In September Scotland goes to the polls in the most important vote in generations. It will mark the end of a long and bitter campaign, waged by the Yes and the No campaigns across the airwaves but replayed in workplaces, pubs and offices across Scotland. The rhetoric has exceeded anything we are used to during elections for the Scottish and Westminster parliaments. But the voter apathy which so often plagues those elections is nowhere to be seen. I have yet to meet anyone who has told me that they won’t be bothering to vote as I so often do during local or national elections.
A lack of interest is said to be most prevalent among the young but I have to say that my 30 years experience of political life has always suggested something different: that young people are engaged in politics. With the consequences of independence likely to be felt profoundly in the areas of education and jobs it is unsurprising that younger voters are focusing on the issues at the heart of the referendum campaign (and incidentally proving all those who said 16- to 18-year-olds couldn’t be trusted with the vote wrong).
I will vote ‘No’ in the referendum. I write that as a proud Scot, as someone who was born, raised and educated in Scotland. It is wrong to label supporters of the Union as ‘anti-Scottish’. The referendum campaign shouldn’t be a contest of who loves their country more. It does a disservice to the importance of the argument for it to be characterised as such.
We each have our own reasons for deciding how we will vote. The future of the University of St Andrews, like that of the other Scottish universities, in an independent Scotland is typical of the larger debate taking place: have the benefits of separation been shown to outweigh the advantages of the current, shared system?
In my view legitimate questions about tuition fees and access to research council funding in an independent Scotland remain unanswered. It has been shown that Scottish universities do well out of the current system, with more research council grant funding going to Scotland in proportion to its population than the rest of the UK. Being part of a large funding organisation, one which allows the UK’s universities to share facilities and networks, can facilitate big, complex projects that may not be viable under a smaller funding set-up.
It is a system which benefits Scotland and the UK as a whole but this alone is not enough to guarantee its continuation should Scotland separate; it would have to be negotiated, along with so much else. It is worth noting that during these negotiations the Scottish government would be asking for this situation to be allowed to continue while simultaneously arguing against allowing students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland the right to study in Scotland for free. This position is currently legal because of the way EU member states are allowed to discriminate within their borders. Were Scotland to become a separate EU member state this position would logically become legally unsustainable.
Stating that an independent Scotland would have a ‘unique’ case to make to be allowed to continue this policy is typical – and typically vague – of the Yes campaign. Arguing that Scots would be squeezed out of places at Scottish universities does not justify an independent Scotland being allowed to continue this policy. It is an argument against independence.
St Andrews continues to consolidate its reputation for excellence here and abroad, something of which we should be justifiably proud. The University’s future lies in establishing more partnerships and attracting more of the brightest and best from within Scotland and without. This is not a time to build borders, it is a time to look beyond them.