“A substantial fanatical minority wants independence, but… the unionists are the true patriots in this campaign”

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Professor Colin Kidd is the Wardlaw professor of history at St Andrews
Professor Colin Kidd is the Wardlaw professor of history at St Andrews.
Professor Colin Kidd is the Wardlaw professor of history at St Andrews. Photo: Miles Adams

This past week I sat down with Professor Kidd to discuss the Scottish independence referendum. We went over a multitude of topics covering nearly all facets of the Scottish independence debate. Our discussion began with the effect of the referendum on the University and then broadened in scope to cover the use of history in the campaign and more contemporary issues.

Professor Kidd is clear in his views: “There’s no doubt in my mind it would be very bad for the University of St Andrews. Scottish universities benefit disproportionately from the UK Research Councils.”

[pullquote]“There’s no doubt in my mind independence would be very bad for the University of St Andrews”[/pullquote]

Scotland has many of the UK’s top universities, explains Professor Kidd, meaning they are able to outperform and outbid many English universities for research contracts and grants. He thinks an independent Scottish government would not be able to fill the funding void that independence may leave.

Additionally, there would likely be many consequences for St Andrews’ funding and the tuition fee regime.

“Independence would force a lot of rethinking in the Scottish universities and would not be good for higher education and research in Scotland.” A Yes vote would force a major reshaping of the student demographics at universities in Scotland, the professor says.

He explains his views on how Scotland has been able to maintain free tuition for students and the effect of this policy on Scotland’s budgets.

“Alex Salmond has tried to buy off the universities, but he’s done it by crippling the finances of further education colleges. They’ve effectively had their funding cut, there’s been massive restructuring there…

“It’s the less well-off members of society who are trying to get a toehold on the education ladder.  They’ve seen their choices and chances of getting onto college courses restricted because Alex Salmond has tried to buy off the middle classes who are sending their children to universities… Free university tuition has come at a cost and that cost has been borne by the Scottish working class. The working class has paid for free middle class tuition.

“Alex Salmond has feather-bedded the middle classes at the expense of the working class. Alex Salmond is an undeclared enemy of the Scottish working class.”

Context and the role of history

The union itself is a Scottish idea. John Mair of Haddington in the 1520s looked to union as an alternative to warfare. He feared the possibility of England forcibly taking over Scotland and making it a part of its empire. Professor Kidd makes sure to point out that the opposite of union is an English empire reigning over Scotland. Therefore, he says, union is really about creating an ideal partnership.

There are three unions to consider for historical context: 1603 (the Union of the Crowns), 1707 (the Acts of Union, uniting the Kingdoms of Scotland and England to form Great Britain), and 1800 (the Acts of Union, uniting Great Britain and Ireland).

The Union of 1800, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, has always been the most problematic union in British history.

“There’s been an Irish question for most of modern Britain’s history,” Professor Kidd adds, pointing out that until the 1970s the Scottish union was never called into question.

The Scottish National Party dates back to the 1920s when a variety of nationalist parties were founded. The SNP’s predecessor, the National Party of Scotland, was founded at this time. In 1934, the National Party of Scotland united with the Scottish Party, a right-of-centre nationalist party. Professor Kidd explains this latter party was an imperial reform party; its members wanted Scotland to have more of a role in imperial and UK affairs. Therefore, the merging of these two groupd brought together anti-imperialists and rightwing imperialists.

He observes that the SNP likes to look back to the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

“It’s somewhat odd that Alex Salmond uses the rhetoric of being a good neighbour; that Scotland would be a good neighbour to England after independence, but at the same time he also knows, and his party will deny it, and he will  mighty England. And trying to present almost everything in these black and white terms as cases of Scotland vs England; whereas, of course, things are much more complicated than that.”

He continues: “A distorted version of the past plays a large part in the debates, though Alex Salmond also tries to present the SNP as a modern, forward-looking party, but there’s undoubtedly within its support an element that looks to it as driven by a sense of past grievances.”

The Scottish economy

Professor Kidd began by reflecting on the bank bailouts following the recession of 2008.

“The Scottish banks were very lucky that they failed when we were still within the United Kingdom. I think I may have occasionally used the formulation that was used in 18th century Edinburgh during the age of the Scottish Enlightenment. It was described as the ‘Athens of the North’, and I think my big fear is that in a future banking crisis, a future financial crisis, that an independent Scotland would leave us like a very different Athens of the North.”

In his words, Alex Salmond’s great claim is that “in an independent Scotland there would never be another Margaret Thatcher laying waste to Scottish industry as happened in the 1980s through having a high sterling value that prevented exports.”

[pullquote]“I think Alex Salmond, through miscalculation, might actually turn out to be another Margaret Thatcher”[/pullquote]

He outlined his concerns by saying that a flight of capital and financial institutions to England, if Scotland were to become independent, would likely occur.

“Simply for prudential reasons, they would leave for England.”

He also raised concerns about what a Scottish regulatory system would look like.

“I think Alex Salmond, not because he’s in any way malicious, but through miscalculation, might actually turn out to be another Margaret Thatcher – that she having laid waste to the Scottish industrial sector, he may well accidentally lay waste to the Scottish financial sector. He is, if you like, Margaret Thatcher in disguise.”

Professor Kidd also expressed his concern over the diversity of Scotland’s economy, which has long been focused on selling to those south of the border.

“We must not forget that one of the most successful common markets was the common market that was created in 1707, a common market that has lasted for over three centuries.

“In other words, the whole Scottish economy is entirely geared to exporting to England. It’s totally dependent on English markets, and we may well see a flight of industry and business. I mean if it’s supplying an English market, why isn’t it based in England?”

Currency

Alex Salmond has “flip-flopped totally” on this issue, Professor Kidd states, saying the SNP leader is out of options after switching from the pound, to the euro, back to the pound. Professor Kidd emphasised his worry that the Scottish government would lack flexibility in adjusting policy if Scotland were to be in a sterling zone.

[pullquote]“The SNP administration has focused on indpendence in the long term to the exclusion of immediate social and economic problems within Scotland”[/pullquote]

He expanded on this, saying that nationalists argue Scotland would no longer be hitched to England with independence, but if Scotland remained tied the pound then there would still be grievances, as now, because the rest of the UK would have a different type of economy from Scotland’s. Therefore “independence with a currency union would not eradicate that sense of grievance.”

Professor Kidd expressed his frustration with the SNP government, arguing that instead of examining their own internal policies, they go straight to blaming Westminster:

“Alex Salmond has been inconsistent on this all the way through.”

Similarly, on the matter of currency and pensions: “At the moment, would you rather have a UK pension in pound sterling or a Scottish pension in whatever currency?”

He suggested that retired people would much rather have their pensions in a currency they can trust, backed by the British government, than a Scottish pension where they have no idea what currency it will be in, whether it be euros, pounds, or some Scottish currency.

Scotland and the European Union

Professor Kidd started here by outlining the historical context of the SNP’s ‘independence in Europe’ strategy. This concept was devised by Jim Sillars, a former member of parliament who joined the SNP in the 1980s after establishing the shortlived Scottish Labour Party, following his exit from Labour.

[pullquote]“I’ve long held the view that Alex Salmond doesn’t want independence, that he knows what the costs are. Alex Salmond has been sort of bounced into this referendum and deep down he would prefer ‘devomax’, some kind of semi-autonomous relationship”[/pullquote]

In Professor Kidd’s view, the SNP’s success is underpinned by this ‘independence in Europe’ idea because it provides a ‘safety net’ for the nationalists.

He says there are a multitude of questions that arise regarding the European Union, including the status of EU workers in Scotland and the EU status of Scottish people.

“I don’t think either side really knows what the implications are for European citizenship as well as membership in the European Union.”

He pointed out that countries experiencing their own nationalist movements will make it difficult for Scotland to join the EU.

Does he think that, if the UK were to leave the EU, it would embolden the nationalist cause?

“I think there is a unionist majority in Scotland, but that unionist majority is underpinned by UK membership of the European Union. And if it came down to a choice between membership of a British union outside the European Union or independence within a European Union, that is a very difficult question.

“If that were to happen, I think all bets are off. I can honestly say, if that were the choice, I’m not even sure how I’d vote myself.”

Alex Salmond and voter turnout

“It’s certainly true that in the last few years, Alex Salmond and indeed his deputy Nicola Sturgeon have, between them, sucked all of the oxygen out of the Scottish political media.

Whereas, actually, I’ve been very impressed by Labour’s leader, Johann Lamont. But she struggles to enjoy the kind of media profile that’s necessary in a Scottish Labour leader because of the fixation on Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

[pullquote]“The nationalists do not have a monopoly on patriotism. There are two different ways of expressing patriotism and the unionist one is just as much a form of patriotism as the desire for independence”[/pullquote]

“I guess Nicola Sturgeon is there to woo the women vote. Women are much more sensible than men and I think are much less likely than men to vote for independence.”

“Turnout is my big worry because I think that those who want independence are much more fanatically, ideologically driven than the majority of people who want to stay in the union, but not huge fans of David Cameron.

“In other words, they’re kind of reluctant, reticent, grumbling, unionists – they don’t want independence, but they’re not fanatical about the union in the way that nationalists are fanatical about independence.”

“A vote for the union is not simply a negative vote against independence, it’s also a vote for the pooling of risks and the sharing of resources within a union…

“I think that in Scotland there’s a big division between nationalists who want independence whether Scotland is better off or worse off economically as an independent nation, and unionists who are just as patriotic as the nationalists, but they’d rather that Scotland were better off within the protections offered by a union, [rather] than facing the risks and all of the start-up costs that go with creating a new independent nation.”

He continued: “The nationalists do not have a monopoly on patriotism. There are two different ways of expressing patriotism and the unionist one is just as much a form of patriotism as the desire for independence.

“I’ve long held the view that Alex Salmond doesn’t want independence, that he knows what the costs are. Alex Salmond has been sort of bounced into this referendum and deep down he would prefer ‘devomax’, some kind of semi-autonomous relationship. In an all-but-thename, semi-independent Scotland within a very loose United Kingdom: that’s what he really really wants.”

If Westminster fails to offer anything to Scotland, if the referendum fails, Professor Kidd says “the fear is Scotland could become another Quebec. We’ll be faced with a ‘neverendum’. I think something has to be done.”

36 COMMENTS

  1. I smell a British Nationalist of the vilest ilk – note the phrase “We’ll be faced with a ‘neverendum’. I think something has to be done.”” – the threat here from the author is clear…

  2. A bit worrying that this gentleman teaches history. Does he provide a voluntary service or does he actually get paid for it?

    He doesn’t seem to be an advocate of self determination and democracy. Very patronising towards females. He appears to be very frightened by the world. Maybe he should get out more?

    I hope this helps.

  3. Thats surely a piss take – if not – god help the students at St Andrews – another nutter fixated by the first minister.

  4. Professor Kdd states: “The Scottish National Party dates back to the 1920s when a variety of nationalist parties were founded. The SNP’s predecessor, the National Party of Scotland, was founded at this time. In 1934, the National Party of Scotland united with the Scottish Party, a right-of-centre nationalist party.”

    Glancing at a bit of history of British Socialism (in Wikipedia) I note that Robert Cunninghame-Graham in 1888 became the first-ever socialist member of the UK Parliament. He was joined by friend Keir Hardie, to found The Scottish Labour Party and became its first president. Both believed in ‘Home Rule’ and Graham joked …”[better] the taxes were wasted in Edinburgh instead of London.”

    From the Independent Labour Party, he founded of the National Party of Scotland in 1928; and was the first president of the Scottish National Party in 1934.

  5. I applaud Colin Kidd for spelling out some the consequences of a Scottish separation from the UK so clearly and forcefully. For St Andrews and other leading Scottish universities the consequences of such a move would be truly calamitous.

    FEES: The Scottish government has failed to give a plausible answer to the question about fees from cUK students after independence. This means that – after a possible separation – Scottish universities would, under EU law, almost certainly lose crucial fee income from these students.

    In the extremely unlikely case of the EU granting iScotland a licence to discriminate against the cUK, however, all but the richest students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would shy away from having to pay Scottish fees upfront – rather than through the deferred government loan scheme operating in the cUK. This would leave Scottish universities not only deprived of fee income, but also separated from a pool of strong applicants. Scottish universities would end up parochial and under-funded.

    ADMISSIONS: In the – much more likely – case of iScotland’s being barred from levying fees on cUK students, Scottish universities would face a flood of cUK applicants seeking free university education. This would lead either to Scottish students being pushed out of their own universities (if the number of places were to remain fixed) or, if the Scottish government were to increase student numbers, would cause an over-crowding situation like the one in Austria – another small EU country with a much larger neighbour – which has found no effective way of controlling the influx of German students into its own free universities.

    RESEARCH FUNDING: Separation from the UK will cut off Scotland from the existing, fully-integrated system of taxpayer-funded RCUK research grants. Without access to the large and competitive market of UK research funding, top-performing Scottish universities will lose out on significant income streams as well as on the reputational gains and sharp edge that result from having competed successfully against the strongest researchers and institutions from across the whole country – and not just against those from Scotland.

    More than holding their own against the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College, Scottish universities have, over the past years, won far more UK research income than the proportion of Scotland’s tax share: a fair reflection of their strength and competitiveness which has emerged within a devolved Scotland. Giving up on this success story would be a terrible self-inflicted wound.

    Moreover, during what looks like the lengthy period of limbo and negotiation which will precede the resolution of the question of iScotland’s EU membership, EU research funding would probably not be available either.

    COMPETING AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL: Once Scottish universities are formally separated from the UK university system – which performs with astonishing success at the international level – they will quickly find themselves in a position where they will no longer be able to attract top funders, top researchers and top students, but will lose them to their competitors in the cUK.

    Even in the globalised realm of academia national borders still have powerful dividing effects and in an independent country Scottish universities would operate in a separated, smaller, less competitive context. We’d be playing in the SPL, rather than in the Premier League – with all the consequences that relegation entails.

    PENSIONS: When planning for the impact of Scottish independence on pensions, the Scottish Government took a punt on rumours that the EU would relax its rules on funding levels of pension schemes operating in more than one country. Rather unhelpfully, the EU Commission recently decided, however, that strict funding rules would remain in place. This means that, in the case of a Yes vote, the main pension scheme for academics in pre-1992 institutions (USS) will be faced with an immediate 10 billion pound shortfall, casting doubt on its ability to continue operating in more than one country.

    It has already been suggested to me by a kindly Yes-supporter, that, in iScotland, my USS pension may have to be transferred to a different Scottish scheme with – I would assume – rather different conditions. I cannot see how uncertainties like this will make it easier for Scottish universities to retain and recruit staff.

    The failure of the proponents of Scotland’s separation from the UK to provide any reliable and detailed solutions to problems I have listed above – problems that are the direct result of a policy planned and advocated by the Scottish government – , only deepens the grave concerns I have about the consequences of the country’s breaking away from the rest of the United Kingdom

    • Universities Scotland has responded to two issues raised by the publication today (Tuesday 26 November) of the Scottish Government’s referendum White Paper, Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland.

      Universities Scotland does not have a preferred constitutional option. It is for the people of Scotland to decide Scotland’s constitutional future.

      Response to the White Paper’s arrangements for university research funding

      A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said:
      “We welcome the paper’s recognition of the importance of supporting Scottish research excellence and supporting Scottish universities’ participation in wider collaborative networks. Whatever the result of the constitutional referendum, we look forward to policies being put in place which support the cross-border research ecosystem to which Scotland makes a fundamental contribution.

      “We know that all political parties in Scotland understand the economic and social returns that university research generates for Scotland. This is dependent on universities having access to a level of funding that allows us to compete against the best in the world. We are confident that, whatever the constitutional future of Scotland, all parties will be working to ensure that Scotland is at the forefront of international research excellence.”

      Response to the White Paper’s intention to charge fees to students from the rest of the UK

      A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said:
      “It is important to universities that arrangements are in place which support the cross-border mobility of students in sustainable numbers. We welcome the Scottish Government’s view that arrangements could be developed to manage this, which builds on legal advice we received earlier this year. We will need to engage with the Scottish Government to ensure robust arrangements are put in place.”

      • Dear Gillie,

        Not sure if this cut-and-paste job is meant as a reply to my concerns, but if so, then it does not deliver. This is exactly the kind of bland, non-specific and unhelpful language that suggests to me that there are no real answers. If you read it carefully, then you will see that it is the universities’ plea for reassurance from the authors of the White Paper, a plea issued in the face of serious danger.

        You may note that none of the specific issues I listed are resolved in the (rather dated) text you have cited.

        (i) “look forward to policies being put in place which support the cross-border research ecosystem” – (a) This would be no more than an attempt to mitigate the damage done by the erection of a border where none existed before. At best a sticking plaster. (b) But the Scottish government has not proposed any realistic policies that would do even this. It simply hopes that the cUK will continue to allow a (then) foreign state to benefit from the cUK’s research “ecosystem”. (c) The UK govt has already stated that the fully-integrated system of research funding will NOT continue to include a Scotland that has decided to leave the UK. Why should it? England, Wales and NI have plenty of strong universities that will happily accept the additional funding currently going to Scottish researchers.

        (ii) “that arrangements are in place which support the cross-border mobility of students in sustainable numbers” – I agree entirely, but the Scottish government has so far failed to give any indication as to what these arrangements might be. The convener of Universities Scotland recently told a Holyrood Cttee that the sector urgently requires information on how the Scottish government proposes to fix the impending fees and applications disaster, but there has been no answer. It appears that real and serious problems are simply kicked into the long grass until we will all have a very rude awakening after the referendum.

        The university sector is a key part of Scotland’s success and a clear example of how a devolved Scotland has flourished within a federalising UK and within the EU. The proposal to separate Scotland from the UK, as it stands now, jeopardises this success story.

        Is breaking such a Fabergé egg really a price worth paying for the production of an unpalatable omelette?

        • The Royal Society of Edinburgh (which has been described as ‘UKIP in lab coats’, and certainly no friend of the Scottish government) released a report on the issue of fees, it concluded, “The working group is ‘unsure’ as to what the legal basis for Scottish universities charging rUK students’ fees might be in the event of Scotland becoming independent.”

          ‘Unsure’ in this instance, when translated, means the Scottish government’s legal advice on fees is probably correct.

          ……… but your translation, ” after a possible separation – Scottish universities would, under EU law, almost certainly lose crucial fee income from these students” is simply an extrapolation into nonsense.

          Your attitude reflects the NO campaign which has been described by the Independent newspaper as, “In the entire global history of the political campaign, has any been more misconceived, wretchedly executed and potentially self-defeating than the one designed to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom?”

          Even the scum fae Dundee, common parlance in St Andrews student circles I believe, understand this.

          Please stop lying to us, and please stop being offensive with your lies.

          • Dear Gillie,

            Leaving aside the invective, your argument appears to the that the RSE described the legal basis of the White Paper’s assertion as “unsure” (which means they cannot see what the basis for this plan could be) and you translate this into “all will be well”. Really? That’s it?

            Please give me ONE example where the EU has given permission for one country to discriminate against the students from one single other EU member in the manner described in the White Paper. Please explain why the Scottish Government has so far failed to charge non-UK EU students tuition fees.

            You may wish to comment on this passage from the Guardian (14 Jan. 2014): “The European commission has cast serious doubt on the legality of Alex Salmond’s plans to continue charging university tuition fees for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students in an independent Scotland. A spokesman for Androulla Vassiliou, the education commissioner, told the Guardian European treaties prohibited any member state from discriminating against other EU citizens on “conditions of access to education, including tuition fees”.

            For a full discussion of the very serious legal problems of the SNP’s plan, please consult this text from a leading EU law specialist: http://www.scottishconstitutionalfutures.org/OpinionandAnalysis/ViewBlogPost/tabid/1767/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2759/Niamh-Nic-Shuibhne-University-Fees-and-rUK-Students–the-EU-Legal-Framework.aspx

            Finally, as I said, even IF iScotland were allowed to charge cUK students fees, the problem would not be solved as they would have to pay upfront fees. A reasoned reply to this would be welcome.

            I enjoy a robust, informed debate, so please accept this as an invitation to engage with my points – but please do so in a civil manner.

          • http://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/uploads/briefings/Note%20for%20Universities%20Scotland%288025053_v4%29%20DOC%288033180_3%29.pdf

            “Conclusion:

            As a matter of EU law it would appear that it may be possible to rely upon a residency requirement for access to preferential fees and grants regimes as long as that requirement is applied to all students regardless of their nationality and can be objectively justified.

            It will be for the government seeking to introduce such a regime to establish, on evidence, that there is a legitimate aim which can be objectively justified which would allow them to derogate from the overriding principles of freedom of movement and non discrimination. ”

            You should not believe your own propaganda through the filter of the unionist media, there lies self delusion.

  6. What utter drivel. Anyone who can be bothered to read into the different arguments on either side of this debate will be able to spot the huge holes in Prof Kidd’s long list of baseless assertions.

    However my favourite quote was:

    ‘I’ve been very impressed by Labour’s leader, Johann Lamont.’

    Prof Kidd must live in a different reality from me, because I’m always struck by JoLa’s lack of authority over her own party, lack of understanding of her own policies, complete, absence of any political vision and inability to form coherent sentences. She is an embarrassment to Scottish politics and an affront to democracy.

  7. http://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/uploads/briefings/Note%20for%20Universities%20Scotland%288025053_v4%29%20DOC%288033180_3%29.pdf

    “Conclusion:

    As a matter of EU law it would appear that it may be possible to rely upon a residency requirement for access to preferential fees and grants regimes as long as that requirement is applied to all students regardless of their nationality and can be objectively justified.

    It will be for the government seeking to introduce such a regime to establish, on evidence, that there is a legitimate aim which can be objectively justified which would allow them to derogate from the overriding principles of freedom of movement and non discrimination. ”

    You should not believe your own propaganda through the filter of the unionist media, there lies self delusion.

    • This quote comes from a Andersen Strathern Paper that has since been contradicted by much more credible authorities on EU law – like the one referred to earlier today.

      Moreover, Universities Scotland, who commissioned it, do not think that it addresses the problems in an satisfactory manner and have urged the Scottish government to address the issue.

      But more importantly, even this legal opinion does NOT SUPPORT the proposal in the White Paper as it concludes that such a proposal “may be possible” (NB the extremely cautious phrasing) IF and only if

      (1) an objective justification were made (this has so far only been achieved for individual courses in Belgium and Austria where the viability of national health services appeared at risk by courses being over-run by foreign students and never in order to manage an entire university system) AND

      (2) if it were applied to ALL of the EU (and not, as suggested in the White Paper, to the cUK only).

      So not much to cheer about here.

      And as I said before, even IF this blatant act of discrimination were allowed, how do you suggest Scotland’s universities should deal with the issue of these cUK students being driven away by their fees now being charged upfront.

      It’s not self delusion, it’s called being fully informed and properly engaging with the issue.

      • “blatant act of discrimination”

        It would be if fees were based solely on nationality, but it won’t.

        The legal advice is such that the Scottish government can build an argument on fees based on residence, access and balance that reflects the current situation. So if Scotland votes for independence then the current system will remain in place and within the boundaries of EU law.

        This may be contestable under EU law, but it will not be on the basis of national discrimination.

        You should not believe in your own propaganda, lessons from the currency union farce are clearly not being learnt.

        • If a residence-based argument is used to charge fees ONLY to cUK students and not to those from any other EU country, then this is clearly discriminatory on the basis of nationality.

          And this is exactly what is proposed in the White Paper (Pt 5, answers to questions 237 and 240). Have a look, and explain to me how a rule that says “everyone in the EU can study for free – but not those from the cUK” can possibly be called non-discriminatory.

          In 2005 Austria was successfully sued by the EU Commission for introducing a system that subjected non-Austrian students to conditions of access to Austrian universities that were different from those applied to Austrians. The ECJ struck the Austrian rules down, and what we know from Brussels about their views on the proposal offered in the White Paper, suggests that it would probably do the same here – even, I guess, if it were applied to every EU country. The basic EU principle is pretty straightforward: in terms of access (and fees are considered part of access) everyone has to be treated exactly as the home population.

          But may I ask you – yet again – to suggest how you would deal with the consequences of charging cUK students upfront. Do you think this will have an effect on their decisions where to apply?

  8. Prof Kidd is an intelligent and well informed historian and, as usual, makes some telling points about the ongoing referendum debate (I’ll charitably assume his patronising aside about Nicola Sturgeon in particular and women in general is a misquotation). But the most notable of his comments relates to the dilemma faced by many in Scotland who fear that remaining in the union will lead to their exit from Europe. But what Prof Kidd (and the Better Together campaign for which he is effectively speaking) seem unwilling to address is the underlying issue of democratic control. Many in Britain and NI have felt increasingly disenfranchised by the rightward lurch of the UK political parties and, if the SNP has stolen old Labour’s clothes, astutely positioned themselves as the only centre left party in the UK, and engineered a referendum which is marshalling a wide-range of social democratic opinion behind it, the UK parties have only their own myopic selves to blame. Sadly for the Better Together campaign, it is fronted by politicians of precisely this stripe and is visibly failing to convince the electorate that they have anything to offer beyond the status quo. In contrast, the Yes campaign – indeed the referendum itself – offers choices and empowerment that are absent from UK politics. Small wonder so many English political activists and commentators are casting envious eyes north of the border; and small wonder that increasing number of Scots are beginning to think that they’d be better apart

    • It is hard to disagree with Roger Mason’s criticism of the quality of the political and tactical leadership of the BT campaign – and of the pro-Union parties more generally. It seems a natural enough consequence that this dissatisfaction should make the alternative – any alternative – appear attractive, but the solution proposed by the Yes campaign strikes me as illusionary.

      I agree there is a serious risk of the UK voting itself out of the EU, which would be utterly deplorable. But this risk significantly increases once the Scottish electorate is removed from the UK. Separation is thus likely to increase the risk of iScotland’s large neighbour and principal partner quitting the EU (as well as being governed by the Conservatives).

      I find it hard to see how iScotland would insulate itself against the damaging consequences of such a development – especially while its own EU status may well remain unresolved for years to come.

      My preference is for a more hopeful and ambitious outlook, whereby Scotland, rather than retreating from its wider UK context, makes a positive contribution to keeping the UK within the EU and helping the whole country to be governed better. This is the case even now: without Scotland’s MPs in the House of Commons the Conservatives would enjoy a majority and the limited restraint the LibDems have been able to effect on the government would be removed.

      I am not a fan of George Galloway, but I see some force in his argument that a small independent Scotland placed next to a large, low-tax, neo-liberal, light-touch regulation UK will find it hard to make a Nordic-style, Social-Democratic model work economically. Moreover, the few concrete economic policy proposals we have from the SNP (corporation tax, air passenger duty) suggest that this is not the intended direction of travel of the most likely government of an independent Scotland anyway.

      I agree that Better Together have been appalling at the “vision thing”, but I am much more perturbed by the multitude of utterly serious practical issues that the current independence proposal has failed to address convincingly. We have all grown bored of the discussions about the currency, EU membership, pensions or university funding, but that should not detract from the fact that none of these issues has been satisfactorily addressed.

      To be honest, I am also very uneasy about the atmosphere generated by the application of nationalism as a state-building and constitutional precept. As someone not born and bred in Scotland, the frequent and proud invocation of specifically Scottish values and of the genius of the Scottish people as the guiding principles according to which the new state would be built makes me feel alien. It confronts me with a with-us or against-us choice that I do not find entirely unthreatening.

  9. The glaring point being overlooked by Müller is that Scottish Government have been forced into their current stance on fees for rUK students due to Westminster policy.

    Instead of attacking the Scottish Government and their vision for a fairer, more equal society, isn’t the more obvious and correct solution to this issue to criticise and put pressure on the UK government to also abolish fees, so that the decision to pursue higher education is not determined by cost for anyone?

    • Dear Ashley Husband Powton,

      Whether or not the UK government was right or wrong to introduce fees is an issue worth debating. As is the question of whether Scotland’s “free” tuition policy has been a success in terms of widening access to Scottish universities.

      But these are altogether different issues from whether – under the given set of circumstances – the Scottish government has failed or succeeded in formulating a policy for independence that does not cause tremendous damage to Scotland’s universities.

      It is the duty of a responsible government to plan carefully, anticipate and resolve problems and deal with realities, with the world as it is and not with how we wish it to be. The realities are – sadly, perhaps – that the UK government will not abolish universities fees any time soon. What is the Yes campaign’s answer?

      And, as I wrote in my first post, the threat to Scotland’s universities does not just consist of the fees issue; research grants, international competitiveness and pensions are also serious issues currently not addressed satisfactorily by the proponents of Scotland’s separation from the UK.

  10. Dear Frank Lorenz Müller,

    this response will not satisfy you, since neither I, nor the Scottish Government, nor anyone in fact, can give the certainty you demand. Neither, however, can anyone give you certainty on how the UK will look 2, 5, or 10 years from now.

    In the case of Scotland, there is only one cast iron certainty with independence – the government of Scotland will be elected by the people of Scotland, and represent the needs, values and aspirations of the majority of people of Scotland: democracy.

    That one certainty supersedes all else.

    As to the uncertainties, I do not share your defeatism, fatalism, cynicism, negativity, resignation and lack of hope. On the contrary, I do not doubt that Scotland is more than capable of functioning as an independent country, alongside the hundreds of others in the world.

    • Dear Ashley Husband Powton,

      I am not asking for certainty for the next ten years. All I am saying is this: The SNP have made a detailed proposal for which they are responsible; there are problems that will arise as a consequence of this proposal and that will affect my life very substantially. It is their duty as an elected, accountable government to explain to me and others how these problems could be resolved.

      If someone were to suggest to you that they will tear a hole in your roof to let more sunshine in, I think you would feel entitled to ask how the rain would be kept out and I think you should get an answer. Would you be convinced by an assurance that there would not be any bad weather ever again – an assurance laced with the accusation that your question marked you out as a hopeless, negative, defeatist cynic?

      In posing this question I also invite you to consider whether it would not be better if you presented your case in a less offensive fashion.

      And as for that “one certainty that supersedes all else”; this is the kind of language I find frightening. I would hate to live in a country or a society in which there is no room for doubt and where one political tenet trumps everything else.

  11. Democracy is the prerequisite for doubt and debate and alternative views and for not having one political tenet trumping everything else.

    Democracy has to be the one central tenet.

    Democracy is what Scotland is lacking. The debate that we are having now is democracy in action.

    The referendum is democracy.

    It is up to the people of Scotland whether we keep this democratic voice and power, or whether we give it away again.

    • I fully endorse the centrality of democracy, but it seems to me that your argument pivots on a different notion, which is revealed by your claim that Scotland is lacking democracy now.

      Fundamental to your argument is the belief that the nation and the polity must be one and the same, since – according to your interpretation – it is not democracy if the constitutional frame of reference encompasses more than your definition of the Scottish nation. For me, the criterion is the secure right to a fair and equal political participation in the wider state.

      That the “political and national unit should be congruent”, to borrow Ernest Gellner’s famous definition, is the central tenet, not of democracy, but of nationalism. And it is nationalism, when invoked as the “one certainty that supersedes all else”, that worries me greatly.

      Living, as we do, within a concentric system of local, Scottish, UK and European democracy, Scots do not, in my opinion, suffer from an unacceptable democratic deficit.

      There is a good case for reviewing and adjusting the competencies of the various levels and move powers up or down according to where they come with the most effective level of accountability, generate the greatest benefit and do the least damage. But this, for me, is a question of devolution and subsidiarity, not one that fundamentally requires national separation.

      The call for the latter turns on the belief that it is only within the nation – an artificial, much abused legitimising concept with a deeply troubling historical track record, when it comes to peace abroad or liberty at home – that political power can be exercised legitimately. That is a belief I want to be able to doubt.

  12. Oh dear, half baked ‘Marxism’, doom-mongering and some cack-handed pro-Labour propaganda. Most telling though is the Professor’s almost pathological obsession with Alex Salmond. The prof’s grasp of history is questionable, his understanding of economics risible and his analysis of politics infantile but when it comes to Salmond he impresses with his skills in mind reading. He knows the real Salmond and his real policies, better even than Salmond himself. Just a pity there’s no evidence at all to back up anything he says. Nice line in scare stories though, this one could give George Robertson a run for his money.

  13. How can a grown man describe every voter in favour of independence as “fanatical”? Quite apart from the fact that it’s an insult, rather than simply an observation, it’s also complete idiocy.

  14. The man sounds like a fanatic. Why is he obsessed with the SNP and Salmond? And by most people’s reckoning, Johann Lamont is one of the worst politicians we’ve produced.

    All in all, it’s just more of the ‘can’t’ and the ‘too wee, too stupid’ negativity.

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