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Scottish parliament

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.

This week we’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament…if celebrating is the right word. It is certainly the focal point for our current debate over independence, which boils down to the question: just how much power should the parliament have ?

The late John Smith MP Devolution "the settled will"

The late John Smith MP
Devolution “the settled will”

Almost everyone wants it to have more power. Unfortunately we are not being offered a range of powers in the referendum question, only a yes or no to independence. And looking back on it, this is one of the mistakes the Better Together campaign made at the beginning of this whole divisive affair.

John Smith, the Labour leader who’s death 20 years ago has been marked this week with the opening of a new Centre for Public Service at Glasgow University, once famously remarked that devolution was “the settled will” of the Scottish people. It has been anything but settled. John Smith may have started the ball rolling but Donald Dewar kicked it on with his famous remark – “devolution is a process not an event.”

So more powers are being devolved from Westminster all the time, the latest involves half of all income tax, landfill tax, stamp duty on house sales etc. The Better Together parties have promised still more powers, though, disastrously, they’ve not been able to agree on a detailed alternative to independence. Thus the referendum debate has become even more confused and uncertain.

Can David Cameron help create a "united front" against independence?

Can David Cameron help create a “united front” against independence?

The prime minister came to Glasgow on Thursday to try to forge a united front against independence, even invoking the spirit of John Smith. But Mr Cameron’s “sunshine” speech was not exactly helped by the Chancellor back at Westminster who repeated his warning that there can be no currency union after independence. And the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was able to dismiss the spring offensive as a “Tory takeover of the No campaign.”

The referendum has however brought the dying tradition of the public meeting back to life. I was at a referendum debate in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon – sponsored by the local churches – and every seat was taken. I could see steam coming out of peoples’ ears as they tried to keep their feelings under ecclesiastical control. The Church of Scotland – which holds its general assembly this coming week – has called for a service of national reconciliation in St Giles Cathedral in the immediate aftermath of the referendum in September.

It could be a humbling experience, if the campaigns turn nasty or if the result is close. Perhaps we Scots will be revealed as not the greatest practitioners of democracy in the world. After all, the parliament we have built over the last 15 years is not without its flaws. Its successes I think have included free personal care, free university education, the national parks, the smoking ban and being a national forum. But its failures are legion: the cost, the expenses scandals, its timidity over taxation, its failure to spread power down to local communities and its turgid and ineffective committee system.

Commonwealth Games Ticket fiasco

Commonwealth Games
Ticket fiasco

But parliaments are not the only things that can go wrong. The organisers of the Commonwealth Games suffered humiliation at the hands of their computer experts earlier this week. The sale of the last 100,000 tickets had to be suspended when the on-line and telephone systems designed to handle the stampede collapsed. Then our newest jail, HMP Grampian in Peterhead, which only opened in March, erupted in an old-style riot. Forty prisoners went on the rampage, beating up their new furniture and fittings. Police had to be brought in to restore order.

The brutal world of football also suffered a few shocks this week. The new owner of Hearts, Ann Budge, brought along her new brush on Monday morning and swept away the manager Gary Locke and eight other coaches and players. Instead she’s brought in a former manager Craig Levein and promoted Robbie Neilson to first-team coach. The Paisley club St Mirren have also promoted Tommy Craig from within. And in both cases, the new philosophy seems to be to nurture home-grown players rather than take part in the bidding war for outside talent. Not before time.

About the only place were tranquillity reigns is the European election. There are unlikely to be any riots or stampedes at the voting stations on Thursday. But we are all waiting to see if the SNP increase their number of seats from 2 to 3, whether Labour will keep their two seats and whether the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will hold on to their single seats or whether they will be taken by the Greens or UKIP. Who would have thought that democracy could be so exciting ?

The bicycle army is growing. The third annual “Pedal on Parliament” attracted its biggest turnout ever on Saturday. About 4,500 cyclists gathered at the Meadows and rode in a colourful, bell-ringing convoy down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament to call for “safer cycling” and a larger share of the transport budget.

There were tiny children on chunky little bikes, Dads with children on tandems, Mums in bright jackets, middle aged men on folding bikes, old men on recliners, lycra-clad teams on racing bikes, commuters on sensible town-bikes and one gentleman on a penny-farthing.

Keith Brown addresses the crowd

Keith Brown addresses the crowd

Outside the parliament there were speeches calling for more funding for cycling, separate cycling lanes, more safety awareness campaigns and presumed liability for vehicle drivers in all accidents.

The mass-cycle began with a minute’s silence for those who have been killed in cycling accidents across Scotland – 12 were killed last year and another 4 so far this year.

Politicians from all parties spoke warmly in favour of cycling, though only 1.3 per cent of journeys are undertaken by bicycle at the moment making the government’s target of 10 per by 2020 look challenging.

The transport minister Keith Brown told the crowd the government was spending over £40m a year on cycling infrastructure and he had just announced the biggest grant so far to Cycling Scotland, £4.5m for cycle training programmes. Currently 1.1 per cent of the transport budget is spent on cycling, though that is planned to increase to 1.5 per cent next year.

He called on local authorities to make cycling more of a priority. He praised Edinburgh Council for planning to spend up to 7 per cent of its transport budget on cycling. “We need to see more local authorities across the country doing the same,” he said. There was a cheer and much bell-ringing, but the minister didn’t respond with a promise to spent 7 per cent of his budget on cycling. So it looks like there will be another pedal on parliament next year.

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.

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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Another battle has broken out in the energy war. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors, and the government, with a promise to freeze its electricity prices until 2016.

SSE LogoSo the old Scottish dam-builders, and their electricity board comrades in the south of England and Wales, have challenged the other five companies in Britain’s energy business to match their offer. And they’ve challenged the Coalition government by showing that Labour’s price freeze idea can work.

Meanwhile the market regulator OFGEM has cast a smokescreen across the whole battle field by recommending an 18-month long investigation into the whole business of energy supplies by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Jackie Baillie MSP Called for an energy price freeze

Jackie Baillie MSP
Called for an energy price freeze

The issue was top of the agenda at the Scottish Parliament when Labour’s Jackie Baillie challenged the first minister Alex Salmond to admit that a price freeze was the best way to protect households from ever-rising fuel bills. “Will he change his mind or will he continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in opposing a price freeze ?” she asked, three times.

Mr Salmond said the SNP government in Scotland was already cutting fuel bills by £70 a year by agreeing to switch the renewables subsidies from energy bills to general taxation. He went on to welcome the competition inquiry but pointedly added that it should include an examination of the “massive subsidy” being given to the nuclear industry.

To me, it all seems like another case of political cowardice by all the parties concerned. The cruel fact is that energy costs are going to rise as the world becomes more industrialised and more populated. Of course the public complain about it – and a quarter of Scottish households are being pushed into “fuel poverty” – but the cruel fact remains. It would be better if the politicians accepted the fact of rising prices and encouraged people to use less energy.

The Big Six  Competition investigation

The Big Six
Competition investigation

Instead, all political parties are behaving like medieval witch-hunters and are hell bent on roasting the “big six” energy companies at the stake. The very fact that there are six of them, many of them global companies, indicates that there is no monopoly. The competition inquiry will be hard pushed to find any other large-scale industry which is more competitive. Britain actually has some of the lowest energy prices in Europe. They went up just 4 per cent last year, not a great deal more than inflation. The average household bill is £1,260 a year. The profits of the energy companies are running at around 5 per cent, not a lot considering the amount of capital invested.

SSE, for instance, has invested more in energy projects and its distribution network than it made in profit in each of the last five years. But now it has given in to political and consumer pressure and been forced into a price freeze which means it can no longer continue its wave and tide development programme. It’s all so short-term and so short-sighted.

If you think the energy companies are behaving badly, consider the banks. We had another example of their cavalier approach to their customers this week in the case of North Sea oil worker Richard Durkin. He bought a computer from PC World in Aberdeen with the help of a credit agreement for £1500 with HFC Bank, part HSBC. The following day he took it back, realising it did not contain an internal modem. But the bank continued to collect his monthly payments and when he fell behind, they put him on a credit blacklist which he could not challenge.

Price of a returned laptop £250,000

Price of a returned laptop
£250,000

Not only is this a scandal, but the legal system has taken 16 years to clear the matter up – finally awarding him £8,000 in damages at the Supreme Court in London. Mind you, Mr Durkin could have settled for £116,000 damages in Aberdeen Sheriff Court back in 2008 but he chose to challenge that ruling, saying the amount was too little. He reckons the litigation has cost him £250,000, leaving him a little rueful. “I’ve got mixed feelings,” he said. “But I’m glad I’ve helped the greater good with a consumer victory.”

This week the golfing authorities, almost as fast moving as the legal system, have entered the 21st century. The governing committee at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews has written to its 2,500 gentlemen members urging them to vote in favour of admitting women to the club for the first time in its 260 year history. The vote – in person only – takes place on 18th September this year. And if that date seems familiar, it’s the day Scotland decides whether it wants to remain part of Club GB or perfect its golf swing on its own.

Celtic Football Club, meanwhile, is wondering if it is to continue playing on its own or whether it can compete in a new mini-European league which has just been given the go-ahead by UEFA. It won the Premiership title with seven games to spare when it beat Partick Thistle 5-1on Tuesday night. Its arch rival Rangers still have a year’s probation to serve in the Championship league after their financial collapse and this week we learnt they are still making a loss of £3.5m a year. All this, I’m sure is worth discussing more, but I’ve run out of this week’s supply of energy.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust was founded in 1964 by Sir Charles Connell, an Edinburgh lawyer and keen ornithologist. He brought together a small team of experts and enthusiasts who were inspired by the wildlife trust movement already under way in England. Within two years it had started a network of local groups and acquired its first reserve, a small woodland in Ayrshire. Since then it has grown to become one of the major environmental organisations in Scotland with 120 reserves, 35,000 members, a staff of about 100, 20 local groups and over a thousand working volunteers.

Puffin on Handa

Puffin on Handa

Most of its reserves are small patches of woodland, marsh, bog or moor, close to where people live, so that wildlife and human life are not seen as opposites but as part of the same natural world.

But the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) also has some large and spectacular reserves – the Loch of Lowes with its famous ospreys, the Falls of Clyde with its peregrines, the Montrose Basin for migrating geese and the isles of Eigg and Handa on the west coast.

This year the Trust is also celebrating the first five years of two important wildlife projects. It has re-introduced native beavers to Scotland after an absence of 400 years. There are now 15 beavers living wild in Knapdale in Argyll, the subject of an experiment to see what effect they will have on the local environment.

SWT LogoThe SWT has also been heavily involved in the fight to save the red squirrel and there are signs that this native species is holding out well against the grey invaders in the marginal lands of the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway and South Ayrshire and in the more northerly battlegrounds of Perthshire and Aberdeenshire.

The Trust has also branched out into wider campaigns to save Scotland’s landscape and marine environment. Its “Living Landscape ” project in Coigach and Assynt has recently won a £100,000 lottery grant to plant trees, restore bog and moorland and create footpaths. The idea is to link wildlife territories across a large and diverse area of the countryside. It’s also been campaigning hard to have marine protected areas established around Scotland’s coast.

Rabbit in AssyntSWT volunteers were recently invited to a reception in the Scottish Parliament, acknowledging their role in campaigning and working for the environment.

Along with the other conservation organisations – RSPB, WWF, John Muir Trust, Friends of the Earth – the Wildlife Trust has been influential in driving Scotland’s environmental agenda.

Its chief executive for the last ten years, Simon Milne, is a well known figure on the environmental landscape and has established the SWT as one of Scotland’s most respected institutions. He now goes on to the prestigious post of Regius Keeper at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

His successor as chief executive is Jonathan Hughes who began as a ranger on the SWT reserve at Loch Fleet in the 1990s. Since 2009 he’s been the Trust’s director of conservation. He takes over with this disturbing thought in the latest edition of the Trust’s magazine:

“ We have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. We are living through an era of profound changes to the planet’s biosphere, changes which are happening almost entirely due to the influence of human activity. It is within this context that the Trust faces its next 50 years.”

For details of your nearest SWT reserve: www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

The history of Scotland could well be written up as a search for energy. We began by cutting down the Caledonian forest, then cutting up the peat bogs, then mining the coal, then building hydro-dams and nuclear power stations, then drilling for oil offshore, and now building wind farms – on and off-shore. This week, the plan for one of the world’s biggest wind farms was given approval – 326 turbines 14 miles out in the Moray Firth.

Chancellor George Osborne 'Glee' at the estimates for oil

Chancellor George Osborne
‘Glee’ at the estimates for oil

Energy-related history can give us as much insight into our country’s character as the battles between the clans or the royal families, or the disruptions caused by religious sects or the industrial revolution or the class struggle. Would we, for instance, be having a referendum on independence if it wasn’t for “Scotland’s oil?”

The Chancellor, wisely or not, strayed into this minefield in his budget statement on Wednesday. George Osborne announced, with some glee I thought, that the official estimate of oil and gas revenues from the North Sea over the next four years had been downgraded by £3bn to £22bn and it would leave an independent Scotland, he said, with a shortfall in its government budget of £1,000 per head of population.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP’s deputy leader, responded by saying Westminster’s estimate of oil revenues “goes up and down like a fiddler’s elbow.” And besides, it took no account of the rise in revenue expected from the increased production which will surely follow the new investment by oil companies in the North Sea.

Freeze on whisky duty

Freeze on whisky duty

Mr Osborne pleased Scotland a little better when he announced a freeze on whisky duty, a cut in the tax on beer of a penny a pint and a cut in bingo tax to 10 per cent. How his major changes to pensions work out will have to be seen. Will retirees drawn on their pension pots and spend the money now or will they invest in annuities and the new pensioner bonds ? Scotland’s finance industry will be waiting anxiously to find out.

On Tuesday, the Scottish Labour Party published its “white paper” on further devolution. Finally, after some internal wrangling it seems, we have Labour’s alternative to independence. The Scottish Parliament, it says, should have more control over income tax, 15p out of every 20p. It should also take over the administration of housing benefit (allowing it to abolish the so-called “bedroom-tax”), some disablement benefits and the work training programme.

Crucially too, the Scottish Parliament should have the power to increase the income tax rates on the highest earners and reform the property tax system. The party leader Johann Lamont said: “ The Scottish Parliament would then have the power to reverse the Tory cuts for the rich and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden.”

Meanwhile the Tories have been outlining a totally different direction of travel. At their conference in Edinburgh last weekend, their leader Ruth Davidson said: “We shouldn’t be digging deeper into people’s pay packets. The Scottish Conservatives are committed to cutting the tax bills of working Scots.” She talked of rewarding the “everyday grafters” and the “working class” and shaking up the “amoral” welfare state. Revolutionary stuff indeed.

The Thin Red Line History will not repeat itself

The Thin Red Line
History will not repeat itself

This, while a real revolution has been going on in the Ukraine…a president ousted, the province of Crimea lost. The small Ukrainian community in Scotland has so far supported the new pro-western government in Kiev. But I can’t help the thought that “it’s Russia’s oil” which will determine the outcome of this crisis. Back in 1854, the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders bravely held the “thin red line” against the Russians at Balaclava. But I doubt if we can do the same this time. Indeed, we shouldn’t attempt it. The referendum in Crimea has been decisive. We should accept the result, as hopefully we will do in Scotland in September.

Worrying though all this is, we won’t escape war or history during the Edinburgh Festival this summer. The programme has just been announced by the outgoing director Sir Jonathan Mills. One of his main themes is war, especially “the war to end all wars” which began 100 years ago this year. The programme includes Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by the Thalia Theatre of Hamburg and Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony performed by young musicians from the Ukraine.