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Scottish government

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.
Read the original article.

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.”

By John Curtice, Strathclyde University and Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen

Europe is back on the agenda in Scotland. William Hague wrote to the Scottish government calling for a plan B in case EU membership is refused.

Meanwhile Alex Salmond warned EU member states that there would be consequences over fishing rights in Scottish waters if Scotland was declined membership, while attracting some bad publicity for sounding rather too positive about Vladimir Putin during an interview a month ago. Our panelists say:


Michael Keating, Professor of Politics, University of Aberdeen

Prof Michael Keating

Prof Michael Keating

I don’t think William Hague’s letter adds anything to the debate. He doesn’t say that Scotland would not be a member of the EU. That’s the most significant thing about this. It means we must assume that Scotland would be a member. It would be useful if the British government would just say that, as they have said they will recognise the referendum result.

Then he’s talking about article 49 [general entry] versus article 48 [special entry by unanimous agreement]. This is really a technical matter. If there’s a political will, Scotland will be allowed in.

The UK government’s position on the budget issue is quite incoherent. It’s true that the budgets from 2014 to 2020 are already agreed, but the UK share is for the whole of the UK not the remainder of the UK. The most likely outcome would be to divide the existing budget pro rata. The other states will not want to get into a fight between the UK and Scotland about that.

As for after 2020, the big difficulty is the UK keeping its rebate, not Scotland getting a rebate. The UK is going to find it very difficult to do that if it is going to pick a fight with Europe over renegotiating the terms of membership and have a referendum in 2017. The idea that it will be able to keep all the rebate as well seems much more implausible than anything the Scottish nationalists are proposing. In fact, it’s rather dangerous for them to talk about the rebate at all.

After 2020, the only friend that the UK would have over keeping its rebate might be an independent Scotland. The UK has to be able to argue there are special conditions that apply to the UK to justify the rebate continuing. It would enormously help the UK if Scotland were a member because it would mean that someone else was getting it too.

London is just raising hypothetical problems and is evading the big question: would the UK support Scottish membership of the EU? Everything else can be negotiated.

It’s more than likely that the other states would just follow the lead of the UK. The Spanish government has said that Scottish independence is a matter for the UK and Scotland. They have not said they would veto it, so you have to assume they would agree to it.

As far as the fishing issue is concerned, Salmond is effectively just taking the unionist position to its logical conclusion. If you are threatening to throw Scotland out of the EU, your fishing boats aren’t going to be allowed there.

In any EU negotiation for Scotland, fishing is not going to be a particularly powerful card. The only other people that care are the Spanish. It may be part of a deal with Spain, but I don’t think it would be a dealbreaker.

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

Prof John Curtice

Prof John Curtice

I think the Scottish Government now accepts that it will in some way have to apply for membership. It has suggested it might be possible to use the procedure under article 48 as opposed to article 49.

But as I understand it, the article 48 procedure still requires the unanimous consent of all the members –- just as a Article 49 application does. So although the Scottish government is arguing that it is a way of facilitating Scotland’s membership relatively quickly, either option is going to require at some point the acquiescence of all existing 28 members.

This has implications that are not always appreciated. One is that if one accepts the argument that the rest of the UK would be the successor state, the UK will have a veto on the terms of Scotland’s membership.

One knotty issue is the UK budget rebate. Nobody will wish to unravel and reopen the EU settlement through to 2020, and from the EU point of view the easiest solution might be for Scotland and the UK to agree on how to divvy the rebate up. Obviously this could still lead to problems between the two sets of negotiations.

But after 2020 Scotland would probably struggle to maintain the rebate. Making it clear that would be the case might well be one of the ways that a country like Spain, facing demands for Catalan independence, might hope to show there is a price to pay for going it alone.

The fact that Scotland’s membership is not automatic weakens its bargaining position to some degree. There will have to be a bit of negotiating and hand-holding to sell the political deal to the 28 members. You can see why some countries would prefer Scotland not to vote yes and you can certainly see that none of the states are going to say before the referendum that everything is fine.

On the other hand there are the thousands of EU migrants whose current right to stay in Scotland rests on Scotland’s membership of the EU. It is sometimes argued that if Scotland was not allowed to maintain membership, those citizens would potentially have standing in the European Court of Justice to argue that the EU cannot just take away their rights as citizens.

But the EU issue is largely irrelevant to the outcome of the referendum. Scotland is more europhile than England. Scotland would probably vote to stay in. But even so, the modal voter in Scotland would probably take the view that it would be good if Brussels was not so powerful -– a position somewhat similar to David Cameron’s.

The Scottish people’s commitment to Europe is too weak to think that many are going to vote yes to avoid an EU referendum initiated by a future UK Conservative government or alternatively that they vote no on the grounds that independence potentially undermines the stability of Scotland’s membership of the EU.


The rest of our panel’s analysis of the referendum campaign can be found here

The Conversation

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

John Curtice 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.
Read the original article.

By Jo Armstrong, University of Glasgow; Karly Kehoe, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Trevor Salmon, University of Aberdeen

Poll after poll shows Scottish women are considerably less keen on independence than men. Alex Salmond has been reaching out to women voters since the campaign kicked off two years ago. We asked our panel about the reasons for the gender gap in the polls.


Jo Armstrong, Professor of Public Policy, University of Glasgow

It might not be that women are more reticent about independence. It may be that the cry for more evidence is coming from women and at the point they get it, they will be just the same as men in their preferences around independence. Wanting more evidence doesn’t necessarily make you more cautious. It does make you more analytical though.

If the hypothesis is that women analyse things differently, it’s unlikely that they would want to see policies promoted only for them. It’s about having policies where they can understand the implications for them and their families, which is perhaps not being communicated well in the political messaging.

I suspect that the issues that interest women are exactly the same as the ones that interest men. I can’t believe that women think that childcare is more important than the economy, jobs, or more important than better services in general.

The idea that you’ll be able to make women change their minds with women-only issues is misguided. It suggests that the political parties still have a poor idea of what equality is really all about.

Women are vastly under-represented in certain parts of the Scottish economy. For example in the Scottish Parliament, only 35% of our MSPs are women; 45 out of 128. The results appear not much better for Scotland’s various public sector boards.

The evidence suggests that the more you have diversity on boards, the better they perform. Board dynamics change and it does appear that diversity (be that women, older or younger representation and members from ethnic minority backgrounds) has a positive impact on company performance.

On the question of positive discrimination, I am certainly in favour of having representation that reflects the economy in which we live and work. There are more women than men in the country, so this should be reflected in boards and the parliament.

Trevor Salmon, Emeritus Professor of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen

Traditionally women were more conservative than men in how they vote. It was said that because the men were in the factories or in the industrial plants, they learned socialist solidarity through being part of the trade unions.

But with women in relation to the Scottish referendum, I don’t think it’s a question of conservatism. I think it’s more about pragmatism. It might sound a bit old-fashioned, but in many cases women are the people that spend the household money. They are the ones that actually see what’s happening to the price of food, clothes, to the economy.

They want to be reassured that independence is going to be better. They are the ones who ask: “What if something happens to my husband’s wage? What if something happens to childcare? “What if something happens to university fees?”

In England, Labour is about ten points ahead of the Conservatives with women. Cameron has a real problem with women. Mostly it’s this argument about the cost of living. Women are more likely to ask the question: “Will we be better off or not in everyday life?”

For this reason, I think the gap between male and female voters is unlikely to narrow. In fact it may increase slightly as more and more people consider the issues carefully.

The trouble with making pledges about what will happen after the referendum is that there’s such a distrust of politicians nowadays. The only promises that either side can make to attract more women are ones where they can make them real – but that’s difficult because one parliament can’t bind the next. More than likely, the SNP will be judged on what it has already done for groups like women – not what it says it will do after the referendum.

Karly Kehoe, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University

I don’t agree that women are more pessimistic about the idea of Scottish independence – nor am I convinced that women are a harder sell for the campaign. Whenever I speak to women about this, I find that they are split down the middle.

But the tradition of women not being heard is probably having an influence on what they are prepared to say or on how they are going to vote. Or it might be the case that women are more naturally cautious because of the traditional culture of exclusion.

We have a very low participation level among women in politics. We don’t have enough female role models, women in leadership roles or enough women on senior management teams. This has an impact on women’s confidence levels.

The SNP needs to be careful with its policy announcements that women’s roles aren’t just confined to conceptions of the family – which in any case is a very diverse concept now. Women aren’t just concerned with childcare, education and family-related issues. There needs to be a meaningful engagement with the roles women play across all sectors.

I’m not attracted by the idea of taking affirmative action over women on boards. This introduces an opportunity for people to criticise a woman in a management position, suggesting that she’s only got there because she’s female. This happens. It’s a fact. I would never want to be appointed to a position because someone needed to fill a quota.

There’s not an easy fix here, but the first step is to recognise that we have a problem. We need to start for example by normalising equality in society. This can start with children by reinforcing understandings of equality through childhood and young adulthood. If you show a child how their mum and dad are equal in the home and in employment, that child is going to grow up with a balanced picture of what society is and should be.

The Scottish Government has made a decent start with equal parental rights, but it needs to go further by supporting it properly. When I’ve spoken to men in Scotland about this, many have told me their wives’ employers are much more amenable.

While I think the SNP isn’t too bad on this front, none of the political parties seem able to engage with the fact that a significant culture shift is needed to bring about genuine equality. If the failure to engage with the skills, expertise and experience that women have to offer continues then we have a real problem on our hands.

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.

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.
Read the original article.

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.
Read the original article.

A report from the Federation of Small Business (FSB) has claimed that Scotland has the worst mobile coverage in the UK. Citing the Scottish government’s own research, the organisation wants the planning rules relaxed to allow development which would boost coverage.

Andy Willox Change the rules to improve coverage

Andy Willox
Change the rules to improve coverage

Although the Government has said that it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland”, the evidence suggests that over a quarter of the country doesn’t enjoy adequate coverage. For the FSB, that isn’t good enough with Andy Willox, its Scottish policy convenor, insisting that good quality mobile phone coverage for businesses was not a luxury but a necessity.

“Too much of Scotland doesn’t have adequate mobile phone coverage,” he said. “Our members tell us that new technology will be vital to grow their business and our visitors tell us that they want to use their mobile devices if they’re in the centre of Edinburgh or on the Isle of Mull.

“We’re writing to the Scottish government backing their proposals to amend the planning system and improve Scotland’s levels of connectivity. But that can’t be the end of the story. Businesses and their customers across Scotland want better coverage and we must see bold action to ensure that no part of the country is left behind. It is unacceptable that a quarter of Scotland doesn’t even have a 2G signal.”

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

Coverage in some rural areas can be very poor

The evidence comes from a Scottish government report, published last autumn, which acknowledged that more than a quarter of the country had 2G coverage that was either “fair” or “poor”. What that means is that users would find the signal was “insufficient for good quality connection”. By combining data from a number of sources such the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scotrail, it also reached the conclusion that the majority of Scotland’s land mass lacked good quality 3G coverage.

Mr Willox went on to say that the figures suggested that “Scotland has the worst coverage amongst UK nations. We must get to grips with this problem before our businesses lose out to better connected competitors and visitors don’t come to Scotland for fear of being cut off from the rest of the planet.”

In a statement, the Scottish Government said it was “committed to improving mobile coverage in Scotland. Achieving widespread 4G coverage, whilst ensuring that the gap between those who do not receive 3G or even 2G services does not widen, is a priority. The proposals will encourage operators to make use of existing sites.”

mobile phone research

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.

We have spent much of this week discussing the Red Road flats. Should they be blown up as part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer? At first people were stunned by the idea. Then they thought it might be an April Fool joke. Then came the public outcry against it. Then the defence. Then a hint that the organisers might be changing their minds. And finally a letter to the newspapers from the chief executive of the games David Grevemberg re-affirming the decision that the 30-storey tower blocks are to be brought down live in front of a world-wide television audience of millions.

David Grevemberg Chief Executive, Glasgow 2014

David Grevemberg
Chief Executive, Glasgow 2014

“By dedicating just a few moments of the opening ceremony to the extraordinary story of Red Road it is our ambition to depict Glasgow as a brave, confident and great city that is confronting the need for change,” he writes.

The trouble is that the story of Red Road is not a happy one, at least it does not have a happy ending…even before the place is blown up. The seven tower blocks were built in the 1960s and were supposedly the very latest in working-class luxury. However they soon rotted away and became the new slums. One block has already been demolished, five are empty and are ready for the explosives squad. One will remain, housing refugees and asylum seekers.

So the questions being asked this week are: is blowing up the Red Road flats drawing the world’s attention to Glasgow’s failures? Is it disrespectful to the refugees still living there? Is destruction what Glasgow is about or should it be re-building? Will the 15 second explosion sequence work? Will it be safe? Will it really be a spectacle if most people are only seeing it on a screen in the Commonwealth stadium or on television? And, since we are only seeing it on a screen, why not show a recording of it?

Must Glasgow be better than the Olympic spectaculars

Must Glasgow be better than the Olympic spectaculars

There is also the whole issue of over-the-top opening ceremonies. Must we be better than the Olympic spectaculars? Must each show be bigger than the last, more shocking, more expensiv? ( The cost has gone up to £20m incidentally). What’s wrong with a parade and a torch-bearer to open the games? And, if we really want to push the boat out, a pipe band and a speech from the Lord Provost.

And talking of over-the-top showmanship, it didn’t come any better this week than ex-NATO potentate George Robertson’s declaration that Scottish independence would have “cataclysmic” consequences for global security. The break-up of the United Kingdom, he said, would weaken the West’s defences against “the forces of darkness.” This is surely “evil empire” stuff and a sign that Project Fear has finally lost touch with planet Earth.

There was another example this week from Ed Davey, the UK energy secretary. He put out a report claiming that Scottish energy bills would rise by an average of £200 a year as a result of independence. This was because the subsidy given to wind farms and other renewables would have to be borne by Scotland alone, rather than spread across the whole of the UK. The Scottish government hit back by saying the figures didn’t take into account the subsidy given to nuclear energy in England.

Margo MacDonald  A doughty fighter

Margo MacDonald
A doughty fighter

And for good measure, the Scottish government did a little scare-mongering of its own, this time over welfare cuts. It published a report saying Westminster’s cap on welfare spending will mean a cut of £2.5bn to benefits over the next two years, pushing – according to one estimate – 100,000 more children into poverty and setting back the fight against overall poverty by 10 years.

We are all missing one of Scotland’s most doughty fighters for independence, Margo MacDonald who died last week. She was 70 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Words that sprang up time and again in the tributes to her included, “forthright, determined, a bright light, a blond bombshell, a force of nature.” She began her political life with a spectacular win for the SNP in a by-election in Govan in 1977 and went on to have a career in local government and then in the Scottish Parliament, sitting latterly as an independent.

I’ll remember her for her clear-headedness and her skill in putting her arguments into a few straightforward words. I’ll also remember her courage in her personal battle with Parkinson’s and her campaign to bring dignity to the process of dying.

Spring has certainly arrived this week – after a pause in proceedings for the last fortnight. Leaves are starting to open, grass in being cut, and we awaiting any day now, the first osprey egg of the season at the Loch of Lowes. Yes, the “lady” is back. This remarkable old bird has returned to her Perthshire reserve for the 23rd year and is about to hatch her 69th egg.

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.
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