On September 11, FreshAir News hosted a radio debate on the Independence Referendum.
Marco Biagi MSP and Rachel Blair, a member of SNP students and 3rd year Social Anthropology student, argued in favour of Independence.
Arguing against were Sarah Boyack MSP and Lora Bedford, Secretary of Edinburgh Labour Students.
The debate was structured around questions from the student audience in the room and listening to FreshAir at home and in the student unions.
A student asked whether the panellists’ opinions on Independence were motivated primarily by the head or the heart.
Biagi said: “I believe in Independence from my head and my heart, a little bit of heart has to be involved.
“There is a great appeal to the heart from the other side, with fear as the predominant emotion.”
Boyack said: “The Scottish parliament is such a success. We’ve got a choice to make more of the parliament we have, or leave the UK.
“Scotland has a good impact on the rest of the UK, the UK is better for Scotland being there.”
Blair replied that life would be better in an independent Scotland. She said: “One out of five children live in poverty. To say ‘No’ is to say, that’s okay.
“If we have control of our own economy, we can create jobs and move towards a more sustainable economy.”
She continued: “The question is about how to use power, it’s about what kind of politics you have, not about where powers lay.
“It’s not true that the South East likes austerity – we can create more wealth, more opportunity, create social justice.”
Disagreeing, Biagi said: “Are we better governing ourselves, taking a distinct approach that matches our strength and weakness, or better as part of a union?”
Another question, posted on Twitter, asked what would happen to the NHS if Scotland voted ‘Yes’.
Biagi replied: “Administratively, the NHS in Scotland is already distinct. But it’s not financially independent from England.”
He explained that he wants to protect the NHS from private competition and cuts in England.
Boyack said: “There is more privatisation; but that’s not because the UK government is demanding it, but it is what SNP ministers are doing.
“The Scottish health system is run in Scotland, but we do benefit from investment and research in the UK. We cannot assume this won’t stop if Scotland was separate.”
An EU student from Belgium asked how independence would affect fees for EU students.
Boyack explained: “The issue would be about the rest of the UK, one wouldn’t be able to discriminate against students from the rest of UK.”
Boyack also explained that the concern would be about the quality of education and the possibility of ‘brain drain’ if Scottish universities could no longer be part of the research network.
Biagi said: “There is an important question about the EU status of Scotland. EU students enjoy a lot of rights because of the EU membership. We have in the UK a government that is committed to withdrawal from EU, and a rise of parties like UKIP.
“This is a debate where the ‘Yes’ side is the more international, and wants to ensure that Scotland has a direct seat at the top table at the EU and can influence decisions. If you want to ensure your right as an EU student, vote ‘Yes’.”
Regarding the UK’s voice in the world, Bedford said: “[Through the UK], Scotland has also a seat on the Security Council which it wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Many ‘No’ voters are committed to Europe, and we would fight to keep the UK as a part of Europe.”
Blair pointed out that Scotland disagrees with UK foreign policy, and would choose to be more peaceful. She said: “If we remove Trident when we get independent, we can be more peaceful, and use that money to make our welfare state stronger and protect our people.”
Talking about what will happen after the referendum, Boyack said: “It’s about people moving ahead. A ‘No’ vote is a positive choice, it enables you to build on what we’ve got.”
Biagi said: “The Scottish parliament makes decisions that fit better; Independence should be the logical conclusion.
“Wouldn’t it be better if the final say would be in Scotland? This doesn’t exclude partnership and shared institutions. Where we wanted to do things differently we could do them differently.”
In her concluding remarks, Boyack argued: “We are better off together – we get to influence decisions in Scotland, but also get to influence the UK. We can continue the good things we were able to do.”
Biagi said: “Where we had the powers, we have done things better. Do we trust the government in Westminster, or the people who live in Scotland?”
Speaking to The Student, Boyack said: “I think there is a lot that can be done to improve the opportunities for students once they leave university.
“I think there is still a problem of student poverty. A lot of students don’t have enough money, we have a big dropout rate in Scotland, there’s a lot of challenges in terms of improving higher and further education in Scotland.
“I think there is an extent to which separating us from the rest of the UK makes that a lot harder to fix, so I’m hoping that we get a strong ‘No’ vote next week.”
Meanwhile, Biagi told The Student: “It’s always a good guiding principle for any referendum – think about what kind of country you want to live in and ask yourself if you’re in it now, and if you’re not, vote for change.”