Responses to ‘A substantial fanatical minority wants independence, but…the unionists are the true patriots in this campaign’ by Professor Kidd (Issue 182, 10 April 2014)

Frank Lorenz Muller and Ashley Husband Powton provide opposing responses to Colin Kidd’s opinion on Scottish independence, both lauding and criticizing it

Sir,

I applaud Colin Kidd for spelling out so clearly and forcefully some of the consequences Scotland’s separation from the UK would have. I believe that for St Andrews and other leading Scottish universities the impact of such a move would be very damaging indeed.

FEES

The Scottish government has failed to give a plausible answer to the question of what would happen after independence with regard to the tuition fees of about £9,000 p.a. currently charged to non-Scottish UK students. Under EU law, Scottish universities would, after a separation, almost certainly lose the crucial fee income from these students. This would leave Scottish universities with a dramatic funding shortfall.

Even in the extremely unlikely event of the EU agreeing to the proposal in the Scottish White Paper and granting Scotland a licence to discriminate against UK students by charging them tuition fees (while continuing to offer free tuition to students from every other EU country), the situation would still remain grave for Scotland’s univer- sities. Surely, all but the very richest students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would shy away from having to pay Scottish fees upfront – rather than UK fees through the system of deferred government loans in place in the UK. This would leave Scottish universities not only deprived of fee income, but also separated from a large pool of strong applicants (especially those from less well-off backgrounds). Scottish universities would end up more parochial, less sought-after and under-funded.

ADMISSIONS

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

RESEARCH FUNDING

The UK government has already announced that a separation from the UK would exclude Scotland from the existing, fully-integrated system of taxpayer-funded Research Councils UK 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 to compete successfully against the strongest researchers and institutions from across the whole UK – and not just against competition from within Scotland.

More than holding their own against the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College, Scottish universities have, over the past years, won almost 50 per cent more UK research income than the proportion of Scotland’s population share: a fair reflection of the strength and competitiveness of Scottish universities which have 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 Scotland’s EU membership, EU research funding may well not be available either.

COMPETING AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL

Once Scottish universities are for- mally separated from the UK university system – a system which performs very impressively 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, and will lose them to their competitors in the UK.

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, to maintain these strict funding rules. This means that, in the case of a Yes vote, the main pension scheme for academics in pre-1992 institutions (USS) would be faced with an immediate requirement to make good a £10 billion funding 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. Uncertainties like this will make it much harder for Scottish universities to retain and recruit staff.

The failure of the proponents of Scotland’s separation from the UK to provide reliable and detailed solutions to the serious university-related problems I have listed above – problems that are the direct result of a policy planned and advocated by the Scottish government – only serve to deepen the grave concerns I have about the wider consequences of the country’s possible decision to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Sincerely,

Frank Lorenz Müller, School of History, University of St Andrews

_____________________________________________________________________________

Sir,

Eleanor Roosevelt stated that ‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people’.

Throughout this myopic article, Professor Colin Kidd, respected expert in his field, vocal public supporter of the No-campaign and purveyor of his own grandiose important relation- ships with both current and ex Labour party (prime) ministers, reduces the independence campaign to an argument more fitting of a cheap tabloid newspaper. Peppered with unsubstantiated claims and increasingly wild assertions, and shamelessly one-sided in its analysis, I, for one, am bitterly disappointed, and affronted.

Academic colleagues and students, regardless of political allegiance, must have found Mr Kidd’s contribution to the debate dismaying, lacking in the research, evidence, insight, thoroughness and balance demanded of an esteemed professor writing for a student publication. The piece misses not only the very qualities that secure professional accolades and academic respect, but also the very process and thinking that is instilled in us as his students, the proper and accepted presentation for credible argument.

Mr Kidd’s portrayal of a ‘fanatical minority’ in favour of independence pitted against a steadfast unionist majority is misleading and inaccurate. It willfully ignores clear and consistent polling evidence to date.

According to the results of a poll published by Panelbase on the day that Mr Kidd’s article appeared, 40 per cent intend to vote ‘yes’ in September’s referendum, 45 per cent ‘no’ (a minority), with the remaining 15 per cent ‘undecided’. When undecideds are excluded, the figures are 47 per cent ‘yes’ and 53 per cent ‘no’, meaning that a swing of just over three per cent is required for a yes majority. This poll is only the latest example of a general trend of support shifting towards ‘yes’.

Even more dishonest than his portrayal of the level of support for independence, however, is Mr Kidd’s portrayal of the campaign for independence and its supporters. Mr Kidd’s repeated assertions that un- ionists are the ‘true patriots in this campaign’ and that ‘nationalists do not have a monopoly on patriotism’ implied that the campaign is a battle over identity.

As anyone who has any knowl- edge of the campaign for Scottish independence is aware, such dialogue is conspicuously absent from the yes-campaign, where debate and aspirations revolve around achieving greater social justice and equality, and democratic representation and accountability.

The urgency of the case for independence was clearly illustrated in the same edition of The Saint. The food bank Storehouse in St Andrews has seen the number of parcels it provides increase by a third since August of last year. In 2010, the Trussell Trust – one of the main providers of food banks – gave emergency food parcels to just over 4,000 people throughout Scotland. By last year, that number had increased to more than 56,000.

Food banks for the working poor in 2014, which are struggling to provide help to all those in need, is just one example of the consequences of the hostile welfare cuts being im- posed by Westminster. 90 per cent of cuts are still to come.

Regardless of which party is elected in 2015, Labour and Tories alike are thirled to a destructive neo-liberal agenda and committed to a merciless programme of greater austerity which punishes the poor and most vulnerable in society.

For supporters of independence, a yes-vote is about rejecting the indefensible and reprehensible status quo and opting for a different future.

It is a rejection of the hostile and increasingly right-wing policies of Westminster governments.

It is about creating a more equal and just society, reversing the trend of an ever increasing gap between the richest and the poorest.

It is demanding an alternative to rule by a rich and privileged elite.

It is about ensuring that Scotland is never again subject to the damaging policies of governments it did not vote for.

It is about planning our own positive and constructive role on the European and international stages, free from xenophobia and military aggression.

The real independence debate can be summed up by asking the following: ‘What sort of society do we want in Scotland, and who is more likely to deliver it, Westminster or an independent Holyrood?’.

There are 37 national or daily newspapers in Scotland. Just five of them are owned in Scotland. None of the 37 support independence. Contrary to the politically expedient ‘one man and his dream’, Alex Salmond, again, summed up at the weekend: “This referendum is not about this party, or this first minister, or even the wider Yes campaign. It’s a vote for a government in Scotland that the people of Scotland choose, pursuing policies the people of Scotland support”.

Scotland is buzzing with the true yes campaign, a growing collection of diverse and enthusiastic individuals, groups, organisations and think-tanks, who are united in their excitement, hope and positive anticipation of a better future for Scotland. The non-party political, grass roots Yes Scotland campaign encompasses a huge range of diverse groups, such as Business for Scotland, Generation Yes, Third Sector Yes, and Youth and Students for Yes.

There is the Women for Independence group, the Labour for Independence group, the England for Yes group, and the National Collective for Artists and Creatives. There is a wealth of rich and insightful online blogging and journalism from the likes of Bella Caledonia, Wings over Scotland, and Newsnet Scotland.

Those committed to academia and education need to demonstrate a more fundamental conviction for the edification of the people: democracy. In the spirit of that democracy, let’s have debate, let’s have honesty, let’s have truth.

Lastly, it is very unbecoming to the author to resort to misogyny. Consummate politician and accomplished stateswoman, Deputy First Minster Nicola Sturgeon is not a token anything.

Sincerely,

Ashley Husband Powton

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