By Ellen MacAskill
2014 is a big year for Scotland. We’ve got Homecoming Scotland events, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, MTV Awards and the Commonwealth Games all coming to Glasgow. After a summer of tourism, the autumn will bring with it the country’s biggest political decision in recent history. On September 18th, Scots aged 16 and above will decide if Scotland should be an independent country.
The debate is divisive and heated on both sides. The Yes campaign are often branded ‘anti-English’ while the Better Together group are accused of being too right-wing for Scotland. These views are of course narrow-minded and generally uninformed. So how should we as young people go about making our minds up? The run-up to the referendum is our chance to engage, educate ourselves and make an impact on the country’s future.
Let’s start with one of students’ top priorities: tuition fees. While many English students now have to pay up to £9k a year for a university education, up North we want to cling onto degree funding for dear life. A statement on the Yes website’s FAQs says: “Because policy for universities, including tuition fees, is already under the control of the Scottish Government and Parliament, independence will not have any immediate impact on this issue. Whether or not Scotland continues with the policy of free tuition will depend on who is elected to form the Scottish Government at the elections scheduled for May 2016.” However, critics have queried whether continuing to charge students from the rest of the UK for education in an independent Scotland would be legal. The future of fees is an ambiguous issue even outside the referendum. Let’s count ourselves lucky to have funding while it lasts.
What about the job market? Last week former Scottish secretary Lord Lang warned that a ‘Yes’ vote followed by “barriers and tax regimes” would “cost jobs in Scotland”. A spokesperson for the current Scottish Finance Secretary responded by saying that independence would “create jobs, attract investment and build a more prosperous and fairer society.” Former First Minister Jack McConnell sung the praises of stronger devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament within the union. Devolution is often unionists’ go-to term for ‘compromise’.
In addition to the SNP, the Scottish Green Party and independent MSP Margo MacDonald have adopted pro-independence policies. Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are officially pro-union.
School pupils under the age of 18 will be eligible to vote for the first time. This move is futile if they are not given the political education they need. Are students more inclined to vive la revolution and break away from Westminster? Pro-indy supporters like to make their voices heard, promoting Radical Independence conferences in campuses across the country. However, the first mock-referendum, at the University of Glasgow last February, decided that the UK is better together by a considerable majority.
Published in November, Scotland’s Future White Paper, a manifesto on what the end of the union would herald, set out one potential future in its most concrete form yet. However, debate appears daily about the issues surrounding Scotland’s place in the EU and the Sterling currency, amongst other things.
December saw the latest TNS opinion polls come in at 41% in favour of the union and 27% pro-independence. This makes for a narrower gap than the previous poll. The final 16-week campaign period, beginning in July, will be make-or-break time for the Indy Ref debate. As disillusionment with the coalition government remains stagnant, it will be up to both campaigns to convince those left undecided what is best for their future.
This article can barely skim the surface of the debate, but its intention is to remind you to get involved. We are fortunate to be living through an exciting time in Scottish politics to say the least, and it would be wasteful not to make an informed decision.
BBC News regularly updates a section of the Scotland News website with discussion and information. For those of you on twitter, as well the official campaign accounts, try following @blairmacdougall and @alanbissett for No and Yes perspectives respectively.