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United Kingdom

This weekend I will ride like an anxious shareholder on the Edinburgh trams. I will feel every shoogle, look for every fault, wonder whether my investment as taxpayer and patient citizen will ever be worthwhile.

Trams start running this weekend

Trams start running this weekend

This project, as all the world knows, has been a disaster, an embarrassment and a joke. But finally now it is a thing of hope. Can the shiny red and white trams restore the city’s reputation? Will they be well used? Will they be extended and fulfil their original ambition?

The trams will start answering these questions at 5am on Saturday. The fare will be the same as the buses for all city journeys, £1.50, but £5.00 if you want to go all of the 9miles from the city centre to the airport. You can buy your ticket from a machine at each of the 16 stops or from the young and enthusiastic conductor on board. Your tram will, hopefully, be carrying 331 other passengers. It will pass gracefully through the red lights, avoiding startled pedestrians and cyclists, and make its way sedately to the airport in about 35 minutes – longer than the airport buses take, curiously.

On such a day, would it be unseemly to ask who was responsible for the three year delay to the project? For it costing £776m instead of £375m, and for it being half the original length? No it would not. The council’s own inquiry may not have started, but my own inquiry has found the bosses of Edinburgh Transport Initiatives to blame, aided and abetted by the politicians.

The Scottish Parliament  Another project with a financially shaky shart

The Scottish Parliament
Another project with a financially shaky shart

The Edinburgh trams were not the only post-devolution project to suffer a shaky start. The Scottish Parliament building makes the trams look financially frugal by comparison. But hey, this is what nation-building is all about, trial and error, pride and fall. This week we’ve been taking the delivery of weighty reports about an independent Scotland. The UK Treasury brought out a report saying every Scot would be £1,400 a year worse off if we vote Yes in September’s referendum. The SNP government not only disputed that figure, it predicted we would be £1,000 better off.

It turned out that both figures could be correct because the £1,400 refers to the start-up costs of a new nation and the £1,000 reflects a resurgent nation, predicted to grow its economy at 3 per cent a year. Which goes to prove that the referendum is not a question in a mathematics exam but more a question of history and culture.

So too is the European Union which will now have a rabid anti-EU member of parliament from Scotland in David Coburn. He stole one of Scotland’s six seats from the Liberal Democrats who are plunging towards oblivion as I write. They came 6th in the Euro-elections in Scotland, behind Mr Coburn’s UKIP and the Greens. The SNP won most votes, though Labour and the Conservatives held on to their seats pretty comfortably on a 33 per turnout.

Danny Alexander  Help for the GSA

Danny Alexander
Help for the GSA

Notice how keen the politicians are to please in these sensitive electoral times. No sooner had the firemen put out the blaze at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh art school in Glasgow than Danny Alexander the treasury minister was promising funds to repair the damage. Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s culture secretary, was standing by the smoking building doing much the same. Was the art school not insured, I wonder?

Indeed the city of Glasgow and the art world generally I think rather over-reacted to the fire. No one was killed or injured. The building can be rebuilt. The fire service saved most of it anyway and much of its contents. Sure, the library was badly damaged and some students lost their current works, but several arty types were composing eulogies as if the whole of Western art had been destroyed. Perhaps I’m biased – and certainly unfashionable – but I find Mackintosh’s style heavy-handed, dark and uncomfortable. That library must have been a scary place in which to work.

The nation has been agonising again over its landed estates. A report published by the Scottish government’s review group has called for a limit on the number of acres of land an individual or company can own. The Duke of Buccleuch for instance owns 240,000 acres, the Duke of Atholl 124,000, the Duke of Westminster 94,000, the Dutch fashion billionaire Anders Povlsen 160,000.

Bowhill House Part of Buccleuch Estates

Bowhill House
Part of Buccleuch Estates

The landowners and the gamekeepers have, of course, condemned the idea of a cap on acreage, saying it would starve the countryside of investment. Those in favour of smallholdings or community ownership say a cap would release the true potential of the land. And I notice this week that the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis, and the 1400 acres of land round about them, have been taken over by the local community with the help of a government grant.

No such help has been available to two pieces of hallowed turf here in Edinburgh, Tynecastle and Easter Road. Both Hearts and Hibs have been relegated to the second division of Scottish football, strangely called The Championship. Hearts have gone down for financial reasons and Hibs lost out to Hamilton in a tearful penalty shootout in the rains of last Sunday afternoon. Thank goodness Gordon Strachan restored our football reputation by taking the national team to a respectable two-all draw with World Cup qualifiers Nigeria in a friendly and exciting match in London.

It’s strange how so many stories touch upon our national pride, from trams to parliaments, art work to sport. And each time we are humbled.

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.

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

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

Euro Election Posters in Dublin

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

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

Swing to Eurosceptics Source: YouGov

Swing to Eurosceptics
Source: YouGov

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

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

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

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

Elena Baltacha (Picture from Wikipedia)

Elena Baltacha
(Picture from Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

Increase in waiting times

Increase in waiting times

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

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

European Elections Politicians more concerned with the referendum

European Elections
Politicians more concerned with the referendum

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

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

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

John Mckendrick

John Mckendrick

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

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

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


John McKendrick, Senior Lecturer, Glasgow Caledonian University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David McCausland, Head of Economics, University of Aberdeen

Dr David McCausland

Dr David McCausland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

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

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.

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This being exam season, Alex Salmond faced a tough test in international relations this week. He travelled to Bruges in Belgium on Monday to spell out how an independent Scotland would be an enthusiastic and positive member of the European Union, unlike Mrs Thatcher who’d used her Bruges speech 25 years ago to voice the UK’s euro-scepticism.

Challenge to minimum price policy

Challenge to minimum price policy

Unfortunately, his speech was overshadowed by two domestic difficulties, the price of alcohol and the living wage. Both are currently the subject of dispute in Europe. The SNP have argued that they are being prevented by EU rules from insisting on the living wage of £7.65 an hour in all public contracts. No so, say the EU mandarins. And on a minimum price for alcohol, the Scotch Whisky Association won a court ruling this week that will allow it to take its case against a minimum price to the European Court on the grounds that it is a restriction on free trade.

Unfortunately too, this was the week when Tony Blair’s old spin-doctor Alastair Campbell published his version of an interview with Mr Salmond, given at the time of the Sochi Olympic Games. It contained a few firecrackers. On whisky he said: “You cannot promote it from a nation of drunks.” On Rupert Murdoch: “ He is a remarkable man…why shouldn’t politicians engage with people in the media.” And on Vladimir Putin, Mr Salmond said he admired certain aspects of the Russian leader: “ He has restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing.”

Alex Salmond  Under fire over comments

Alex Salmond
Under fire over comments

For these remarks, out of context or not, Mr Salmond got a roasting from all three opposition leaders at first minister’s question time on Thursday. They said he was unfit to represent Scotland on the world stage. Mr Salmond stuck to his text as best he could and said he’d tried in vain to find anything at all the Scottish opposition parties had said about international affairs.

The employers’ organisation the CBI is rather wishing it had not said anything at all about the Scottish referendum. Last week it faced a walk-out of its members over its decision to register as a “No” campaigner. This week, it said it had all been a mistake by a junior official in London. But its u-turn was not as spectacular as that of the other icon of modern capitalism Donald Trump. Last month he was saying he would no longer focus his investments on Scotland – because of the planned wind-farm off his Menie golf course on the Aberdeenshire coast. But this week he invested £35m in the championship course at Turnberry on the Ayrshire coast where Marine Scotland says there is a good wind-farm site just three miles off-shore.

It’s all worthy of an entry in the new Library of Financial Mistakes which was opened in Edinburgh on Tuesday by a man who admitted he’d made a few himself, Norman Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor. The man behind the venture, stockbroker Russell Napier explained its purpose: “The more we know about why smart people do stupid things, the fewer stupid things we might do.”

Elish Angiolini

Elish Angiolini

We could apply those words of wisdom to the scandal of how babies’ ashes were handled at the Mortonhall Crematorium on the south side of Edinburgh. A damning report came out this week from Dame Elish Angiolini detailing how for decades families had been told it was not possible to return the ashes of small babies. But it transpired they had been buried secretly or swept up with the ashes of adults cremated around the same time.

The first minister told parliament that the practice had now changed and that the 250 families concerned were being offered counselling. Futhermore, a more wide-ranging report was being drawn up by Lord Bonomy, covering crematoriums elsewhere in Scotland and legislation would follow, spelling out how the death and burial or cremation of young babies should be handled.

We learned this week that Scotland’s population continues to grow. There were more births than deaths last year and a net inflow into the country of over 10,000 people. There are now 5.3 million of us, the highest number on record. The beaver population is also growing. There are now 19 living in Knapdale in Argyll in the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s official re-introduction programme. The experiment began five years ago with 17 beavers brought over from Norway and a survey has found that 60 per cent of humans questioned supported the idea. However, landowners in Tayside – where there are thought to be 150 unofficial beavers – are not so keen.

Finally, let us praise Britain’s longest-serving post mistress. Mrs Esther Brauer has run the Kylesku Post Office in Sutherland for 61 years. She’s now retiring at the age of 83 because she’s having computer problems. Her little wooden post office over-looking the sea will almost certainly close, and with it a chapter of Highland history.

Kenny MacAskill is in trouble again. Scotland’s justice secretary is like one of those skate-boarders who always seems to be tumbling towards a fall but always manages to stay upright. This time he’s been forced into a u-turn on “corroboration”.

Kenny MacAskill  Justice Secretary

Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

His Criminal Justice Bill has run into mounting opposition for proposing to abolish the ancient tradition in Scots Law of two independend sources of evidence being required before a case can be brought to court. His idea is to increase the low rate of prosecutions in cases of rape, sexual assault and child abuse. Victims, he says, should have their day in court, even if their case does not pass the corroboration test.

To me, this whole issue is just a semantic dispute, since I don’t suppose there is a country in the world – or at least in Europe – which would put someone on trial without there being some sort of credibility test applied to the allegations, whether you call that “sufficient” evidence or “corroboration”. But the lawyers and the opposition parties have got themselves into a fury over it and now Mr MacAskill has been forced to postpone that part of his bill until a review of the “safeguards” is undertaken by a former judge Lord Bonomy.

Alex Salmond MSP Lowest level of crime

Alex Salmond MSP
Lowest level of crime

At first minister’s question time on Thursday, Alex Salmond faced calls from Labour and the Conservatives for Mr MacAskill to be sacked for the way he has handled the affair. And, of course, they had a list of previous “offences” which they said should be taken into account – the introduction of a single police force, the closure of many local court houses, the legal delays over the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, the high rate of stop-and-search operations in Glasgow, and his decision in August 2009 to release the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

But Mr Salmond pointed out that Mr MacAskill had presided over the lowest level of recorded crime for nearly 40 years. It’s dropped 22 per cent since he’s been justice secretary. He declared his “enormous confidence” in Mr MacAskill. As well he might, since Kenny MacAskill has been a firebrand member of the SNP since the beginning of nationalist time.

He rose through the ranks of the party while working as a lawyer. He has the craggy good looks and speech delivery of an evangelical preacher but off-stage he’s amusing and surprisingly laid-back. His hobbies include writing books on SNP theology and following the Tartan Army wherever they go. One football match he missed, however, was Scotland against England at Wembley in the Euro 2000 competition when he spent the entire game in a police cell due to “a misunderstanding” on his way to the match.

Alex Salmond has kept a stable team

Alex Salmond has kept a stable team

It’s inconceivable that Alex Salmond would ever sack Kenny MacAskill, however accident-prone he might be. It’s not the sort of thing Mr Salmond does. In fact the SNP front row have been remarkable in how well they’ve play together and remained loyal to each other despite the ideological differences there must be between them. The fight for independence is a strong unifying force.

No amount of the flag-waving south of the border on Wednesday, St George’s Day, could deter Alex Salmond going to Carlisle to declare that an independent Scotland would be good for business in the North of England. He even made a cheeky offer to start building the new high-speed rail line from Scotland, without waiting for the Westminster government to get going from its end.

Kenny MacAskill wasn’t the only one to stumble this week. The business organisation the CBI thought it would be a good idea to register as an official supporter of the “Better Together” campaign, presumably because it could then hold a few fund-raising dinners without falling foul of the referendum spending rules. But that prompted a rush of resignations by organisations I didn’t even realise were in the CBI, like the universities and the broadcasters, government quangos and the Law Society, all of whom said they must remain neutral in the independence debate.

Russian Bomber (MoD)

Russian Bomber
(MoD)

With the Russians pouncing on Crimea and clanking along their border with Ukraine, we’ve all become a little sensitive about Russian military manoeuvres. So when a couple of bombers appeared off the North East coast of Scotland on Wednesday afternoon, the RAF was sent to investigate. Two Typhoons were sent up from Leuchars and confirmed that the bombers were indeed Russian “Bears”, Tupolev-95s. The RAF chaps warned the Russians they were coming dangerously close to Scottish – or rather British -air space and they’d better turn back.

It then transpired that there had been a similar incident at sea a few days before when a Type 45 destroyer had to be sent out to shadow a Russian warship, The Kulakov, on manoeuvres off the north coast of Scotland. Apparently, we’re not to panic. Such incidents happen all the time – there were eight last year – and they are all part of routine operations to test our defences. But, right now, they certainly test our nerve. What would happen, I wonder, if there is one of those “misunderstandings.”

David Moyes Sacked after 10 months

David Moyes
Sacked after 10 months

I certainly misunderstand the decision by Manchester United to sack that fine Clydesider David Moyes after only 10 months as manager. OK, he’s had a bad run of 11 defeats but his illustrious predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson took time to find his form. Clubs rise and fall, that’s what football is all about thesdays. Paying a reputed £10m severance fee to a man who’s hardly started the job seems to me crazy. But apparently it’s pleased the shareholders, such is the bizarre world of high finance. Moyes will probably walk into another job next week, a richer and wiser man, so my tears are less for him than for the fallen state of professional football.

Another man who’s been shedding tears this week is Andy Murray, but this time tears of joy. He was overcome by emotion when he was given the Freedom of Stirling at a ceremony in his old school in Dunblane. He left the town as a promising young player, 15 years old, to train to be a world champion in Spain. He too has experienced the ups and downs of sport but he said the people of Dunblane have always supported him. It’s a lesson that could well be learned in Manchester.

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.