A look at some important issues that haven’t figured strongly in the independence debate
With the referendum on Scottish independence just 3 days away the main issues have been firmly established; currency, debt-sharing, membership of international organizations and ownership of North Sea oil. There are, however, several further issues which whilst important, have not attracted the same level of comment from either side of the campaign. Here are a few:
1. University Tuition
Since 2000 Scottish students have been exempt from paying fees for undergraduate studies undertaken at Scottish universities. Following an EU anti-discrimination ruling Scotland was forced to extend the same benefits to students from any EU country, however a loophole in EU legislation meant that Scottish institutions could still discriminate within the UK; the upshot being that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students still have to pay to attend Scottish universities. If Scotland votes to become an independent country and subsequently joins the EU, as Alex Salmond has promised, under current EU laws it would not be able to charge fees to UK students wishing to study at Scottish universities. The SNP’s White Paper on independence promises that Scotland will seek an exemption, but it seems highly unlikely that EU courts would grant one. Scottish Tory education spokesperson Mary Scanlon stated that “We’ve always known that European law could not be clearer on this issue. An independent Scotland would not be able to discriminate between different national groups, and that has been confirmed in this in-depth study”.
2. Border Controls
It seems like a ridiculous statement, and indeed neither side has made any significant comment on the issue, yet there may well be strong pressures to introduce border controls with an independent Scotland in the future. Speaking in May First Minister Alex Salmond confirmed that he has plans to increase net migration into Scotland by 24,000 a year following independence. With net migration to the UK as a whole having risen by 38% in the past year, Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to stem the flow of immigrants to the UK, evidently pressured by the prospect of losing electoral share to UKIP on the right. It thus seems possible that with directly contradictory immigration policies on either side of the border, controls may well have to be imposed to prevent immigrants entering Scotland only to travel to the rest of the UK.
3. The BBC
The future of the BBC in an independent Scotland is highly uncertain. The SNP has consistently advocated the foundation of a new publicly funded digital channel for Scotland; as far back as 2008 the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation suggested that up to £75 million in public money should be contributed to a new Scottish TV channel. It seems unlikely that BBC Scotland would be fully liquidated with Scotland only receiving global BBC programming such as the World Service, but it remains a possibility. A potential model may be found in the Republic of Ireland, where broadcasting network RTE has a licensing agreement to transmit certain BBC programmes. Further questions remain regarding the funding of any new Scottish TV channels and the status of BBC license fees in Scotland, which currently account for some £350 million in BBC revenues. An internal BBC study conducted last week found that Scottish households may have to pay almost double their current license fee to continue receiving BBC programming. Meanwhile, the Yes campaign website assures voters that ‘You will be able to watch Doctor Who in an independent Scotland’.