This past week I sat down with Professor Kidd to discuss the Scottish independence referendum. We went over a multitude of topics covering nearly all facets of the Scottish independence debate. Our discussion began with the effect of the referendum on the University and then broadened in scope to cover the use of history in the campaign and more contemporary issues.
Professor Kidd is clear in his views: “There’s no doubt in my mind it would be very bad for the University of St Andrews. Scottish universities benefit disproportionately from the UK Research Councils.”
[pullquote]“There’s no doubt in my mind independence would be very bad for the University of St Andrews”[/pullquote]
Scotland has many of the UK’s top universities, explains Professor Kidd, meaning they are able to outperform and outbid many English universities for research contracts and grants. He thinks an independent Scottish government would not be able to fill the funding void that independence may leave.
Additionally, there would likely be many consequences for St Andrews’ funding and the tuition fee regime.
“Independence would force a lot of rethinking in the Scottish universities and would not be good for higher education and research in Scotland.” A Yes vote would force a major reshaping of the student demographics at universities in Scotland, the professor says.
He explains his views on how Scotland has been able to maintain free tuition for students and the effect of this policy on Scotland’s budgets.
“Alex Salmond has tried to buy off the universities, but he’s done it by crippling the finances of further education colleges. They’ve effectively had their funding cut, there’s been massive restructuring there…
“It’s the less well-off members of society who are trying to get a toehold on the education ladder. They’ve seen their choices and chances of getting onto college courses restricted because Alex Salmond has tried to buy off the middle classes who are sending their children to universities… Free university tuition has come at a cost and that cost has been borne by the Scottish working class. The working class has paid for free middle class tuition.
“Alex Salmond has feather-bedded the middle classes at the expense of the working class. Alex Salmond is an undeclared enemy of the Scottish working class.”
Context and the role of history
The union itself is a Scottish idea. John Mair of Haddington in the 1520s looked to union as an alternative to warfare. He feared the possibility of England forcibly taking over Scotland and making it a part of its empire. Professor Kidd makes sure to point out that the opposite of union is an English empire reigning over Scotland. Therefore, he says, union is really about creating an ideal partnership.
There are three unions to consider for historical context: 1603 (the Union of the Crowns), 1707 (the Acts of Union, uniting the Kingdoms of Scotland and England to form Great Britain), and 1800 (the Acts of Union, uniting Great Britain and Ireland).
The Union of 1800, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, has always been the most problematic union in British history.
“There’s been an Irish question for most of modern Britain’s history,” Professor Kidd adds, pointing out that until the 1970s the Scottish union was never called into question.
The Scottish National Party dates back to the 1920s when a variety of nationalist parties were founded. The SNP’s predecessor, the National Party of Scotland, was founded at this time. In 1934, the National Party of Scotland united with the Scottish Party, a right-of-centre nationalist party. Professor Kidd explains this latter party was an imperial reform party; its members wanted Scotland to have more of a role in imperial and UK affairs. Therefore, the merging of these two groupd brought together anti-imperialists and rightwing imperialists.
He observes that the SNP likes to look back to the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
“It’s somewhat odd that Alex Salmond uses the rhetoric of being a good neighbour; that Scotland would be a good neighbour to England after independence, but at the same time he also knows, and his party will deny it, and he will mighty England. And trying to present almost everything in these black and white terms as cases of Scotland vs England; whereas, of course, things are much more complicated than that.”
He continues: “A distorted version of the past plays a large part in the debates, though Alex Salmond also tries to present the SNP as a modern, forward-looking party, but there’s undoubtedly within its support an element that looks to it as driven by a sense of past grievances.”
The Scottish economy
Professor Kidd began by reflecting on the bank bailouts following the recession of 2008.
“The Scottish banks were very lucky that they failed when we were still within the United Kingdom. I think I may have occasionally used the formulation that was used in 18th century Edinburgh during the age of the Scottish Enlightenment. It was described as the ‘Athens of the North’, and I think my big fear is that in a future banking crisis, a future financial crisis, that an independent Scotland would leave us like a very different Athens of the North.”
In his words, Alex Salmond’s great claim is that “in an independent Scotland there would never be another Margaret Thatcher laying waste to Scottish industry as happened in the 1980s through having a high sterling value that prevented exports.”
[pullquote]“I think Alex Salmond, through miscalculation, might actually turn out to be another Margaret Thatcher”[/pullquote]
He outlined his concerns by saying that a flight of capital and financial institutions to England, if Scotland were to become independent, would likely occur.
“Simply for prudential reasons, they would leave for England.”
He also raised concerns about what a Scottish regulatory system would look like.
“I think Alex Salmond, not because he’s in any way malicious, but through miscalculation, might actually turn out to be another Margaret Thatcher – that she having laid waste to the Scottish industrial sector, he may well accidentally lay waste to the Scottish financial sector. He is, if you like, Margaret Thatcher in disguise.”
Professor Kidd also expressed his concern over the diversity of Scotland’s economy, which has long been focused on selling to those south of the border.
“We must not forget that one of the most successful common markets was the common market that was created in 1707, a common market that has lasted for over three centuries.
“In other words, the whole Scottish economy is entirely geared to exporting to England. It’s totally dependent on English markets, and we may well see a flight of industry and business. I mean if it’s supplying an English market, why isn’t it based in England?”
Alex Salmond has “flip-flopped totally” on this issue, Professor Kidd states, saying the SNP leader is out of options after switching from the pound, to the euro, back to the pound. Professor Kidd emphasised his worry that the Scottish government would lack flexibility in adjusting policy if Scotland were to be in a sterling zone.
[pullquote]“The SNP administration has focused on indpendence in the long term to the exclusion of immediate social and economic problems within Scotland”[/pullquote]
He expanded on this, saying that nationalists argue Scotland would no longer be hitched to England with independence, but if Scotland remained tied the pound then there would still be grievances, as now, because the rest of the UK would have a different type of economy from Scotland’s. Therefore “independence with a currency union would not eradicate that sense of grievance.”
Professor Kidd expressed his frustration with the SNP government, arguing that instead of examining their own internal policies, they go straight to blaming Westminster:
“Alex Salmond has been inconsistent on this all the way through.”
Similarly, on the matter of currency and pensions: “At the moment, would you rather have a UK pension in pound sterling or a Scottish pension in whatever currency?”
He suggested that retired people would much rather have their pensions in a currency they can trust, backed by the British government, than a Scottish pension where they have no idea what currency it will be in, whether it be euros, pounds, or some Scottish currency.
Scotland and the European Union
Professor Kidd started here by outlining the historical context of the SNP’s ‘independence in Europe’ strategy. This concept was devised by Jim Sillars, a former member of parliament who joined the SNP in the 1980s after establishing the shortlived Scottish Labour Party, following his exit from Labour.
[pullquote]“I’ve long held the view that Alex Salmond doesn’t want independence, that he knows what the costs are. Alex Salmond has been sort of bounced into this referendum and deep down he would prefer ‘devomax’, some kind of semi-autonomous relationship”[/pullquote]
In Professor Kidd’s view, the SNP’s success is underpinned by this ‘independence in Europe’ idea because it provides a ‘safety net’ for the nationalists.
He says there are a multitude of questions that arise regarding the European Union, including the status of EU workers in Scotland and the EU status of Scottish people.
“I don’t think either side really knows what the implications are for European citizenship as well as membership in the European Union.”
He pointed out that countries experiencing their own nationalist movements will make it difficult for Scotland to join the EU.
Does he think that, if the UK were to leave the EU, it would embolden the nationalist cause?
“I think there is a unionist majority in Scotland, but that unionist majority is underpinned by UK membership of the European Union. And if it came down to a choice between membership of a British union outside the European Union or independence within a European Union, that is a very difficult question.
“If that were to happen, I think all bets are off. I can honestly say, if that were the choice, I’m not even sure how I’d vote myself.”
Alex Salmond and voter turnout
“It’s certainly true that in the last few years, Alex Salmond and indeed his deputy Nicola Sturgeon have, between them, sucked all of the oxygen out of the Scottish political media.
Whereas, actually, I’ve been very impressed by Labour’s leader, Johann Lamont. But she struggles to enjoy the kind of media profile that’s necessary in a Scottish Labour leader because of the fixation on Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.
[pullquote]“The nationalists do not have a monopoly on patriotism. There are two different ways of expressing patriotism and the unionist one is just as much a form of patriotism as the desire for independence”[/pullquote]
“I guess Nicola Sturgeon is there to woo the women vote. Women are much more sensible than men and I think are much less likely than men to vote for independence.”
“Turnout is my big worry because I think that those who want independence are much more fanatically, ideologically driven than the majority of people who want to stay in the union, but not huge fans of David Cameron.
“In other words, they’re kind of reluctant, reticent, grumbling, unionists – they don’t want independence, but they’re not fanatical about the union in the way that nationalists are fanatical about independence.”
“A vote for the union is not simply a negative vote against independence, it’s also a vote for the pooling of risks and the sharing of resources within a union…
“I think that in Scotland there’s a big division between nationalists who want independence whether Scotland is better off or worse off economically as an independent nation, and unionists who are just as patriotic as the nationalists, but they’d rather that Scotland were better off within the protections offered by a union, [rather] than facing the risks and all of the start-up costs that go with creating a new independent nation.”
He continued: “The nationalists do not have a monopoly on patriotism. There are two different ways of expressing patriotism and the unionist one is just as much a form of patriotism as the desire for independence.
“I’ve long held the view that Alex Salmond doesn’t want independence, that he knows what the costs are. Alex Salmond has been sort of bounced into this referendum and deep down he would prefer ‘devomax’, some kind of semi-autonomous relationship. In an all-but-thename, semi-independent Scotland within a very loose United Kingdom: that’s what he really really wants.”
If Westminster fails to offer anything to Scotland, if the referendum fails, Professor Kidd says “the fear is Scotland could become another Quebec. We’ll be faced with a ‘neverendum’. I think something has to be done.”