Ian Swanson: The effect of Scottish Independence

Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
0
Have your say

Political Editor Ian Swanson takes a look at how some cherished British institutions may fare if Scots say yes to quitting the UK next year.

It is a decision which could change every element of life for people in Edinburgh – and we’ll be making it one year from today.

The referendum countdown is on and the campaigning is moving up a gear, but are we any closer to knowing what independence would mean for the Capital?

We are continuing our look at some of the main issues today as First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, were visiting a childcare centre in north Edinburgh to mark 12 months to go.

He said the referendum on September 18 next year would be “the opportunity of a lifetime”.

He said: “In policy areas education, health, justice and climate change, Scotland has shown the way, with innovative, popular policies which the people of Scotland overwhelmingly agree with. Westminster, in contrast, all too often produces policies which damage or hinder Scotland.

“Scotland can more than afford to be a successful independent country. We have enormous advantages in terms of our human and natural resources, but we need the political and economic tools to help create a wealthier and fairer society.”

Meanwhile, the anti-independence campaign was staging a poster launch on Calton Hill. Better Together leader Alistair Darling said: “Now that there is a year to go to the referendum, I hope that the Nationalists will be prepared to give people answers to the many questions that they have about the impact of going it alone on our jobs, our pensions and our public services. Up until now every one of these legitimate questions has either been met with calls of ‘scaremongering’ or
with a blind assertion.”

Devolution gave Scotland the best of both worlds, he argued. “We have a strong Scottish Parliament making decisions on the issues that matter to us here, but we also have the strength and security of being part of a bigger United Kingdom.”

Many believe Edinburgh is likely to prove a tougher battleground for the Yes camp to win over than some other parts of Scotland. The city’s Tory group leader, Cameron Rose, who is also a key figure in Edinburgh Better Together, said: 
“Edinburgh has a particularly large number of English people resident. I struggle to think why we would want to create a sharper distinction between them and those who regard themselves as predominantly Scottish.”

Hardeep Singh Kohli, Elaine C Smith and Margo MacDonald are due to join Mr Salmond at a rally for independence on Calton Hill on Saturday.

City leans towards uk union

The run-up to a ‘year to go to’ has been marked by a plethora of seemingly contradictory opinion polls.

One – commissioned by the SNP – put the Yes side a point ahead. Another – funded by former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft – put the No side in the lead by as much as 39 points!

But much of this apparent volatility reflects differences in the way the polls were conducted. Scots themselves have so far proven remarkably stable in their views.

Across all the polls conducted since the summer the Yes vote has on average been put at 34 per cent. That is exactly the same as it was in all of the polls conducted during the course of last year.

The No vote currently stands on average at 48 per cent, a little down on the 50 per cent of last year. In short, for all the sound and fury so far, very little has changed – leaving the No side about three to two ahead.

But if it looks as though the Yes side still has some way to go before it looks capable of winning a majority across Scotland as a whole, its task in Edinburgh looks even more challenging.

An above-average number of people born in England live in the Capital. It is also a relatively middle-class city. People born in England are more likely to have a strong sense of British identity, while support for independence tends to be lower amongst those in relatively well-paid, white-collar jobs.

In the 2011 Holyrood election the SNP won just 36 per cent of the list vote in the city, compared with 44 per cent across Scotland as a whole.

Ironically, the SNP’s best hopes of turning Edinburgh into the capital of an independent state lie in the rest of Scotland, not in the city itself.

• John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University.

Universities

UNIVERSITIES are already funded separately from England, by the Scottish Funding Council, and Scotland has its own policy of free tuition, so structural arrangements may not change.

But independence does threaten Scottish universities, according to the No camp.

Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign and Labour MP for Edinburgh South West, said: “Edinburgh’s universities get huge benefits from UK research funding which would come to a halt. Edinburgh is one of the best ranked universities in the world, but if you took away that research funding that would put it at a huge disadvantage.”

Ironically, independence could also force Scotland to extend free tuition to students from England. People from the rest of the European Union already get free tuition because of a ban on discriminating against other EU countries – and that’s exactly what England would become.

Embassies

EDINBURGH is already home to about 30 consulates representing a wide variety of countries.

But if the city were to become the capital of an independent Scotland, the size of the diplomatic corps would be expected to increase dramatically.

The Scottish Government has pointed out Dublin has 56 embassies with about 660 staff, compared with the 150 people working in consular offices in Scotland.

The economic benefit of the extra jobs could run to tens of millions of pounds.

One pro-independence source said: “Edinburgh is already a capital, but with independence it would become an international capital with a massively increased profile.

“Where there are currently consulates and sometimes honorary consuls, we would be talking about fully fledged embassies as countries sought diplomatic relations with Scotland.”

With an increased overseas representation in the city, there could be the possibility of a new international school as well as increased demand for places at the city’s private schools.

Army bases

DEFENCE cuts have meant big reductions in the number of armed forces personnel based in Scotland.

In a controversial review of UK military bases earlier this year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced part of Edinburgh’s Redford Barracks would close, along with the headquarters base at Craigiehall, and the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland – otherwise known as the Royal Scots Borderers – would move to Northern Ireland, breaking ties between the Capital and the 380-year-old Royal Scots regiment.

Under the SNP’s plans for an independent Scotland, all existing military bases and facilities north of the Border would become part of the new Scottish Defence Force.

All Scots in the UK armed forces would be offered a place in the new force.

And service personnel from the rest of the UK currently based here would also have the choice of serving in the SDF.

The SNP also says it believes all Scottish-recruited regiments should be based in Scotland and it is understood this would include bringing the Royal Scots back from Belfast.

Transport

High-speed rail could mean 250mph trains cutting the Edinburgh-London journey time to less than three hours and benefiting the Scottish economy by an estimated £25 billion.

But according to No campaigners, independence would spell an end to such a development. The Scottish Government has previously said it would invest up to £9bn – over half the total £15.2bn cost of bringing the line from north-west England to Edinburgh and Glasgow. But one No figure says: “There’s no way a UK Government will pay for the line to come up to the Border so an independent Scottish Government can take it the rest of the way.”

However, a leading Yes campaigner points out there are no firm proposals from Westminster for bringing HS2 to Scotland at the moment anyway and indeed rising costs and opposition in England have put a question mark over whether the scheme goes ahead at all.

But he adds that such a cross-Border rail link is a good example of a project where Scotland and the rest of the UK could co-operate. “The Scandinavian countries work together on transport projects of mutual interest all the time.”

Broadcasting

AFTER any Yes vote for independence, a new Scottish Broadcasting Corporation would be expected to be set up, based on the existing staff and assets of BBC Scotland.

Viewers in Scotland would still be expected to pay the licence fee, but it would go to the new national public service broadcaster rather than the BBC in London.

Pro-independence campaigners say the new channel would allow better news and current affairs coverage, reported from a Scottish perspective, as well as more opportunities to show Scottish comedy, culture, documentaries, sport and drama. However, they say people would still also be able to watch the BBC, as they are in Ireland.

Critics fear there is a danger of Scottish broadcasting becoming parochial. And the No campaign has raised fears about whether Scottish viewers would still have access to the iPlayer. But the Yes camp says that’s scaremongering and argues the iPlayer is part of the BBC’s assets which belong to Scotland as well as the rest of the UK.

Birthday boy Scott’s polling day

FORRESTER High School pupil Scott Kerr will celebrate his birthday next year – by going to vote.

The S4 student turns 16 on referendum day – exactly a year from today – so will be entitled to have his say on Scotland’s future. He says he is excited at the prospect. “It’s a fantastic move to lower the voting age to 16. I’m very pleased I can voice my own opinion.”

But Scott is set to disappoint Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign as he will be voting No to independence. He says: “I’m looking to join the RAF when I’m older and if we’re independent our military would be a lot weaker.”