Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that she would seek permission for a second independence referendum was an inevitability. Over my time in politics, Scotland’s interests have not merely been ignored by the unionist parties, but treated with the utmost contempt. Sturgeon’s announcement is a direct result of the unionist arrogance we have witnessed over the last two years.
Immediately after the 2014 referendum, the Prime Minister decided to use his speech to set out plans to curtail the voting rights of Scottish MPs (English votes for English Laws was, rather aptly, shortened to EVEL); the Smith Commission was set up, laying out an anaemic guide to which powers should be devolved to Scotland (Scotland was, you may remember, promised much more); there was a general election wherein a majority Conservative government came to power (elected with only 37% of the vote) who then embarked on a programme aimed at undermining the Scottish economy. To date, the greatest undermining of Scotland’s interests was the decision to pursue a “Hard Brexit”.
St Andrews students are notoriously disengaged in our approach to domestic politics but another independence referendum will affect all of us. One of the reasons our degrees are worth so much is because of the high regard this University is held in around the world. Leaving the EU will mean that the institutional ecosystem in which our university has thrived is threatened. This could mean less research funding, an end to Erasmus and will make St Andrews a less attractive place to study for prospective students, and a less attractive place to work for prospective staff.
Within the UK, Scotland has control over policy areas such as health and education. The Scottish budget however, is dependent on UK government policy. This means that cuts to education south of the border force the Scottish parliament to make cuts in areas under their competency, or raise income tax. In practice, this means that Scotland’s education policy within the Union is not so much based on the needs of the higher education sector, but must instead be a reaction to policy made in Westminster by a government with no mandate in Scotland (or indeed anywhere if you like your mandates to be democratic). With the powers of an independent Scotland, we have the freedom to make our own choices about things that would affect our University.
We will once again have the opportunity to choose between an ancient union that does not respect Scotland’s interests; that has turned its back on common decency and fairness and is doomed to decline further; or an independent Scotland with the choice to join a modern union – one set up to facilitate international decision making and tackle contemporary issues head on. We will be able to formulate our own foreign policy, prioritising international cooperation.
In Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come A’ Ye, we are reminded to “never heed whit the houdies croak for doom”. Over the next year or so, we will witness persistent attacks from these houdies – determined to convince the electorate that Scotland is simply too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern its own affairs. Personally, I look forward to the unionist scare stories as a rich source of entertainment. We must remember however, that Scotland has the resources and the people to not only be successful, but to be a leading light for progressive values at a time when our world is in desperate need. St Andrews can be the place where that begins.
Finally, it is worth noting that Scotland’s potential will not be realised by arguing from within Facebook’s echo chamber. We will win through engaging with as many people as possible on every doorstep in the country over the next year or so.