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By G. Moore

Firstly, and to remove any doubt, I voted yes for Scotland to become an independent country. It is now fair to say that the resultant no vote has left a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach that has both damaged the pride I feel for my own nation and sadly left me to view the democratic decisions of many of my fellow citizens with a degree of complete and utter incredulity. I have no wish to start dishing out facts and figures or to make a futile case for Scottish independence. Others have tried that and failed.

On the 18th of September, the day of the momentous vote, I walked though the streets of Edinburgh and past the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, witnessing a palpable electricity and excitement amidst an overwhelmingly visible and dominant congregation of Yes campaigners. It was impossible not be caught up in the now apparent delusion that the Scottish Parliament was to become a true fulcrum by which the Scottish people would be served.

I and many others are no doubt asking themselves: “How could I have been so wrong?”. The mention of the “Silent Majority” in the media, the polls and the No campaign in the weeks and months preceding the voting was, I had assumed, reminiscent of Nixon’s speech in 1969 when he, in disregard of huge and visible protests, used the “great silent majority” as an ethereal justification for the ongoing involvement in the Vietnam war. The continual polling during these weeks did indeed hint that this group existed, yet my own belief system bourne from 30+ years on Scottish soil and my continual absorption of almost all movements and commentary on social media (Yes was almost twice as active) meant I could not reconcile this as being a realistic and existent voting demographic.

I was forced to admit I had it all wrong. In the early morning of the 19th, the votes had been counted and the “No” contingent had triumphed with 55% of the vote. The state of disappointment is likely to take some time to abate, but amid soul searching and reflection, I had an overwhelming desire to comprehend the dynamics that unfolded. The “Silent Majority” did indeed exist, though I can’t help but feel the term doesn’t quite attribute itself to what has manifested. I offer the more suitable “Affluent Preservationists”, a demographic made up of those who were either in the later stages of their careers or the right side of retirement who, after a working career within the UK, had been fortunate enough to assess their lot and the real or perceived risk to their lot, and determine that they were already independent within the UK. Such independence is less related to governance and more related to their comfortable financial situation, positioned within their own frame of reference in relation to Scottish Independence, the uncertainty of which even the most ardent Yes voter was acutely aware, was, for them, just not worth it. So they were “silent” while the SNP and the Yes campaign expressed their progressive and socially sympathetic ideologies. They were “silent” while knowing that those of us – the 45% – would not sit passively by to watch the future of our country be sacrificed to ensure the risk-averse preservation of wealth at the expense of the most vulnerable of Scottish society. I genuinely hope such a silence offers the opportunity to experience the gnaws and pangs of guilt I feel each time I walk past a trolley of donations destined for the local foodbank.

John Kenneth Galbraith’s excellent 1958 book The Affluent Society comes to mind. There are few books that can genuinely realign one’s outlook on society, but his commentary of the “family picnic” in the automatic car travelling along littered roads in a state of disrepair surrounded by advertising billboards on the way to camp in public park that was a polluted danger to public health did just that. The analogy forced me to adjust my belief system to appreciate wealth as something that exists out-with one’s own bank balance. This was something which, on the face of it, is apparently alien to the “Affluent Preservationists”. Adam Smith, the much lauded Scottish father of economics, once stated that “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable”, yet the draconian austerity policies of Westmister were somehow able to sell the “Better Together” mantra. Was “Better Together” really more of a “You’re OK, ain’t ya” mantra? I suspect in many was it was.

What cost the Scottish people their independence was no doubt that the current predicament of the “Affluent Preservationists”, being that, on the surface at least, for them things were not too bad. The psychologists Tversky and Kahneman would have seen this outcome more so than even the most experienced economists. Their theory of “Loss Aversion” empirically demonstrates that the emotional trauma of losses is twice as powerful as any gains one might come to expect. The “Better Together” camp leveraged this perception of loss to great efficacy. The currency issue was one such fertile battle ground: as well as your wealth and pensions being at risk, the warning was further compounded to the extent whereby the very unit by which you use to measure that wealth would be unavailable in a post independence landscape. Such anxieties were, in hindsight, almost entirely impossible for the Yes campaign to sufficiently assuage.

One wonders whether the current economic and political conditions for independence were not dire enough and did not affect enough of the populous to produce sufficient motivation for people to see the “risk” as one which was worth taking. Salmond himself stated just over one month ago that Scotland would be the “Wealthiest Country in the World to declare Independence”. Paradoxically, he probably laid bare his biggest obstacle when making the case for a Yes vote. In all of the four areas where a Yes vote was dominant, one telling statistic was their significantly higher unemployment rates compared to that of the Scottish average. Even those within the Yes areas fortunate to be in a position of employment would still have much more exposure to the effects of poverty and unemployment, leaving many of those with an acute sense that things needed to change.

It is somewhat of a quandary as to whether the socially progressive achievements of devolution despite increasing austerity and funding pressure worked in some way to the advantage of the “Better Together” campaign. In no way am I advocating this or even condoning it, but had the 65 and over age group (70-75% No) had direct exposure to the bedroom tax, prescriptions charged at £8+ per line item, no free bus travel or free care, would they have voted the same way? I suspect we might have seen a different outcome. I also appreciate that while those policies were achieved through devolution, the Yes campaign could have done far more to convince that specific demographic that those services would have been far more likely to be retained in an independent Scottish nation. This tack would have gone contrary to predominately optimistic campaigning that “Team Yes” had undertaken but it might have gone some way to counter the strong pull of “loss aversion” that the Better Together camp had entrenched within that specific psyche. In many respects, the “Better Together” camp never really established a point of reference against which one could measure the concept of Better. Was “Better” meaning that we would be better than being separate, or was it looking forward and stating that things are going to be better together? For Scotland within the UK, the current austerity programme has been extended out to 2018 and will in all likelihood offer little possibility for things becoming better any time soon. Despite promises (“The Vow”) of additional powers, it is difficult to see how the devolved Scottish government can maintain what is currently being delivered let alone improve on it. Time will tell.

Looking to the future, I have no idea whether the chance of independence will ever be available to the people of Scotland again. Salmond himself presented it as a “once in a generation” opportunity. A generation by all accounts is typically seen to be that of a thirty year timespan. Thirty years from today, I will be skirting the age demographic that silently and comprehensively rejected Scottish independence. I can’t help but contemplate the famous quote by David Lloyd George: “A young man who isn’t a socialist hasn’t got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn’t got a head.” If the opportunity once again presents itself, it will be interesting to see if the ideologies of those youthful Yes voters hold strong. In the meantime, I can’t help but feel that the real loss for the Yes voters was not that of the referendum, but something much more abstract; something that, although we cant hold it or measure it, is now gone.

Life without TV
Adventures on a Shoestring
I just had to write about this story because it made me smile.

Kerry Meek and the children conquer their own 'Matterhorn'

Kerry Meek and the children conquer their own ‘Matterhorn’

It’s appearing on the inside pages of some the regular suspects. It began with the Daily Mail, was pursued by the Telegraph and who knows what will happen in the future: publishing deals and a slot on CBBC perhaps. It’s a young family from Nottingham, Kerry and Tim Meek, both teachers, and their two girls Amy and Ella, who chose to switch off the TV a bit more often and do something less boring instead. Their website dotrythisathome.com is inspiring, full of ideas from ‘going on a reptile ramble’ to cooking with snow. Yes, adventures don’t have to be epics.

Over the past two decades, outdoor activities have seen bad press. Landmark events, like the Lyme Bay kayaking accident of 1993 or the death of Alison Hargreaves on K2 in 1995, helped form public perception that our waters and mountains were dangerous. Regulatory boards sprung into existence. The qualifications industry burgeoned. Proposed school trips were canned. Lord Baden-Powell tussled in his Kenyan grave while our culture forgot that pursuits in the wild are healthy, engaging and developmental.

What makes the tale of the Meeks special is not that they are having adventures, because lots of other normal families do this kind of thing, but that mainstream media is behind them. Furthermore, they’ve been commended for sticking to a shoestring – the Nottingham four enjoyed their first 100 adventures for less than £500. Half a grand won’t buy harnesses, Canadian dugouts and waterproof jackets all round. During times of austerity, the family has tooled up on resourcefulness.

The family lists hundreds of ways of having an adventure

The family lists hundreds of ways of having an adventure

When I asked Kerry Meek where the inspiration originated to do the first 100 trips, it was from other adventurers, including Dave Cornthwaite. He’s swum 1000 miles along the Missouri and completed other long journeys, but doesn’t limit himself to the extreme: his current project is finding 50 ways to make £50. Al Humphreys is another favourite: he rowed the Atlantic last year, but he dedicated 2011 to microadventures, like sleeping out on a hill after work: ‘what’s the worst that can happen’ he says… ‘you get a bit wet, get a bit cold… big deal. I think it’s worth the risk.’

The next step forward for the Meeks, in terms of growing the impact they’ve had, is to get more parents involved. Unlike schools, mums and dads don’t have to fill in risk assessments and, once it’s clear to them that getting outdoors is good for concentration, ability and contentment, they’ll be motivated to encourage their children and their children’s teachers.

In Scotland, thousands of people are enjoying the outdoors – walking, paddling, climbing, biking, running … exploring. I’ve not looked at the figures of hours spent outdoors over time and perhaps it’s impossible to measure, but I feel that this has fallen since the 1990s. Rock routes seem more lichenous. The bogs and the forest have subsumed formerly well-trodden paths. Perhaps it’s fear – of the known or the unknown, or being judged for not having the ‘right’ kit, or encroaching consumerism and time pressures. My argument, as always, is that more people should benefit from the mental, emotional physical pluses of getting outdoors.

Being out of doors as a family lets children experience life in the raw

Being out of doors as a family lets children experience life in the raw

I’ll take intellect for a start. There’s nothing that generates creativity better than challenge. If you cross a stream using a spattering of slimy boulders that protrude from the froth, the brain begins to churn. It recalls similar patterns from the past, calculates how balance will be compromised and ascertains what’s needed if that manoeuvre doesn’t work. In one millisecond, you’ve done risk appraisal, spatial co-ordination, future planning and disaster recovery. This is also possible on the Playstation without getting wet: it’s your choice.

Our emotional state alters when we’re in nature. Broadleaf woodland is particularly calming, perhaps through the diversity of flora and fauna, the wholeness of this type of ecosystem and how light and shade interplay randomly. When we’re engaged in pastimes that require focus, our minds forget the minutiae of problems and deadlines. We can, for some brief period in time, switch off.

You may get wet!!

You may get wet!!

I’m guessing that the closer an activity comes to actual or perceived risk and the nearer it is to something our ancestors might have done and the better your level of skill, the more chance there is to rediscover the sense of flow. That’s a wonderful feeling.

The outdoors is also good for the body. It might be cold and rain often, but being resilient is a really positive attribute. When exerting ourselves, we force our muscles to work and burn off fat. Okay, so there are things that can hurt and cause physical trauma, like slipping on that rock when crossing the burn, but developing the skills over time and resting between adventures is good antidote to this.

When I spoke to Kerry Meek, she sounded very keen to return to Scotland with the family for more adventures. The girls wanted to undertake a ‘source to sea’ journey and sleep on a mountain. Hopefully, she’ll be joined in spirit by hundreds of others doing the same kind of thing. With our wonderful landscape, there’s probably no easier place in the world to get involved.

NWNick Williams may be known best for his Pocket Mountains guides to the Highlands and Islands, but he has also trained as a mountaineering instructor and has thirty years of experience climbing all over the world. He organised the first international expedition to post-Soviet Kazakhstan and written a memoir, Jagged Red Line, which describes adventure and trauma in the Caucasus. Nick works as a coach and consultant, specialising in resilience for individuals and organisations. He speaks French, Mandarin and Russian.

www.nickwilliams.org // @jaggedredline

As I write, we are waiting nervously for the result of the European Union elections. Well, “nervously” is perhaps putting it a bit too dramatically. Things happen slowly in Europe. It’s taking us four days to vote but by Sunday night we will know the colours of most of the 751 MEPs – though the final Scottish result will be delayed till Monday because the Western Isles will not be counting its votes until the Sabbath Day hath ended.

The Western Isles EU votes counted on Monday

The Western Isles
EU votes counted on Monday

Then, curiously, we will not be analysing the figures for what they tell us about how Europe handled the recession or how it’s going to reform the financial industry or tackle immigration or climate change, or any of the other issues that need a continental solution. No, instead we will be wondering if the SNP is going to win a third seat in Brussels and whether the Liberal Democrats will lose out to the Greens or Nigel Farage’s waspish little party.

This is a pity because these large continental issues deserve to be debated and resolved. How else are we to protect the environment or ensure a fair market, or avoid a race to the bottom on working hours, safety standards, taxation etc except through the European Union ? But, for the moment, I suppose everything has to be seen through the brightly coloured prism of the referendum.

Church of Scotland Deeply divided on independence

Church of Scotland
Deeply divided on independence

The Church of Scotland staged a full blown debate on the issue at its General Assembly on Tuesday. There was lots of fine rhetoric but no vote was taken – wisely, since the Kirk, like the rest of Scotland, is deeply divided on Scottish independence.

On Wednesday the Assembly revealed itself still divided over the issue of gay ministers. By 369 votes to 189, the Assembly decided to consult further on a compromise which re-affirms the Church’s opposition to gay ministers in principle but allows individual congregations to follow their own conscience and elect gay ministers if they wish.

It’s been a divisive old week. The Scottish parliament was divided – the SNP versus the rest – over the future of the health secretary Alex Neil. The opposition parties accused him of favouring his own constituency by “ordering” the local health board to retain two mental health wards at Monklands Hospital in Lanarkshire. Mr Neil said he’d left the decision to his deputy and the SNP’s majority in parliament made sure the motion of no confidence, the first for 13 years, was defeated by 67 votes to 57.

440 officers routinely armed

440 officers routinely armed

Did you know that there are 440 police officers in Scotland authorised to carry guns ? And they do so on routine patrol. It seems a lot, for a police force which is supposed to be unarmed. The disclosure by Police Scotland has caused alarm among politicians and human rights groups who say it’s not setting a good example. Happily, the police officers have little to shoot at. Gun crime is at its lowest level for 30 years.

Scotland is doing well in the happiness stakes this week, despite all the political divisions above. Inverness is hosting a Happiness Festival this weekend, parading the best of British comedy. It has also come second top in a survey of the happiest towns in Britain by the on-line housing agency Rightmove. Falkirk, it reckons, is the fifth happiest town. Harrowgate in Yorkshire came first with great ratings for friendliness, safety, fine open spaces, good house prices and pride in their community. And the worst place ? East London. Don’t even go there.

Gourdon Harbour

Gourdon Harbour

Two men who chuckled all the way to their press conference on Thursday were fishermen Jim Reid, aged 75, and his grandson David Irvine, aged 35. They were telling their story of being found after two days lost at sea off the Aberdeenshire coast. They set off in their 16ft creel boat from Gourdon harbour on Tuesday to collect a few lobster pots. But, in thick mist, their compass broke down and gave them a false reading. They headed east instead of west and ran out of fuel 50 miles offshore.

A huge search was mounted but no one thought to search so far out to sea. The two men said they’d survived on a flask of tea and two biscuits and cursed each other till eventually they attracted the attention of a passing fishing boat. Miracles do happen…even in the North Sea.

They happen in Perth too. Because, for a moment last weekend, it must have overtaken Inverness as the happiest town in Scotland when the home team St Johnstone paraded the Scottish Cup through the streets of the fair city. It was the first time they’d won anything in their 130 year history.

Over in Glasgow, Neil Lennon is happy enough with his silverware. But he announced on Thursday that he was leaving Celtic after four years in charge. Apparently he felt he’d taken the club as far as it could go in the shallow waters of Scottish football and he’s off to swim with bigger fishes.

So where does that leave Glasgow in the happiness stakes ? That depends on the success of the Commonwealth Games which this week finally sold its last 100,000 tickets. I can exclusively reveal that the opening ceremony will include a sequence in which the Queen and Sir Sean Connery will drop by parachute into the arena singing “I belong tae Glasgow” accompanied by Mr Bean on the keyboard. Now that would make me happy.

By Chris Whatley, University of Dundee and Lesley Riddoch, Strathclyde University

Scotland’s spiritual leaders have been making their presence felt in the independence debate lately. The Church of Scotland is to hold a reconciliation service the Sunday after a vote to help bring the country back together.

Earlier this week its General Assembly housed an independence debate between shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander and leading theologian Doug Gay. Not to be outdone, the Free Church has also been getting in on the act. We asked our panel what religion could bring to the debate.

Lesley Riddoch

Lesley Riddoch

Lesley Riddoch, PhD student at Strathclyde University, broadcaster and journalist

The Church of Scotland did a pretty extensive exercise around the country with their congregations a few months ago, holding discussions about the referendum. I would give them a big up for that because very few organisations have taken it upon themselves to have such a widespread and grassroots discussion.

I don’t mind that they haven’t taken a position on the referendum. It means they are in a better position to be honest brokers after it. It’s such a close race that you’ll inevitably offend people if you do.

Coming from Northern Ireland, I see this question of a presbyterian Scottish psyche in a different light to many people. Nothing in Scotland could be as underpinned by religious difference. I have never really thought that Scotland was as religious as many people seem to think.

We are what we are. We are reserved to some degree. We are fairly tediously law-abiding people who have a great faith in fairness working things out in the end. It’s why people waited for land reform that never came. The Scottish people are both patient and continually disappointed.

I don’t mind the projection of a rather dour, restrained image – it’s partly true. But I take exception to the flip side. There’s a Jekyll and Hyde idea that has been around for a very long time. On the one hand you get the sophisticated, civilised Adam Smith or Sir Walter Scott types, while on the other there’s the wild-eyed hairy Highlanders who can’t control themselves.

This is my problem with the church’s discussion of reconciliation four months before the vote. It plays to this idea of a darker side to the Scots – if you scratch us, the calm veneer will drop and everything will fall out – unless a man of the cloth is there to pick up the pieces. That image has been exaggerated and fabricated by all sorts of forces, many of them from outside our borders.

Reconciliation as a concept makes me think of Northern Ireland or Soweto. Surely we can all agree that nothing in the independence debate is that fatally fractious. The only thing that is polarised is the question in the referendum, and even that had three until quite recently.

I’d prefer the church talked about facilitation. If we could use that word, I do think it has a role to play in keeping the ball rolling after the vote. Unbelievable amounts of energy have been released by the referendum – don’t we want to encourage them to do more?

Prof Chris Whatley

Prof Chris Whatley

Chris Whatley, Professor of Scottish History, University of Dundee

The keystone in the union arch at the very outset was the Protestant succession. In 1706 Queen Anne and her ministers wanted the Scots to agree to the Protestant succession that had been agreed in Westminster in 1701. The union was forged at the time of the so-called Counter-Reformation of the Catholic church, aided and abetted by Louis XIV of France, which had led to a paranoia of a Catholic resurgence in Protestant Britain.

In spite of this, the Church of Scotland was initially nervous about going into the union because it feared being dominated by the Church of England. For this reason, the agreement comprised two acts, one of which was for securing the Church of Scotland within the union.

There were always Scots on the extreme edges of presbyterianism who saw the union as sinful because the Church of England was Anglican, which included bishops and all the other vestiges of Catholicism. But mainstream presbyterians accepted the union and saw it as being about securing Protestantism until up until about the 1950s.

At that point, you start to see the demise of Christianity in terms of church membership. With that decline, the value of the union in securing people’s religious beliefs became less important. This is one of the reasons the union is now much more vulnerable than at any time since 1740.

For centuries there has been a sense of Scottish distinctiveness and identity. Much of it was concealed during the high watermark of unionism in the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century. But the tide of unionism has ebbed and we are now left with the rocks of Scottish national feeling.

It’s interesting that the Church of Scotland is not taking a position on independence. Fifty years ago they would probably have been strongly supporting the union, but I sense there is now a variety of views within the church. Instead their big concern is what happens after the vote, which I share. This vote mustn’t lead to ugly divisions within Scottish society. The church is rightly calling for calm and reason and forgiveness and healing.

As for the Scottish national character, presbyterian caution certainly led to the two acts of union. We also know that many Scots prayed to God for guidance about whether the union would be a good thing. Saying that, there were others who were cautiously opposed to the union, such as the Jacobites, who were mainly Episcopalian, so you can’t pin it to presbyterianism.

Wherever it comes from, my sense is that there’s a strong element of caution, of canniness, in the Scottish character, which you are seeing in the present debate. My reading is that there’s still a sizeable proportion of the population, the don’t knows, who remain to be convinced about independence. They are the archetypally cautious Scots looking for more security with currency, VAT, pensions, business and so on.

In 1707, the financial terms of the union were settled before the vote in the Scottish parliament. Now we are in a situation where we have the option of independence but we don’t have the detail. That’s why the canny Scots are saying they want greater certainty about the future.

The Conversation

The authors 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.

Switzerland’s leading leisure airline, Edelweiss, has inaugurated its new non-stop service from Edinburgh to Zurich today. It will operate twice per week – on Mondays and Fridays, during the summer season.

Karl Kistler  CEO of Edelweiss

Karl Kistler
CEO of Edelweiss

“We are very excited to add Edinburgh to our network”, said Karl Kistler, the airline’s Chief Executive Officer and captain who piloted the inaugural flight on 16 May 2014 himself. “Our two weekly flights throughout the summer season from May till October will carry approximately 8,000 passengers to Scotland and will have a significant impact on incoming tourism from Switzerland and other connecting markets.”

Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport, was delighted to welcome the airline, adding that Zurich was “an important business link and this new route will offer passengers even more
choice of how they travel. Switzerland is also a popular tourist destination and we’re delighted to be working with Edelweiss to offer Scottish passengers the chance to visit this beautiful country. Of course with the fantastic summer of sport and culture we’re about to enjoy, we’re looking forward to welcoming many Swiss visitors to Edinburgh.”

Since 2008, Edelweiss has been a member of the Lufthansa Group and sister company to Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS). More than 1.3 million passengers a year fly with the airline. The airline’s globally distinctive mark is the famous alpine flower which adorns the Swiss mountain peaks and represents the “little extra” that makes Edelweiss so special. Other new Edelweiss destinations launched in 2014 are Las Vegas, USA and Havana, Cuba.

A report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland, 98 Scottish towns and cities are facing or have been hit with the closure of a local service because of big business and public sector reorganisations. Clydesdale Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Post Office, Police Scotland, HMRC and the Scottish Courts Service either have or plan to close services to the public, or shut local buildings, in Scottish towns and cities. The organisation has warned that the will disrupt government, local council and small business efforts to turn around Scottish high streets and rejuvenate local economies.

Colin Borland Closures have a "cumulative effect"

Colin Borland
Closures have a “cumulative effect”

Colin Borland, the FSB’s head of external affairs in Scotland pointed out that, over the last few years, “we’ve seen large public and private bodies evaluate their operations and come to the same conclusion – they can no longer afford to operate at the same level in towns and high streets across Scotland. We are concerned about this trend and are encouraging those in charge to consider the cumulative impact of their decisions on local economies. We also fear that colleges, the Ministry of Defence and other large organisations may be making decisions which will put their hometowns under additional pressure.

“After the disappearance of many big names such as Woolworths, we know that the future of our high streets can’t rely exclusively on retail. We need to make locating in small towns and high streets more attractive and affordable for large and small, public and private bodies alike.

“We recognise that many of these towns are looking at new ways to reinvigorate their local economies and drive footfall into their centres and schemes like the Small Business Bonus continue to give local traders a real boost. However, the public servants tasked with turning our high streets around are being undermined by their colleagues in other bodies looking to rationalise their estate. Similarly, banks will not improve relations with small businesses by closing branches.

“These institutions cite our modern habits including increased use of communications technology and declining town centre visitor numbers. We know that how we shop, live and work has changed for good – the challenge is to ensure that our local towns and economies thrive despite this shift.”

In just a few days time, the people of the European Union will go to the polls to select their new MEPs. Having just returned from a trip to the Irish Republic, it’s very clear that attitudes there are very different from those in Scotland. In Dublin for example, the streetlamps are festooned with posters with pictures of the various candidates and their assorted parties. Come back to Edinburgh and, by contrast, you would hardly think an election was actually taking place.

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Even allowing for the economic turmoil of the past few years, the Irish have embraced the EU in a way which the peoples of Great Britain have not. Nonetheless, there were many posters which appear to be indicating that enough was enough when it came to economic austerity. That appears to be a common enough attitude across many of the member countries. Euroscepticism appears to have been growing, something borne out by the latest YouGov survey.

That survey confirms a trend lately been building up a head of steam for some considerable time. People across the European Union have been becoming increasingly distrustful of the established political parties and individual politicians in particular. It’s perhaps a surprise that the swing away from the establishment – and indeed support for Europe – looks as though it has been even stronger in France than it has been in parts of this country. Support for the National Front there has grown even more strongly than support for UKIP in England.

Swing to Eurosceptics Source: YouGov

Swing to Eurosceptics
Source: YouGov

The poll did not look at Scotland separately. In recent days, the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has posted that his party will do much better north of the border than anyone had predicted – even taking one of the seats on offer. Few of the pundits agree with him. But there is some concern that the turnout in Scotland may be very low – the focus of so many people and parties is much more on what will happen in September rather than in May.

However what happens in Brussels and Strasbourg is important in determining our future. The evidence from the YouGov survey is that the next European Parliament could well have a very different make up to anything we’ve seen before, with many more politicians being elected from minority parties. However, the analyst to study the results of the survey feel confident that there isn’t a surging tide of nationalism or of anti-EU feeling. Rather, votes for minority parties are being interpreted much more as protests against their politicians at home.

Speaking to people in Dublin, there does appear to be a growing sense of optimism about the future. They can see changes taking place around them – the amount of construction is a good indicator both of economic activity and of confidence. There is no evidence that people there now want to leave the European Union. Few were willing to admit that they would vote for a Eurosceptic party – but several suggested that this year’s result could be closer than anyone would previously have imagined.

Fate is a cruel thing. This week we are mourning the loss of a young, courageous and talented woman who we are proud to claim as a Scot, though she was of Russian origin and lived in England. The tennis star Elena Baltacha has died of liver cancer at the age of just 30.

Elena Baltacha (Picture from Wikipedia)

Elena Baltacha
(Picture from Wikipedia)

She was among the top 50 women tennis players in the world. She was Britain’s number one. She won 11 singles championships. She reached the third round of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. And all this, despite suffering from a chronic liver complaint and several serious injuries. Her fellow-players have been lining up all week to say what a lovely, unassuming person she was.

She arrived in Britain at the age of 5 when her father, Sergei Baltacha a professional footballer, signed for Ipswich Town. He’d played for Dynamo Kiev and the USSR. Her mother Olga was also a sports star who represented the USSR in the pentathlon. The family moved to Scotland in 1992 when Sergei was signed up by St Johnstone in Perth. Encouraged to play tennis by her mother, Elena soon made her presence felt on the tennis circuit. By the age of 15 she was the Scottish women’s indoor champion.

Of course, she knew the Murray family and, like them, had to leave Scotland to further her career. At the age of 19 she was diagnosed with a rare liver complaint but it didn’t stop her reaching the top of British tennis and carrying our hopes in a series of international competitions. She was a big powerful player with a fast serve and a fearsome two-handed backhand.

An ankle injury last year persuaded her to retire. She married her coach Nino Serverino and they set up a tennis academy in her old town of Ipswich. But earlier this year she was diagnosed with cancer and the “bonny fichter Bally” has gone to play her tennis elsewhere.

Increase in waiting times

Increase in waiting times

The nation’s health has been another talking point this week, in particular the queues forming in the corridors of accident and emergency departments. Audit Scotland brought out a report which found that the number of patients waiting for more than four hours to be treated had increased nearly three times, from 36,000 to 104,000, over the five years to 2013.

The opposition parties took Alex Salmond to task over this “failure” at first minister’s question time. But he was able to claim that 93 per cent of patients were seen within the four hour target time and the figure is improving, and, anyway, it’s better than in England and Wales and better than when Labour were in power. The underlying causes for the increase appear to be “bed-blocking” in hospitals and the fact that people with minor conditions have no where else to go. It’s a classic case of non-holistic thinking – if you cut the budget for community or local authority services then the hospitals are swamped.

European Elections Politicians more concerned with the referendum

European Elections
Politicians more concerned with the referendum

When not thinking about hospitals, the political parties have been launching their Euro election campaigns. Polling cards have gone out, posters have appeared on lamp-posts and at railway stations urging us to vote on 22nd May. Everyone is waiting to see how well UKIP, the anti-EU party, will do in Scotland. It got just 5 per cent of the vote last time. But it’s been hard for the politicians to keep their attention on Europe when all they want to talk about is the independence referendum in September.

Finally, it’s been a good news week for the pine martin. The population is estimated to have grown to around 3,000. The Scottish Highlands have long been this furry creature’s last refuge but now there have been sightings in forests on the southern fringes of Glasgow, in the upper Tweed valley and in Annandale. It’s the first time the pine martin has been seen in southern Scotland for 200 years.

Be warned, though, they may be cuddly-looking creatures but they are wily. You need to keep you henhouse door closed at night and if they nest in your loft, call an expert !

John Mckendrick

John Mckendrick

By John H McKendrick, Glasgow Caledonian University and W David McCausland, University of Aberdeen

Scotland is home to some of Europe’s oldest universities, and the sector plays a key role in the economy there. But what impact would independence have on it? This week academics have been doing battle over the future of higher education research funding in an independent country. A recent Scottish government report claimed that the current joint funding arrangements between Scotland and the rest of the UK would be maintained after independence. But the UK government has ruled this out.

Rival camps of academics on unionist and nationalist sides have been writing to Scottish newspapers over the issue. We asked two of our panellists for their views.

John McKendrick, Senior Lecturer, Glasgow Caledonian University

All is not well with higher education in the UK. For example the line that the UK government has taken on immigration is regressive in universities. If you are making it more difficult for students to come to study in the UK, that creates a problem because the fees paid by international students are a major source of university income.

Increasing the international student population is a key component of universities’ strategies to generate more income. You might argue that if an independent Scotland was more welcoming and open to those students, that might generate income that is not there at present. But that does assume that those students would come here rather than to English universities.

There’s a lot of talent in Scottish universities. Our top universities rank highly in the international league tables. I can’t see that changing dramatically in an independent Scotland. Our research-intensive institutions will continue to prosper whatever lies ahead.

But if the cake did become slightly smaller after independence, what would that mean for the sector as a whole? Would everyone get an equally smaller share? Would money flow to the top universities to protect their standing in the international arena? That has to be a real possibility. I don’t think Scotland would want to weaken what are significant drivers to the economy and beacons for its standing in the global arena.

Many supporters of independence see it as an opportunity to address enduring inequalities. But you might end up with a situation where higher education pulled in the opposite direction – drawing money from less research-intensive institutions. There’s no evidence to suggest that might be the case, but we should be alert to it as a possibility.

So what’s the vision for Scottish universities in an independent Scotland? To what extent will be prepared to adequately fund those institutions that have proven to be so successful at facilitating widening participation?

Will the principle of free higher education at the point of delivery be a cornerstone of our educational system? Are we sure that it is in the national interest to sustain a system that generates such high levels of personal debt for young people at the start of their working lives? Not much attention is being paid to these issues at the moment.

Instead I see no difference between the higher education debate and the general independence debate. The nationalists pick out a fault in the current scenario as a way of pointing to an opportunity for an independent Scotland to do differently. The unionists say, “We have a good deal just now, we get more than our fair share, it will all be jeopardised.”

David McCausland, Head of Economics, University of Aberdeen

Dr David McCausland

Dr David McCausland

The Scottish government paper suggests that there will be greater fiscal levers available to support research in higher education. But if an independent Scotland were to enter a currency union with the rest of the UK, as is presently favoured, then monetary policy would continue to be determined in London. This would mean that the burden of economic policy in Scotland would fall on fiscal policy. Those fiscal levers will be subject to many competing demands.

The report is right to say that the main source of sustainable economic growth is technological progress. And research by universities is key to driving this process forward.

The report makes much of academics determining which research gets funded and continuing research assessment through the REF (Research Excellence Framework) process, with the government setting research priorities set by research councils. While it is understandable that governments wish to have this input given the taxpayer contribution to higher education, it could perhaps be argued that the balance has shifted too far towards these thematic priorities and away from genuine blue-skies research.

The measurement mechanism inherent in the REF process tends to skew research towards the measurable and to meeting particular targets. As well as being a time-consuming process that diverts activity away from research and teaching, it also slants activity in universities towards research. This is possibly to the detriment of teaching, which is also a core part of universities’ role in driving economic growth.

The government report is right in its assessment of the damaging effect of the UK’s immigration policy –- not only in terms of signalling that overseas students are not welcome, but also in denying to universities valuable sources of revenue during times when other funding sources are becoming tighter.

The report says much about universities tapping into other sources of funding for research after independence. But EU schemes like Horizon 2020 have much smaller budgets available than previous schemes like Framework 7. This is against the backdrop of Scottish Funding Council funding overall roughly flatlining (despite increases in some areas like knowledge exchange).

Overall, whether Scottish universities can continue to punch above their weight after independence very much depends on whether access can be maintained to current research funding. If universities have a funding environment that enables the very best researchers to be attracted to Scotland, there is no reason why current successes cannot be maintained.

The downside risk would be if the post-independence financial position necessitated a greater degree of austerity in public spending. If this fed through into declining resource for university research, making the environment less attractive to world class researchers, then future prospects for economic growth may be put in jeopardy.

The rest of the Scotland Decides ’14 panel debates are here

The Conversation

The authors 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.
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Stuart Brooks  John Muir Trust

Stuart Brooks
John Muir Trust

A new survey from Survation has revealed that half the population of the Highlands fear that the spread of large scale wind farm across wild land could damage tourism in the region. The poll, conducted for the John Muir Trust, asked over 500 residents across the eight Highlands and Islands constituencies ‘What impact do you think the spread of onshore wind farms on wild land in the Highlands and Islands might have on the tourist industry in the region?’

The results were:

  • A positive impact – 5.8%
  • A negative impact – 49.4%
  • No impact – 44.9%

The same poll found that a majority Highlands and Islands residents support a draft proposal by the Scottish Government draft to offer special protection for wild land areas as defined and mapped by Scottish Natural Heritage. Excluding don’t knows, that part of the poll revealed:

  • 53% support wild land protection (including 34% who ‘strongly support’ it)
  • 24% oppose wild land protection (including 10 % who ‘strongly oppose’ it)
  • 23% neither support nor oppose the proposal

Commenting on the tourism findings, Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive of the John Muir Trust said that the poll showed two things. “First, that people in the Highlands and Islands support protection of wild land. And second, there is deep concern that if it is not protected, the impact could be damaging to the economy of the region.

“On the positive side, the wild land map of Scotland drawn up by SNH could help some of the lesser known parts of the wild Highlands to market themselves to the rest of the world, boosting tourism in some of our most remote areas. We want to protect wild land for its sake, but we also see it as a great asset for the people and communities who live in the adjacent glens and coastal strips.”