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By Mark Winskel, University of Edinburgh

Both the Scottish and UK governments have published new contributions on the energy and independence debate in recent days. Energy Secretary Ed Davey visited Edinburgh to coincide with the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s 100-page “command paper” on the subject.

It was far more substantial than the Scottish government’s 11-page publication, which was released two days before. For the Scottish media this was a headline news item, with both Davey and Fergus Ewing, his Scottish counterpart, giving interviews.

The UK government paper presents detailed arguments and cost estimates for the historic, current and future benefits to Scotland of being part of an integrated GB energy market. It emphasises that Scottish businesses and consumers enjoy substantial net benefits from being part of the UK.

For example, the costs of renewable energy subsidies are supported by all UK electricity bill payers, and almost 30% of the total goes to wind farms and other generators based in Scotland. This is despite the fact that Scotland accounts for only around 10% of UK electricity sales.

Grid and other benefits

DECC’s report points to similar benefits from supporting Scottish electricity grid investment (key for getting renewable energy to users further south) and subsidising remote and off-grid Scottish consumers.

As costs grow in the next few years to meet policy targets for decarbonisation and renewables expansion, DECC estimates that Scottish consumers would pay between £38 and £189 extra per head each year on their energy bills by 2020 if the country was independent.

Other costs and risks of independence are also set out: the threat posed to major Scottish-based but UK-funded public investments such as the Green Investment Bank, which is based in Edinburgh; and the proposed Peterhead carbon capture and storage demonstration plant – one of two in the UK earmarked for support through the UK Government’s £1 billion support fund (the other is in Yorkshire).

DECC also notes a broader problem of attracting capital for a newly independent small country – touching on the bigger issue of currency stability in the absence of a shared pound.

The Scottish response

The Scottish government’s statement is not a systematic and detailed counter to the UK government’s arguments. Instead it describes how Whitehall has mismanaged energy policy.

The Scottish government has to tread a delicate line here, arguing the failure of current arrangements while also noting successes such as the growth of the Scottish renewables sector and continued oil and gas revenues.

The main points of criticism are underinvestment and the looming capacity crunch in UK electricity supply; Conservative/Lib Dem divisions on energy policy leading to loss of investor confidence; and the UK’s costly commitment to new nuclear power stations.

The Scottish government claims its own approach to energy policy has been “clear and consistent”. In contrast to DECC’s arguments about the subsidy benefits to Scotland from GB market integration, this report talks about how the UK relies on Scotland to “keep the lights on” by acting as its energy reserve.

Compare and contrast

Read alongside each other, the Scottish paper is more selective and overtly political. There has been a lack of detail in the Scottish government’s statements on energy matters and independence to date, though that may change with the imminent report from the Scottish Regulatory Commission on Energy Regulation.

As with the currency question, the Scottish government essentially argues for continuity after independence: continued operation of an integrated GB market reflecting common interests in energy supply security and the growth of low carbon generation.

The UK government argues that independence would lead to losing the benefits of integration, with post-independence governments and regulators on each side of the border required by statute to serve self-interest rather than common interests.

Admittedly, this ignores wider factors. DECC argues the case for the benefits of scale and integration but at the same time the UK faces a possible withdrawal from the EU after the 2015 general election.

For the Scottish government, the largely unanswered question is: “What is Plan B if the UK government refuses to recognise the common interests in an energy partnership after independence?”

As with independence matters more generally, undecided voters are left frustrated by the absence in much of the public debate of a balanced and thorough analysis of the claims and counter claims.

This piece is one of two that The Conversation has published on this subject today. The other can be read here.

The Conversation

Mark Winskel receives funding from the EPSRC, NERC and ESRC. Mark’s views are his own and not those of the UK Energy Research Centre.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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By Peter Strachan, Robert Gordon University

The twin goals of UK energy policy should be to ensure security of supply for households and businesses, and to ensure the electricity we use is affordable. Unfortunately, the current UK coalition government is failing on both fronts.

In particular its flagship initiative, Electricity Market Reform, has led to a hiatus in energy investment. This is very bad news for England. In effect we are now seeing a critical reduction in our spare energy capacity, which will eventually see electricity costs spiral out of control. For London this might well mean the lights going out post-2015.

Self-sufficient Scotland

As Scotland exports approximately one quarter of the electricity it generates, this is not such a problem for Edinburgh. In recent years this has been bolstered by a truly world class renewables industry. Scotland now produces nearly the equivalent of 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources such as onshore wind and hydro. This will increase to around 70% by 2017.

I strongly reject Ed Davey’s announcement that if Scotland votes yes then Scottish electricity bills would increase. This can be seen in a comprehensive report that I published with colleagues from a number of universities from across the United Kingdom in December.

To summarise some very complex arguments, as a result of the coalition government’s decision to fund new nuclear build, we found that a Scottish government committed to no nuclear build would actually see reductions in consumer electricity bills compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. Scottish consumers would not be subsidising the hundreds of billions of pounds of investment that new English nuclear power stations require.

DECC’s big budget drain

Already the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spends £2.5 billion or 42% of its annual budget on existing nuclear legacy. Of that, £1.6bn is spent on managing the waste at Sellafield alone.

In its misguided aspirations the coalition government is now writing a blank cheque for new nuclear. At a time of unprecedented financial austerity this is somewhat astonishing.

Under no scenario can I see electricity bills in an independent Scotland increasing along the lines outlined by Ed Davey. Even without an integrated electricity market, Scotland would be able to sell its electricity to England at commercial rates. England currently has to resource much of its electricity requirement from Scotland; there is no alternative source for the majority of it. It is pure fantasy on the part of Ed Davey to suggest otherwise.

Scotland offers an excellent model of how to deliver a world-class energy policy. The coalition government could learn much from us.

This piece is one of two that The Conversation has published on this subject today. The other can be be read here.

The Conversation

Peter Strachan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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There’s been a lot of discussion over the future of North Sea Oil during the debate on independence. The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps clearly take partisan views on this valuable asset. It’s not often therefore that we see an impartial assessment – but one has just been published in a magazine called TCE (The Chemical Engineer).

Scotland would get 85% of North Sea Oil production, though there is a disputed area

Scotland would get 85% of North Sea Oil production, though there is a disputed area

The author, Sanjoy Sen, is not only a chemical engineer working as a consultant development engineer but he has also recently completed an LLM in oil and gas law at the University of Aberdeen.

As he points out, “A ‘yes’ in the referendum would see Scotland gain independence for the first time in 300 years. In the midst of a polarised debate on the need to split or stay united, there are questions to be answered on what effects independence would have on the North Sea oil & gas industry. If Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond is correct, Scotland could finalise its separation from the UK as early as 2016, leaving those in and around the sector with what would feel like two short years to address a number of critical issues.”

These ‘critical issues’ include working out exactly where the boundary between the Scottish and English sections of the North Sea would lie. They also include serious decisions for a future Scottish Government about how to deal with what he describes as ‘external pressures’. As he explains, “’It’s Scotland’s oil’ proved an emotive SNP slogan in the 1970s but in today’s debate, the Scottish government recognises the importance of stability. To encourage continued investment, the government plans to engage with industry and to honour existing licences post-independence.”

He goes on: “There is likely to be influence from outside of the UK as recent buyouts of Nexen and Talisman have given China control of 10% of UKCS production. Aside from profits disappearing abroad, concerns have been expressed over external political pressures. Investment decisions by multi-nationals, comparing projects across their global portfolios, could also have a major impact on Scotland. Government intervention helped to resolve the recent Ineos Grangemouth dispute and prevent the site from closing down. Post-independence, such infrastructure would become even more critical; industrial action, unplanned outages or severe weather could cause major disruption to the national economy.”

This is an important article and deserves wider attention. To read it in full, follow the link above.

By Arthur Midwinter, University of Edinburgh; John Curtice, Strathclyde University; Karly Kehoe, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Neil Blain, University of Stirling

Former UK defence secretary and NATO secretary general George Robertson dipped a toe into the independence debate this week and found the water scalding hot.

In return for his comments to hawkish think tank the Brookings Institution in Washington DC that a Scottish yes vote would be “cataclysmic” and music to the ears of terrorist “forces of darkness” around the world, Better Together insiders were soon briefing journalists that this was “hardly helpful” at a time of distinct unease for the campaign.

The yes side remains behind but has been making steady progress, most recently culminating in a poll last weekend that suggested there are now just five percentage points between support for yes and no.

This helps explain why some unionists have been calling for a more positive campaign. While campaign leader Alistair Darling is still insisting that the yes side are the negative ones, we asked our panel whether they thought Better Together should change tack.


John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde/ScotCen Social Research

My impression is that the no side feels somewhat chastened that its big idea, which was to tell us we could not have the pound, has not worked. And neither has repeating statements of varying degrees of ambiguity about whether or not the financial institutions would relocate in the event of independence.

In the wake of this failure, you are certainly seeing signs of disquiet from parts of the campaign. Liberal Democrats such as Nick Clegg, Charles Kennedy and Willie Rennie have all publicly called for the no campaign to adopt a more positive tone. So we perhaps should not be surprised that George Robertson’s comments were greeted with disquiet by some in the no camp.

My view is that being negative is not necessarily a problem. The problem in the past few weeks has been ineffective campaigning.

Negative campaigning is more likely to work if you are telling people something new. Even before the currency intervention, it was already clear from the polling evidence that quite a lot of people in Scotland had twigged that they might not be able to use the pound as part of a monetary union. Whether or not they thought they would be able to use the pound also seemed not to be making much difference to whether people were likely to vote yes or no, as we saw from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013.

The source of the information has to have credibility. Telling people that, “a banker told me this” is not necessarily the most effective way of persuading people given their views about bankers as a class. And though businesses are not as unpopular as bankers, they are not that popular.

Equally, it is unwise to use a Tory to sell a big message in Scotland. They are not the most trusted source north of the border. Meanwhile, your claims should not be challenged by “experts” and quite a few senior economists have disputed George Osborne’s arguments against sharing the pound.

The problem the no campaign now faces is that nearly half of the Scottish population has decided it does not believe the claim that Scotland would not be able to use the pound, And having lost credibility on that issue its other claims about the risks of independence may now be regarded more sceptically too.

To be effective, negative campaigning also needs to be followed by the offer of a solution. But while the no side points to Scotland’s potential future economic difficulties, they are less effective at advising how the union will supply a solution.

Trouble is, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not necessarily agree about how the UK economy as a whole should be run, let alone Scotland within it. Thus the no side finds it difficult to offer a united alternative vision that could be a vital ingredient of a more positive campaign.

Karly Kehoe, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University

With George Robertson, we need to keep in mind that he was speaking in Washington, DC. He was talking to quite a reactionary audience and not to people in Britain. There were specific things that this audience would have wanted to hear from a former secretary general of NATO.

But his speech indicated that he’s already questioning Scotland’s loyalty to the West. If you suggest that an entire nation can’t be trusted, of course that’s going to alienate people. It’s very condescending. That obviously isn’t good for the Better Together campaign and that’s probably why they wanted to distance themselves from it.

I can’t agree with Darling’s argument at the weekend that those in favour of a yes vote are inherently negative in their opinions. To assume that the majority buy in to what the pro-independence cybernats are saying is irresponsible. People are paying more attention to the mainstream media.

Arthur Midwinter, Visiting Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh

George Robertson’s record on these issues is not great. He said before devolution that it would kill off the SNP. I just about choked at the time.

I have never regarded what Better Together is saying as negative. That’s a phrase that comes from Salmond. If people regard it as negative to be criticising your opponents, there’s something wrong with the quality of the debate in Scotland. You have to make arguments about the weaknesses of the economy and the fiscal position after independence. That’s not being negative, but robust and critical.

The notion that Better Together can come up with a plan for after the referendum is silly because it depends on who becomes the government. There will be some form of extra devolution, but not necessarily one that is agreed by all the major parties.

Better Together has probably been affected by the turn in the polls, though it’s difficult to tell what the causes are. Appointing Jim Gallagher as strategy director has made a difference to the tone. His advice would be that they should certainly be making a more positive case for the union, which has been a good change.

You have to separate the response to the SNP and the case for the union. The case for the union is now being made more positively, but I don’t regard what they are saying about independence as negative.

Neil Blain, Director of Media Research Institute, University of Stirling

George Robertson’s comments almost worked as an unconscious satire of the no campaign. It reminded me of websites such as bbcscotlandshire.co.uk that have been inventing scares about alien invasions and such like for months. Talking about forces-of-darkness type stuff at the Brookings Institution is not going to go down well.

It raises the real practical question of how the no campaign goes about being positive. If I was in the no campaign, I would find it incumbent on me to point out real difficulties with voting yes. The currency question, banks and GDP issues are real weaknesses for the yes campaign, so of course you would plug away at them.

I was astonished at Henry McLeish advocating going for more hearts and minds. People are going to decide on the basis of the economy. I would predict scare stories right through to the referendum.

But when it comes to making the no message more positive, there is a problem that many people think the status quo is not satisfactory. The SNP as a Holyrood party is enjoying sizeable majority support for a reason. When people were asked about devo max without knowing entirely what it was, 70% plus said they would go for it.

But the no campaign has to span everyone from traditional liberal home rulers who had no difficulty with devolution to hardline Michael Forsyth types. It makes it very difficult for them to put a message together about what Scotland will get in return for voting no.

To read the previous instalments from our panel, click on the links below:

3 April 2014: What does Alex Salmond owe the Poll Tax?

28 March 2014: All about the money as currency debate rages on

22 March 2014: Can we trust the polls?

Panel announcement

The Conversation

As an adviser to Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Arthur was appointed chair of the party’s Welfare Commission, which is putting together a series of proposals for the future of Scotland.

John Curtice, Karly Kehoe, and Neil Blain do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

More than 90% of small business owners in Scotland say they’ve already decided how they are going to vote in the September referendum on Scottish independence. But 48% of them believe independence would be a negative step for their business. 37% thought that independence would represent a positive step for their company, while 10% felt it would have no material impact.

Ingenious Britain Surveyed 1,000 firms

Ingenious Britain
Surveyed 1,000 firms

The finding comes from new research by Ingenious Britain, a small business network which surveyed 1000 small business owners in Scotland. When asked if they believed they had enough information from the different campaigns to make an informed choice about the potential impact of Scottish independence on their business, only 63% said yes compared with 37% who said no.

When it came to investing in the future, 41% felt that independence would make it less likely that they would be able to invest in growing their business. By contrast, 36% felt it made it more likely and 13% thought it would make no difference. They identifies two worrying factors. The first is a fear that business tax increases in an independent Scotland would have a direct impact on their ability to invest. The second concerns exporting to the rest of the UK which could be a big problem if Scotland had to adopt a new currency.

“One thing all businesses need, especially small businesses, is certainty,” said Marlon Wolff, CEO of Ingenious Britain. “There is an indication coming through our research that a sizeable proportion of small business owners have sufficient reservations about the potential negative issues and challenges independence might present to be seriously questioning whether it is really in the interests of their company. However, it is going to be a close decision with many reacting against what they perceive to be status quo in which their needs as Scottish businesses are not reflected or taken into account.”

Tessa Hartmann  Uncertainty having a negative impact

Tessa Hartmann
Uncertainty having a negative impact

However, it’s clear that business owners are as divided as the rest of the population. Dr Tessa Hartmann, who runs Glasgow-based Hartmann Media, a PR and communications company working in the fashion sector, is firm in her belief that independence would be a bad step. “Given the long life cycle in orders that exist within the fashion industry, the uncertainty is already having a negative impact on the sector and affecting our exports, especially as customers don’t know what currency we would be using in an independent Scotland.

“But more than that, Scotland’s long heritage in fashion and textiles has thrived as part of Brand Britain. Remove Scotland from the UK and many of our young designers and fashion companies would become ineligible for much of the crucial support and profile they currently receive from the likes of London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council.”

However, Rory Haigh, who owns Optimum Underfloor Heating in Inverness, takes the contrary view and believes independence would be a boost for his business. “Scotland has completely different social and economic needs to the south of England,” he explained. “We are a small country with a good track record of entrepreneurship that is not currently being harnessed or promoted. The government of an independent Scotland would be far more proactive in doing that and in addressing the everyday needs and concerns of Scottish businesses.”

By Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen; Chris Whatley, University of Dundee; Jo Armstrong, Glasgow University, and Trevor Salmon, University of Aberdeen

Scots would continue to use the pound as part of a formal currency union after independence, the SNP long argued. But Chancellor George Osborne ruled that out in a recent speech, following advice from Treasury civil servant Sir Nicholas Macpherson.

Since then the issue of currency has been the dominant one in the independence referendum campaign. And the SNP’s case appeared to be strengthened when Beijing-based professor Leslie Young criticised Macpherson’s claims and appeared to suggest that currency union was still viable.

Members of the Scotland Decides ’14 panel assess the state of the currency debate.


Professor Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen

The nationalists have lost the currency union argument because if the Treasury and the Bank of England don’t want to share the currency, they don’t have to. This is not to say that Scotland could not continue to use the pound. It could do so without the consent of the UK but this would mean accepting monetary policy made in London for the rest of the UK.

It’s really not convincing for the Scottish Government to say rUK [the remaining UK] will give way and share the currency with us anyway. It leaves them in a weak position in negotiation if they do not have a fall-back. It also rules out the euro, which nobody wants to talk about at the moment but many want to leave open for the future.

I have not seen many outside the SNP on the yes side who think that currency union should be the only option on the table. There are several other options. One is to opt for a Scottish currency, at least in the longer term.

Another is to leave things open and say it will be up to a future Scottish Parliament to decide, although this would be risky politically.

The SNP argument that it’s as much Scotland’s currency and so London has no right to say it belongs to them is more of a moral argument than a legal one. If you withdraw from the state, you withdraw from the currency.

But the SNP’s threat to not take on any UK debt is certainly a counter argument. The UK has already said it will pay the debt and then ask the Scottish Government to pay their share. That allows the Scottish Government to say they will withhold their share, which puts them in a stronger position. That might give an independent Scotland a battering in the financial markets, but it might only be temporary.

Having said that, it’s a kind of nuclear weapon, because it might invite all kinds of retaliation and open up conflicts in other fields.

Professor Jo Armstrong, University of Glasgow

The Leslie Young report was useful because it neatly highlights there is more than one set of answers to the questions posed (and then answered) by Sir Nicholas MacPherson on the key issues surrounding Scotland joining a formal currency union with the rest of the UK.

The key questions were: “Are the fiscal rules that will be required and the monetary conditions sufficiently tight that an independent Scotland would be able and willing to comply?”

Young implies that the fiscal and monetary rules would need to be sufficiently tight, or the markets would react negatively against Scotland. Hence a key reason against Scotland formally sharing the pound, he suggests, falls away.

But using his article as evidence in support of sharing the pound runs counter to the idea that Scotland wants to have its own fiscal levers, particularly around corporation tax. Would the Bank of England be comfortable with that? Macpherson’s letter suggests not.

Macpherson also highlighted that Scotland’s banking system is too large for Scotland to be able to provide the necessary guarantees, and would need to rely on the rest of the UK to provide such insurance, which would not be desirable to London.

Young suggests this banking issue will not be a problem as he envisages the banking sector in Scotland will become smaller, if the lender of last resort is the Bank of England.

Given limited fiscal manoeuvring and a largely local banking sector, it is somewhat unexpected that the Scottish Government is arguing this paper cuts a swathe across the Treasury’s arguments for not having a currency union. Is the Scottish Government really arguing for a formal sterling currency union based on Young’s propositions?

Professor Chris Whatley, University of Dundee

Some say the English are bullying the Scots with issues like the currency union, but I don’t think so. George Osborne and the Treasury are entitled to say: “If you guys and girls go for independence and separatism, that’s fine, but these will be the consequences.” This is just stating the facts of economic life.

It was exactly the same in 1707. The Scots knew that there would be consequences from not being in the union. One of the reasons why some Scots went into the union in the first place was because there was a threat that England would close the border to Scottish goods or increase the taxes on them, which was actually already happening.

There has always been that animosity, that contest and even dislike between England and Scotland. Now that rivalry is re-emerging. There were sensible people around in 1707 who recognised that it wasn’t good for either country.


Will the pound save the union?
The Laird of Oldham, CC BY-SA

That was one of the reasons why some people supported the union in the first place, including the then monarch, Queen Anne. We seem to be slipping back and reopening some of those festering wounds. It’s not a good place to go to.

So if there’s caution about independence this shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as being “feart”. It’s about being prudent, asking whether an entire breach of the union is worth the dislocation this will cause.

Professor Trevor Salmon, University of Aberdeen

If we go for currency union, an English Government that agreed to it would lose the next election. People in England have high antagonism towards the Scots and Alex Salmond. It’s not going to be equal partners negotiating.

I don’t think Alex Salmond quite understands what the English think of him and Scotland. Too much debate is intelligent and rational, but at the end of the day it’s perception that counts.

The perception is that the Scots are getting about £1200 more per head than England. The more concessions that the prime minister makes, the more support he will lose among the voters.

The Conversation

Michael Keating receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Chris Whatley, Jo Armstrong, and Trevor Salmon do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Flags of Norway and Iceland

I wondered why the Norwegian and the Icelandic flags were flying in the strong wind blowing off the Solway Firth. Was this an invasion from Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity”? Afterall, we are living at a time of changing national boundaries across Europe. But it turned out that the flags were to welcome feathered visitors to the nature reserve run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Caerlaverock.

Whooper Swans in Galloway

Whooper Swans in Galloway

Thousands of barnacle geese fly down to spend the winter here from Svalbard in the far north of Norway. Hundreds of whooper swans make the journey from Iceland every year. We watched as the swans were fed. The warden cast grain on the water from his wheelbarrow and the yellow-beaked birds jostled for position. At first they all faced one way, then the other and all were cautious about going near the nets where they were caught for tagging the day before.

It all symbolised for me the state of Scotland’s local government. An unlikely comparison I know. But if we take the warden to be the SNP government casting its £10.5bn funding to the 32 local councils and the whooper swans to be those councils each fighting for their “fair share”, then this is the situation we are in.

Councils Split

Councils Split

The issue has come to a head over the last few weeks, with the threat of seven local councils – and perhaps more – leaving the umbrella organisation COSLA, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and forming a rival grouping. The dissidents so far are: Glasgow, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Aberdeen and Dumfries and Galloway.

Of course, party politics is involved. Labour control half of the 32 councils, and therefore have control of the central decision-making committee in COSLA, the committee of council leaders. The other parties don’t care for this arrangement and are suggesting that decisions should be taken at the quarterly convention where they stand more chance of success.

This squabbling among the whooper swans wouldn’t matter too much, were it not taking place against an overall cut in the size of the spending wheelbarrow. There’s also a divisive public debate over the role of local government and the services they run. Not to mention a referendum over which national flag should be flying over the council chambers.

Glasgow Council - left CoSLA

Glasgow Council – left CoSLA

For the last six years councils have all faced the same way and accepted a council tax freeze imposed on them by the SNP government. Now the straight-jacket is beginning to hurt and many councils are asking themselves why they should stick with a system that limits even the 20 per cent of revenue that councils raise for themselves through local taxes. Like the whooper swans, many are now cautious of being caught in the centralising net of national government.

Those who want to keep COSLA together argue that local government will lose out if it has no collective voice. Each council will be bullied by central government in turn. Besides, negotiating pay and conditions for the 250,000 people who work for local councils is easier done through one organisation. So too is common research, or “best practice” guidance or co-operative arrangements between councils on issues such as special schools, road repairs, re-cycling etc.

This story of local government flux is often overlooked and yet it is of immediate importance to our everyday lives…..how schools are being run, rubbish collected, old folk looked after, parks and libraries kept open, businesses given the services they need to operate. It is also about democracy, giving people control over their own lives in a world which is being increasingly centralised.

Yes, birds of a feather flock together but they also have individual lives. The interplay between these two aspects of both birds and humans is still a bit of a mystery. But it is a process which has served us well and should not be given up.

Soon the whooper swans will take off for the breeding grounds in Iceland and the barnacle geese will fly back to Norway. A collective decision will be taken, but no single bird – or even a central committee of birds – will dictate when they will fly and where.

By Murray Pittock, Glasgow University

Scotland has always been a distinct nation but since the Act of Union in 1707, it has been a nation within a larger political entity: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The election of a minority Scottish National Party (SNP) government led by Alex Salmond in 2007 brought about the first indications that situation could change. When the SNP won a convincing majority enabling it to rule in its own right last year, the possibility that Scotland could again become a sovereign nation became a distinct possibility.

Now the Westminster coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is striking back. Prime Minister David Cameron seeks to define a referendum on independence on London’s terms while Salmond says he has a mandate to run a referendum from Scotland.

The Conversation spoke with Glasgow University expert Professor Murray Pittock to find out exactly what the state of play is between two close neighbours with a long and storied history.

Can you explain what the situation is at both Westminster and in the Scottish Government as regards a referendum on Scottish independence?

The Westminster government have looked to seize the initiative over the Scottish referendum by saying that they will use their powers to either amend the current Scotland bill going through the Lords or more likely the 1998 Scotland Act to enable a binding referendum on the future of Scotland to be held.

Other referenda would simply be consultative. There was an indication at the weekend that they would wish this referendum to be held within 18 months, to wrongfoot the Scottish National Party government in Holyrood who have said all along, publicly, that they would hold it at some point in 2014.

There has been some sign of a retreat from that position by the UK government – particularly by the Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition – where the Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is looking to resolve the issue with the Scottish Government.

Earlier this week First Minister Alex Salmond made very clear that the mandate the Scottish Government had was to hold a referendum in 2014 and that is when he would intend to hold a referendum.

There are a number of bones of contention. One of these is whether there should be a third question about repatriating maximum powers short of foreign affairs, the so-called “devo max” question.

Another is whether the UK Electoral Commission or a Scottish Referendum Commission should run the referendum.

The third is whether 16 or 17 year olds should be entitled to vote rather than over-18s. The First Minister has indicated that 16 and 17 year olds would vote if the Scottish Government organised the referendum.

Can you explain the “devo max” option in some more detail?

There is some variety as to the powers that are suggested under devo max but the fundamental issue is that devo max represents what tends to be the polling evidence in Scotland, which is that there is a majority in favour of repatriating all powers to Scotland – including taxation and macro-economic policy to a significant degree – but excluding defence and foreign policy.

Although it must be said that the Scottish administrations since 1999 and particularly since 2007 have operated a nascent foreign policy.

In terms of the question of a mandate, the Tories only have one Westminster seat in Scotland and the Lib Dems have 12 where the SNP won a very considerable victory in the Scottish Parliament elections. Who will be able to claim better that they have the mandate to decide what referendum should be held and when?


Lib Dem Nick Clegg and Tory Prime Minister David Cameron can work together in government, but can they defend the Union together? AAP/Stefan Wermuth

The question of mandate has two aspects: a constitutional aspect and a political aspect. From a constitutional point of view the UK government has a case. From a political point of view, its case is very weak because clearly the Scottish Government was elected to govern Scotland and to conduct a referendum on independence and it has won an overall majority under a proportional system which is very difficult to do.

The Scottish Government clearly does have a political mandate and most of the counter-arguments have been constitutional and legal arguments. The question is how far those will give way to the politics. The early response in Scotland, not from politicians, from the public – judging by radio phone-ins and the like – is very hostile to the idea of Tory interference in Scotland, even from people who do not support the SNP.

I think if this was a Labour London government, it would be easier for them to put Alex Salmond in a corner. I think that the risk here is that in pandering to the anti-Scottish or anti-Salmond views of some of his backbench MPs and thinking he doesn’t have very much to lose in Scotland because he only has one seat, David Cameron has re-animated Scottish views that the Conservative party is a toxic brand and (also re-animated) antipathy to it and all that its stands for.

Which is perhaps predictable but is not going to make his task in gaining ascendancy over the Scottish Government any easier.

Is there a situation where a divided Unionist camp advantages the Scottish Nationalists?

I think that is a significant advantage. The other thing is the 2014 date. People have said it is chosen because of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, or it has been chosen because of the Commonwealth Games but one reason it has been chosen is, I suspect, because the next UK general election is in 2015 and holding it within six to nine months of that General Election, especially in the autumn when the campaigning season has started after the party conferences, will make it very difficult for the Labour party and the Conservatives to appear on the same platform.

The indications are that they won’t be able to do that.

Would the SNP, even though they will campaign for independence, be happy with devo max?

I think the best guess there is that the Cabinet and the parliamentary party in Holyrood have got a variety of views on this and some of them will be keen to have devo max and some of them would be uncertain about having a third question. I think that circle may be squared by having a consultation process on the form a referendum should take with the electorate in Scotland.

My suspicion is the First Minister probably is interested in a third question and we will see whether people feed back to say they would like one.

Murray Pittock is involved in developing the Studying Scotland agenda in schools and elsewhere with the Scottish Government as part of his work in leading the Scottish Studies Global research theme for the University of Glasgow.

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The currency hasn’t played the part the ‘No’ campaign expected

One could almost feel sorry for the ‘No’ campaign. They must have thought they’d played a blinder – part deliberate, part accidental.

Chancellor George Osborne Hardly played a blinder

Chancellor George Osborne
Hardly played a blinder

The deliberate part came with the now infamous speech the Chancellor, George Osborne, gave in Edinburgh a few days ago. He stated quite categorically that, if Scotland walked away from the Union, it would also walk away from the Pound. That was supposed to scare the ‘don’t knows’ (and even perhaps some of those leaning towards a ‘yes’ vote). It was supposed to have been the ‘game changer’ in the campaign – the one that would stop the independence movement in its tracks.

The first polls since the speech suggest it’s achieved exactly the opposite. A poll for the Daily Mail might be assumed to lean towards the Unionist cause. Instead, the first indications are that the strategy has singularly failed. It show a five point fall in support for the ‘No’ campaign – and a seven point rise in the ‘yes’ vote. The poll surveyed 1,005 people. The headline result shows that 38 percent supported the aim of ending the 307-year union with England, up from 32 percent in January; 47 percent would vote to stay in the UK, down from 52 percent.

In a statement, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said it was “clear that there has been a severe backlash to George Osborne’s bluster and threats on the pound. Far more people,” she argued, “(are) more likely to vote Yes on the back of the Westminster establishment’s attempted bullying rather than No.”

However, the poll did suggest that the SNP would do well to come up with a ‘Plan B’ over the currency issue. A poll in ‘What Scotland Thinks@ suggests that 65% of Scots think they should!

The ‘accident’ part of the blinder can when European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso suggested that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU. Now, a former senior European official has claimed that his words were “unwise and inaccurate”. Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Europe committee, Jim Currie, a former European Commission director general, insisted that Scotland had a right to membership.

He explained that the issue would concern “a territory which is currently part of a full member state. We’re dealing with people who would have certain rights as EU citizens and which would be very difficult to take away, and nobody would want to. The bottom line for me is that it would be dealt with in a pragmatic way, and it would involve inevitable negotiations which would be rather tough.”

It is worth bearing in mind that a survey for the BBC of the issues that most concern voters show that neither the currency nor Europe were high in the list of priorities. Keeping the Pound came 5th while the EU came 9th. It’s also worth remembering that one poll doesn’t make a trend!

By Jan Eichhorn, University of Edinburgh

A lot of things have been said about those who have not made their minds up yet with regards to whether they will vote yes or no in this year’s referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future.

Sometimes those undecided have simply been declared as those who probably do not care at all and are therefore not likely to think about it – and who will probably not turn out. On other occasions links to a range of socio-demographic variables have been made suggesting that people from particular backgrounds, in particular those from lower socio-economic backgrounds would be less likely to make up their minds.

But very few of these propositions have been backed up with actual data.

The vote: should Scotland be an independent country? SSA

Using the representative 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSA) we have been able to properly investigate what characterises those undecided. We found a lot of the commonly expressed assumptions paraphrased above could not be supported.

But about one-third of voters say that they have not made their mind up yet. Therefore it is worth engaging with them in more depth to properly understand their reasons for indecision.

Age, sex and class

First of all, demographic differences do not show major differences in the likelihood of being undecided. There is no consistent age pattern – most age groups are similar to one another. While those older than 65 appear to be a little more decided and those 25-34 a little less, none of these differences are actually robust when you account for other influencing factors at the same time, such as sex and social class.

Proportion of voters undecided by age group. SSA

Similarly there are no major differences in decidedness between different social classes. Most are very similar, with those that may be considered about in the middle (small employers and own accounts workers) being slightly less likely to be undecided and those in lower supervisor and technical occupations being slightly more likely. But there is no clear pattern. The percentage of those undecided is effectively the same for those in the highest and those in the lowest social class (at 35 and 36% respectively).

Again, when controlling for other demographic factors we do not find the relationship between social class and decidedness to be robust.

Proportion of voters undecided by social class. SSA

There is a small relationship between indecision and general political interest. A small group of politically very disinterested people (about 10% of respondents overall) has a substantially greater likelihood not to have made up their mind. These “usual suspects” indeed exist, but they are only a small proportion of all those undecided. Whether people have more or less interest in politics only relates marginally to their likelihood of having made their minds up.

Political interest only matters at the extremes. So many of the undecided voters are not disengaged, but can be identified by other factors.

Proportion of voters undecided by interest in politics. SSA

There are some differences between men and women, with women being somewhat more likely not to have decided yet. This is a robust finding when taking into account other demographic variables, but the difference can be explained when we look at whether people think they know enough about the issue.

Those who feel that they do not have enough knowledge about independence yet are more likely to be undecided – and women are more likely to report the desire to know more about independence before deciding.

Proportion of voters undecided by political party identification. SSA

Those who feel independence would affect their lives more significantly are more likely to have made up their mind. So campaigns for both sides have been given a clear message – and a strategic approach would need to clarify this indecision on how independence would affect potential voters on each side.

Playing politics

Indecision is greatest among those who do not identify with any political party (at 48% indecision). This makes some sense, as those voters are probably not receptive to the clear pointers that the various political parties are providing. But there are also differences between parties in the campaigns. While nearly all those who identify as Conservative and Liberal Democrat have made up their mind (89% and 85% respectively) Labour identifiers, show similar levels of indecision to SNP identifiers (36% and 35% respectively), despite Labour being part of the Better Together campaign.

There is one more important group of undecided voters the campaigns should pay close attention to: those who do not have their favourite option on the ballot paper.

Decidedness by constitutional preference SSA

Approximately one third of respondents in the survey stated their most preferred option for Scotland would be further devolution (commonly referred to as “Devo Max”). Among the Devo Max-inclined voters, 45% were still undecided (compared to only 30% among those who preferred other constitutional solutions). Neither campaign has been able to capture a large number of potential voters who would have preferred further devolution to either independence or continuing full union.

If they want to reach these people, they will have to convince them that their proposals come closest to the preferred option of these voters.

The Yes campaign would presumably have to convince them that a No is unlikely to result in substantial further devolution, while the Better Together campaign would have to persuade those people of the opposite, that a No would be followed by effective further devolution.

If either campaign is able to do this we may see a relevant number of those undecided still shift correspondingly.


Hard Evidence is a series of articles in which academics use research evidence to tackle the trickiest public policy questions. The graphics were reproduced with the kind permission of ScotCen Social Research.

Jan Eichhorn receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013 with ScotCen Social Research.

This research has been funded by the ESRC. Members of the research team are Jan Eichhorn and Lindsay Paterson (both University of Edinburgh) and John Curtice, Rachel Ormston and Susan Reid (ScotCen Social Research).

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