The campaigns for both sides of the independence debate, Better Together and Yes Scotland, are now in full swing with only a few months remaining until the vote on 18 September.
Last week David Cameron gave his most significant speech yet on the topic of Scottish independence, describing the importance of the vote and the significance it has on Scotland and the UK at large. He asked voters to not give in to their emotional sympathies on one side or another, but to use their heads to vote and understand that the decision they make will have serious repercussions. While it isn’t always black and white on the surface with his statements, it is clear that the repercussions he referred to are addressed to voters more inclined to support independence.
Currently, about a third of eligible voters are still undecided. According to pollsters, the majority of this undecided group are women. Crucially, it is this undecided group that will hold the key to the final outcome of the vote. Both sides therefore want to identify the characteristics of undecided voters in order to specifically appeal to them. University students tend to be very politically opinionated, but with this decision having many consequences for them, many St Andrews students still have numerous unanswered questions regarding independence.
Over the next several issues and online, The Saint and specifically the Features section will work to provide you with a number of interviews with experts and leaders on all sides of the debate. Those interviewed will include St Andrews’ own academics that have closely analysed the issues, student leaders, members of parliament, members of the Scottish parliament, and members of the European parliament, among others. For all of our interviews, we will be asking pointed questions that relate directly to students and the university itself.
This is a particularly relevant time to be launching our coverage since UK government leaders have just begun to give their opinions and analysis as to why Scotland should remain in the union. Last Thursday George Osborne spoke in Edinburgh on the topic of a currency union, which has been a major sticking point for the Yes Scotland campaign as they research Scotland’s different currency options as an independent state.
The Scottish National Party and the Yes Scotland campaign have long argued that the best option would be to have a formal currency union with the UK, which would mean that the Bank of England would continue to set all monetary policy for the pound sterling and therefore Scotland would not have any say in monetary policy.
But Mr Osborne rejected the Scottish government’s claims to a formal currency union, saying: “People need to know it’s not going to happen. If Scotland walks away from the UK, it walks away from the UK pound…because sharing the pound is not in the interests of either the people of Scotland or the rest of the UK.”
[pullquote] If we lost Scotland… we would rip the rug from under our own reputation…the plain fact is we matter more in the world together[/pullquote]
He continued: “The evidence shows it wouldn’t work, it would cost jobs and cost money. It wouldn’t provide economic security for Scotland or for the rest of the UK.”
Mr Osborne went on to give an example of the precedence of a currency union between two separate countries: “Just look at what happened to the last two nations who tried to form a currency union following separation: Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Their union fell apart after only 33 days as capital flowed from one to the other in pursuit of the safe haven.”
Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Treasury’s head civil servant, echoed Mr Osborne’s message: “What worries me about the Scottish government’s putative currency union is that it would take place against the background of a weakening union between the two countries, running counter to the direction of travel in the Eurozone.”
Many SNP ministers have argued that the UK government’s claim that Scotland would not have access to the pound is solely fear-mongering and that it is a last ditch attempt to try to persuade voters that Scotland will collapse if independence is approved. Pro-independence supporters have pointed to studies showing that a currency union would be the most logical option and would not present the Bank of England with any significant challenges since they would still be in full control of setting monetary policy.
Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister of Scotland, who spoke in a debate at St Andrews in January, has said: “Independence will be good for our relationship with the other nations of the UK… Indeed I will go further and venture to argue that an independent Scotland would be good for – and should be embraced by – all those across the UK who want to see progressive change.”
Her comments were made around the time of Mr Cameron’s landmark speech on Scottish independence, given in the Olympic Stadium in east London. In this speech he remarked: “For me, the best thing about the Olympics was the red, the white, and the blue… it was the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sunshine… If we lost Scotland – if the UK changed – we would rip the rug from under our own reputation… the plain fact is we matter more in the world together. There can be no complacency about the result of this referendum.”
Over the past week I have shared these arguments with students at St Andrews and solicited their views on the effect of independence on St Andrews and students in general. Peter Clark, a third-year geology student from Aberdeenshire, responded: “I am strongly against independence and the dissolution of the UK. The SNP claims that tuition fees for students will remain free, but with no stable economic plan for a post-independence Scotland I find it hard to believe this will be the case, not to mention the difficulty that will face English students who will technically become international students with the possibility of increased fees.”
[pullquote]A ‘Yes’ vote means delivering the powers over the economy that we need to create more jobs and opportunities for students and young people here in Scotland[/pullquote]
On the other hand, Angus Millar, a third-year IR student and vice president of the Students for Independence society at the University, said: “A ‘Yes’ vote means delivering the powers over the economy that we need to create more jobs and opportunities for students and young people here in Scotland – rather than a UK government whose priorities nearly always lie with the City of London. And we can reject Westminster’s harmful approach to immigration, allowing international students who want to live and work in Scotland after graduation to stay.”
Lastly, when I asked modern languages student Becky Walker about what questions she would want addressed by decision makers, she said: “As a University with a strong and long established community of international and non-Scottish UK students, it would be naïve to think that an independent Scotland wouldn’t change the dynamic of St Andrews. Will students from other parts of the UK need passports to cross the border? Will the Scottish government have to abandon the £9,000 fees for English students because EU students – as they would technically become, provided Scotland is allowed to stay in the EU – have home fee status? If we leave the UK, what happens to our standing in the UK league tables? What will be the implications for year-abroad students, such as myself, who at present have the help of the British Council and of Erasmus thanks to our UK and EU memberships? These are the kinds of questions that we have to ask ourselves when thinking seriously about independence.”