The Student speaks to campaigners from the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps.
Angus Millar is a researcher at Yes Scotland and a member of Generation Yes.
Q: Can you give students three reasons to say yes to Independence next Thursday?
By voting ‘Yes’, we can ensure that university tuition will continue to be free for all Scottish students. Policy for education, including tuition fees, is already under the control of the Scottish Government, but Holyrood doesn’t have full control over Scotland’s spending, and is subject to annual cuts imposed by Westminster.
With the full powers of a normal country, we can create the high-skill, high-wage jobs our young people deserve. With a ‘Yes’ vote, the Scottish Government can commit to the Youth Guarantee, which will bring Scotland into line with other European countries by guaranteeing everyone up to the age of 24 the offer of employment, education or training.
In an independent Scotland, our National Health Service will not only continue to be available free at the point of need, but free from the threat of privatisation.
Q: Will it be sustainable for Scotland to offer free education for Scottish and EU citizens, and how will universities adapt to the lack of UK research funding?
After independence, the Scottish Government proposes to maintain a common research area for higher education research purposes – they argue that this would be in the best interests of governments, researchers and institutions in both Scotland and the rest of the UK. This is a view which has been echoed by the head of the Research Councils UK body himself. Earlier this year, Professor Paul Boyle told a Scottish Parliament committee that he favoured the continuation of current arrangements if Scotland became independent – because while Scotland benefited from being part of the UK-wide research councils, the benefits were mutual.
Q: How would you like to respond to the latest polls on Independence? Do you think they’re showing us what to expect on the 18th, or is it not that simple?
The latest ICM poll for The Guardian has ‘Yes’ support at 49 per cent, with 42 per cent of people who voted Labour in 2010 voting ‘Yes’. This is a hugely encouraging poll for us – the highest in a regular ICM referendum poll so far. It shows that the barrage of intimidation from the ‘No’ campaign isn’t working – David Cameron’s co-ordination from Downing Street of big business to talk down Scotland has been met with a giant raspberry, particularly among Labour voters. As we say in response to all the polls, we are working flat out to ensure that we achieve a ‘Yes’ vote, because it’s the biggest opportunity the people of Scotland will ever have to build a fairer society and more prosperous economy.
Q: Critics claim that the ‘Yes’ Campaign is ignoring the risks of a vote for Independence – what do you consider to be the biggest risks, and why do you think they are worth taking?
The key is assessing both the risk and opportunity of a ‘Yes’ vote, making the right decision and managing the risk accordingly. Voting ‘No’ certainly entails major risks for Scotland and its people, and there are questions we have to ask ourselves about our future. Will a ‘No’ vote mean we’re forced out of the EU thanks to Cameron’s proposed referendum, at tremendous cost in terms of investment and jobs? Will a ‘No’ vote mean five more years of George Osborne’s austerity and falling living standards? What about Ed Milliband’s alternative brand of austerity which is increasingly difficult to tell apart? Is there one question on Independence that hasn’t been asked much, but that you think should get more screen time in the run-up to the 18th September? It’s not a case of which questions haven’t been asked – but which questions haven’t been answered. For example, the Westminster parties have confirmed that a ‘No’ vote won’t deliver a single new job-creating power or the protection we need for our NHS.
Q: What is your message to students who aren’t quite sure whether and how to vote next Thursday?
After leaving college and university, students in Scotland deserve to work in a country where there are opportunities are available to them. Since the recession, eight out of ten private sector jobs created in the UK have been created in London. That kind of economy doesn’t benefit young people in Scotland. Scotland is one of the top twenty wealthiest nations in the world and we’re richer per head than even Japan, but we need independence to make that wealth deliver more for young people in Scotland. Instead of a one-size-fits-all economic policy that prioritises London and the South-East of England, we will have the powers we need to create more and better opportunities here in Scotland, and improving the prospects of young people in Scotland will always be the number one priority.
George Melhuish is Chair of Edinburgh Labour Students.
Q: What would happen with university fees and funding in an independent Scotland?
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding what might happen to university fees and funding in an independent Scotland. As we know, the Scottish Government want to join the EU after independence. EU law states that independent members have to charge the same fees to students of all other EU member states.
This means that an independent Scotland would have to charge the same fees to the rest of the UK as they do for domestic students. However universities in Scotland rely heavily on the fees paid by students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to fund free education for Scottish and European students. It is just impossible to see how Scottish universities could cope with the increased demand for places from the rest of the UK without either forcing a huge number of Scottish students out of university places or introducing significant fees for domestic students.
Q: How would you like to respond to the latest polls on Independence? Do you think they’re showing us what to expect on September 18 – are Better Together nervous ahead of next week’s results?
With recent polls showing eight point leads for both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ the one thing we can be sure of is that this referendum will go down to the wire. I think the closeness of the polls has driven home to people what’s really at stake and the fact that anyone who doesn’t want to wake up in a separate country on the 19th September should come out and help us win for ‘No.’
Q: Critics claim that the Better Together campaign is too focused on painting a very bleak picture of an independent Scotland, missing the opportunity to offer a picture of Scotland and the rest of the UK that will actually be ‘better together’ – what do you think about this?
That kind of talk is borne out of the fact that Alex Salmond won’t answer questions on the fundamental issues like what currency we’d have, whether we’d quickly join the EU or how our schools and hospitals would be funded. It isn’t scaremongering to raise these issues that matter to millions of Scots who won’t accept the nationalists telling us to vote ‘Yes’ for a land of milk and honey.
Q: If Scotland were already independent, would you vote for a union?
Nationalism is an incredibly outdated ideology that entirely ignores how the world has changed over the past few decades. People are increasingly coming together all across the planet and I don’t see how more division helps us.
Q: There has been talk of bringing back the post-study work visa in an independent Scotland – if students vote no, will immigration conditions for international students improve?
A thing we hear a lot from the nationalists is how an independent Scotland would be more left-wing and open to immigrants.
The facts are that Scottish people as a whole are no more pro-immigration than the rest of the UK, however disappointing that is for those of us who want to see a more welcoming policy towards international students and migrants.
The best way to fight for international students, in my opinion, is to fight for the best policies UK-wide.
Due to space constraints, interviews have been edited for brevity.
Interviews by Ilinca Barsan and Thurston Smalley