil that covers her face to remove it at work and least likely to think that a Christian woman should be asked to remove a crucifix at work.
SSA 2015 also asked people about their views on potential measures that can be used to promote equality, particularly in relation to employment. Overall, more people in 2015 believed that attempts to give equal opportunities to women, black people and Asians and lesbian and gay people have not gone far enough. And more people in 2015 are now in favour of fathers being able to take six months paid leave after the birth of a child.
However, when asked about specific 'positive action' measures people in Scotland remained wary and support varied depending on the specific measure. The majority of people did not support women-only shortlists or automatic interviews for disabled candidates. There is, however, majority support for offering women or black and Asian people additional training where these groups are under-represented in senior positions in an organisation. Those who are the least supportive of these measures are people educated to degree-level and those on high incomes - who, arguably, have been successful under the current system and may see positive action as a threat to that position. Over three-quarters of people thought that a joiner should be free to employ his friends to work with him without the need to advertise the job. However, less than 3 in 5 said a Polish hotel owner should be able to employ people from Poland who had been recommended by a friend without the need to advertise the jobs.
Views on equal pay varied depending on the context. The vast majority of people thought that men and women should be paid the same for the same job. However, just over half of people thought it was wrong if a man without a disability was paid more than a person with a disability who received a grant that paid for someone to support him carry out his job.
SSA 2015 shows that both in the context of personal relationships and employment people's views are becoming more positive towards a wide range of different people who share certain protected characteristics. However, certain groups are still subject to much higher levels of prejudice than others, in particular, transgender people and Gypsy/Travellers. Attitudes towards Gypsy/Travellers and those who experience depression from time to time also seem to either be remaining the same or not moving as quickly in a positive direction as views towards other groups. Specific policy measures which are designed to try to promote equal opportunities are not as yet widely accepted. There is still some way to go to persuade people in Scotland that 'positive action' is an acceptable way to provide equality of opportunity and redress the imbalance for people who share certain protected characteristics.