Scotland: ‘yes’ to what?

February 27, 2014

A number of professors at Scottish universities have come out in support of a “yes” vote in the independence referendum. But those who advocate independence ought not to do so without considering the possible repercussions of the Scottish electorate voting this way.

Not all the ambitions of the Scottish government outlined in its White Paper on independence will be achieved. There will be much horse-trading, and universities will be one of the pawns. Research funding will be in particular jeopardy. Under current UK arrangements, Scottish institutions win 14 per cent of research council and charitable research funding while having only 8 per cent of the UK population. After a “yes” vote, would the rest of the UK wish to continue this cross-border subsidy?

And as for free university tuition for Scottish students, this has been made possible only by relatively generous funding from the UK government. There is no guarantee that this will be maintained after independence, and profound questions arise about the equity of the policy. Why should the poorer half of the population contribute to the free higher education of a student population heavily skewed towards the better-off half? Wouldn’t fees with targeted financial assistance to the poor be a more effective and just way of funding higher study? Perhaps the cost burdens of current arrangements may force an independent Scottish government to reconsider current policies.

Norman Bonney
Emeritus professor
Edinburgh Napier University

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