The University of Edinburgh Politics and International Relations (PIR) Society hosted a debate on Independence in Old College on September 11.
The heated discussion featured Amie Robertson of Radical Independence Edinburgh and Roisin McLaren from the University of Edinburgh Scottish Nationalist Association on the independence side.
Arguing against Independence were George Melhuish, Chair of Edinburgh Labour Students, as well as Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) External Affairs Campaigns Representative Theo Robertson-Bonds from Better Together.
Maxwell Greenberg, President of the Politics and International Relations Society, chaired the debate.
In his opening statement, Melhuish stated that to vote against Independence is to support a “modern democratic Scotland within a changing UK”.
He said: “I vote ‘No’ not just because it makes economic sense. We shouldn’t let nationalists divide us and risk what we have achieved, and what we can still achieve.”
Robertson stressed that she wants independence in order to “see a real change”. She emphasised: “A ‘Yes’ vote is a vote for people’s independence and claiming back power.”
Meanwhile, McLaren said: “The UK is united in name alone; who governs our four nations is not decided equally between us.”
A question on whether independence would be bad for business started off the debate.
Robertson-Bonds explained: “In order to create a better society, business is necessary.”
He said: “We have to listen to the facts, listen to the businesses, and take their verdict into account when we come to a verdict in a couple of days.”
Robertson said: “We have to point out the hypocrisy of getting a lecture in economy from the people who caused the banking crisis.
“I don’t want this for any nationalist reason, I want this so ordinary people have a chance to make things better.”
Melhuish said that not everyone would be invited to “#teamscotland”.
He explained that Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party (SNP) would push forward their vision of Scotland.
Responding to a question about the currency, Robertson argued it was “up to Scottish people what they want to do”.
She said: “I’d like to move on to more interesting questions about how we can build a better society.”
Robertson-Bonds replied: “I’ve never heard the economy being taken so lightly as you two just did.”
He said that a currency union had been made unlikely, and if Scotland would still use it there would be “no backup, no central bank – thousands of jobs at risk”.
Melhuish said: “Currency is pretty key. But when currency is even asked in a question all the nationalists groan, and then you hear from the nationalists: not this question again.It actually matters, that’s why people keep asking this question. A currency union won’t happen, unless you want to use the pound like Panama.”
McLaren responded that it was in the interest of the Bank of England to have as many people use the currency as possible.
The debate then moved on to how independence would affect Higher Education.
Robertson-Bonds said: “If we were to charge rest of UK students fees, we would have to charge Scottish students too.
“There are no answers on how to go and fund very important research grants […] we have no clear answers on how SNP would plan.”
Robertson said: “It’s not a problem of finding Scotland’s wealth but how we can equally distribute it.”
McLaren stressed that 70 per cent of research funding is given by merit, not because of political reasons.
To this, Melhuish replied: “The UK government does distribute by merit, but if Scotland wasn’t in the UK, it would not get those UK grants”.
Discussing whether Scotland tends to get governments it does not vote for, McLaren said that for 38 out of 68 years, Scotland did indeed get governments it did not vote for.
Robertson said: “Voting is about taking power back in our hands, the campaign brought in people who have been left out systematically out of UK politics.”
Robertson-Bonds replied: “Part of democracy is that I have to sometimes accept that my side won’t always win”.
Melhuish added: “England is not just the 85 per cent oppressor of Scots, people across countries have different views.”
The last question of the evening focused on how to achieve a more progressive immigration policy.
Robertson said: “In an independent Scotland, we would bring back the post-study work visa and forge a new socially minded foreign policy”.
McLaren said: “We can create a socially responsible country for future generations to come.
Scotland has an aging population – to deal with that, we need higher net migration, a different policy.”
Melhuish responded that while he would prefer open borders, British anti-immigration sentiment is no different in Scotland than the rest of the UK, with policy being rooted in people’s attitudes.
Confirming this, Robertson-Bonds pointed to the British Social Attitudes Survey. He said: “People in Britain are just as frustrated with Europe and immigration as the rest of the UK.
“Attitudes don’t diverge too much, as surveys have proven.”
In her closing statement, McLaren encouraged the audience to use momentum “to build a new fairer society for our country”.
Robertson said: “With independence we can create a smaller country with focus on social policy. In 2014 we are given the option for our people to take power”
Robertson-Bonds called independence a “huge gamble.”
“We have to accept that sometimes our ideas don’t work out and accept the next best option – a strong Scottish parliament.”