Crowd Awaits
Crowd Awaits
Jeremy Peat and Ruth Davidson
Jeremy Peat and Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson with YAS members
Ruth Davidson with YAS members
Ruth Davidson, Jeremy Peat and YAS members
Ruth Davidson, Jeremy Peat and YAS members
Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson

Report 

Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, delivered the final speech of our series with the title, “A Union Revived”. Ms Davidson used her lecture to argue that the referendum debate provided an opportunity for Scots, and also those living elsewhere in these islands, to look again at what Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom gain from their 300-year old partnership.

Ms Davidson opened her speech by reflecting that David Hume’s call for scepticism and empiricism struck a chord with Conservative beliefs, but that they contrasted with the ‘razzle dazzle’ of the nationalist cause. This, she suggested, was a contrast all the stronger with the United Kingdom often unwilling to wear its patriotism on its sleeve.

However she maintained that, although it was perhaps more challenging to make the case for continuity as opposed to radical change, the Union was a magnificent thing.

Click here to continue reading the report.

The Speech

A Union Revived  Ruth Davidson at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 13th February 2014  speech here.

In the press

Article in the Scotsman: Scottish independence: Davidson to attack ‘myths’ Andrew Whitaker - published 12.2.14 Scotsman - RD

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Rennie - Jane Barlow Scotsman

Picture courtesy of Jane Barlow (The Scotsman)

The fourth lecture in our series started off by Mr Rennie stating that we probably all agreed on the third part of his title. And that he would argue that the first two, although of course more controversial, were crucial to safeguard it.

At several points during his speech, Mr Rennie highlighted parallels between the "In Britain" and "In Europe" dialogues currently taking place, describing his own party as the "Party of In". Not without pointing out though, that both the EU and the UK require reform “to be the best that they can be for Scotland”.

Click here to continue reading the report.

The Speech

In Britain. In Europe. In Work.  Willie Rennie at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 4th February 2014  speech here.

In the press

 Article in the Scotsman - Scottish independence threatens trade, says Rennie- Andrew Whitaker published 05.01.2014

 Scotsman - Article 3

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Rennie - Jane Barlow Scotsman

Picture courtesy of Jane Barlow (The Scotsman)

Willie Rennie - In Britain. In Europe. In Work Speech Here 

The fourth lecture in our series started off by Mr Rennie stating that we probably all agreed on the third part of his title. And that he would argue that the first two, although of course more controversial, were crucial to safeguard it.


At several points during his speech, Mr Rennie highlighted parallels between the "In Britain" and "In Europe" dialogues currently taking place, describing his own party as the "Party of In". Not without pointing out though, that both the EU and the UK require reform “to be the best that they can be for Scotland”.

Mr Rennie reminded us of the current economic background, much more positive than many would have predicted and, given circumstances, "not something we were automatically entitled to expect".  Future success, Mr Rennie argued, was underpinned by "a single market, making trading easy" and allowing Scottish businesses to expand across the continent. However, Scotland's main trade, worth £85 billion, is with the rest of the UK and one should not underestimate the "border effect", shown to damage cross-border trade, even without physical borders and no matter how "allied and benevolent" the neighbours (as recently published in the Scotland Analysis paper by the UK Government). In a first parallel, Mr Rennie made the case "to avoid imposing borders that hit trade inside the present UK as any nationalist might for trade with the EU". No need for more red tape, not even red tape “written in the same language”.

In a second parallel, criticism to the "union" was highlighted, where leaving and hence having no influence is presented as the answer to complaints of "losing influence" by both EU critics and (Scottish) nationalists. Mr Rennie's view is that it will be easier to make the changes to "help the future for Scottish jobs and prosperity" from within, with the "back-stop and insurance" provided by those unions. He reminded the audience of the RBS bailout by the UK and the insurance Greece got from the EU. He also illustrated that potential loss of influence with the example of an independent Scotland entering into a fiscal pact with the remainder of the UK in order to retain the pound. In this case, Scotland’s fiscal policy could be constrained by a UK chancellor in whose appointment Scotland had no say.

But as already mentioned before, reforms are needed in Mr Rennie’s opinion and he referred the audience to the work of the Lib Dem Home Rule and Community Rule Commission led by Sir Menzies Campbell.  The basic underlying principle is that power needs to be shared for countries to be successful. According to the OECD, decentralising fiscal powers has considerable advantages to economies, such as accountable and powerful (local/regional) government, with the ability to raise most of the money it spends, but with the back-stop and insurance from being part of the UK. However, the commission argued that welfare should remain at a UK-wide level to protect mobility of labour and that the single market needs to be preserved to protect the jobs that depend on it.

Although in favour of decentralising fiscal powers, Mr Rennie went on to explain why the commission had recommended that setting corporation tax rates should remain a central (UK) matter.  First though, he pointed out that the nationalists have a lot banking on “powers over corporation tax”, which really means “cutting corporation tax”.  A first flaw in the corporation tax policy, according to Mr Rennie, was that it was not cost-free; there is no guarantee on what term, if ever, the initial (immediate) loss of revenue can be recovered. The Scottish Government needs to tell us all how much it will cost in total and over how many years. A second flaw Mr Rennie highlighted was the assumption that “the neighbours” would stand by and idly watch their corporation tax being undercut.  More likely, a “race to the bottom” would follow and the losers would be people everywhere who rely on the spending power of the government(s). The back-stop of being part of the UK would prevent everyone becoming a loser. Mr Rennie advocated positive power sharing, letting all regions of the UK build on their strengths, strength coming from being the best, not (temporarily) the cheapest.


A latter part of the speech focused on "the three great challenges facing this generation: poverty, an ageing population and climate change". Mr Rennie's proposed solutions focused on increased participation through education, strong industry sectors and keeping a balance in the economy. Early-years education (child-care for two-year olds) and increasing the number of apprenticeships were highlighted as two possible routes to increase participation.  Mr Rennie quoted figures for universities, contributing £6 billion to the Scottish economy and supporting 140,000 jobs. “In Britain, in work at Scottish universities”. There was, unfortunately, no mention of how these universities and their research would be funded.

Mr Rennie concluded by telling us that “change is going to come”.  Although that is true regardless of the outcome of 18 September, Mr Rennie was referring to the growing consensus on decentralisation, “building such momentum that it will happen”. The second report Menzies Campbell has been commissioned to make (Campbell II) has been tasked with showing how widespread the consensus is and how quickly it could be turned into actual change.  I believe we can all look forward to more firm proposals on what ‘no’ would actually mean for Scotland in the UK.

To end, a quote from a pupil during a recent school visit recounted by Mr Rennie: "Can we trust what politicians are saying?" This, of course, will be the real challenge for the YAS members in a few weeks time, distilling the information we feel we can trust from this lecture series. We look forward to the fifth and final contribution by Ruth Davidson next week!

 

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Patrick Harive
Patrick Harive
PH and JP
PH and JP
PH1
PH1
PH2
PH2
PH3
PH3

Report

 

The third ‘Politicians and the Professionals’ seminar saw Scottish Green Party leader, Patrick Harvie, speak of the opportunity independence could provide “to pursue a different economic model" which "prioritises equality and sustainability and supports small business and social enterprise".

Acknowledging his party and supporters do not all share his pro-Independence stance, he insisted that the Scottish Greens offer a more balanced contribution to the debate: Independence would not be “Utopia”, he said, nor would it be “disaster”; “the truth is somewhere in between”. He urged all parties to engage honestly with the key issues and risks “to meet undecided voters on their own turf”.

He has been the most direct to date in addressing YAS’ plea to speakers to explore both the risks and opportunities of independence, although focussed on the economic and social angle rather than directly addressing the challenges in the Higher Education sector.

Click here to read the rest of the report.

 

The Speech

'The Independence Referendum; and the Challenges and Opportunities for Creating a Sustainable Economy that Works for Everyone' - release from Green Party

 

In the press

 Article in the Hearld- Yes vote 'would give Scotland influence' - published 31.01.2014

 PH Herald

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Patrick Harive

'The Independence Referendum; and the Challenges and Opportunities for Creating a Sustainable Economy that Works for Everyone' - release from Green Party

 

The third ‘Politicians and the Professionals’ seminar saw Scottish Green Party leader, Patrick Harvie, speak of the opportunity independence could provide “to pursue a different economic model" which "prioritises equality and sustainability and supports small business and social enterprise".

Acknowledging his party and supporters do not all share his pro-Independence stance, he insisted that the Scottish Greens offer a more balanced contribution to the debate: Independence would not be “Utopia”, he said, nor would it be “disaster”; “the truth is somewhere in between”. He urged all parties to engage honestly with the key issues and risks “to meet undecided voters on their own turf”.

He has been the most direct to date in addressing YAS’ plea to speakers to explore both the risks and opportunities of independence, although focussed on the economic and social angle rather than directly addressing the challenges in the Higher Education sector.

The opportunities?

A Shift away from the “Tyranny of Big”

Independence, he said, offers the opportunity “not just to shift where power lies but to redesign our economy and build a better society,” through developing an economic model that rejects the “Tyranny of Big” – referring to the monopoly of a “handful of dominant players” in the banking, food and energy supply sectors. He accused the Scottish ‘No’ campaign of perpetuating “the myth that bigger is always better”, and Westminster and Whitehall of returning to “business as usual” through pursuing the same unsustainable economic models that resulted in the recession in the first place: “it was broken before the recession.”

“We’re now told we’re getting economic recovery [but] we’re not…we’re talking about protracted periods of growth [in GDP] that widen inequality and benefit those who need it least.” In another clear attempt to distance himself from others in the Yes camp, Harvie added "I don't want an independent Scotland to punch above its weight, I want our people to have a decent life"

A renewable future & sovereign currency

He set out a vision for publicly owned energy companies that invest in renewables to replace oil and gas revenue. A devolved government, he said, could invest in renewable energy, but only independence could facilitate the borrowing options required to implement fully. For Mr Harvie, the SNP’s White paper, offers a limited view of independence: “we need to look at independence in terms of macroeconomic choices”. In his view, anything short of a sovereign currency would not provide the flexibility to pursue serious economic policy change.

Sustainable food practices

Brandishing an apple (‘the planet’) and a knife, he cut away the flesh until virtually nothing remained, illustrating that the top soil left on the planet cannot sustain current industrial scale agricultural practices. "We need to create planetary boundaries beyond which we will not overload the environment … the notion that we could have an economy that is not fundamentally dependent on ecological systems is nonsense.”

Through Independence, he said, we could nurture a return to diversely controlled, locally-based food chains.

The risks?

Capacity in governance

Mr Harvie identified capacity within our governance structures – the Scottish Parliament, central and local government, the civil service – as the main risk of a ‘Yes’ vote if proposed timescales are adopted: “there’s a risk if we don't develop capacity quickly enough then we’ll buy in from consultancies who have run the system south of the border… that we don’t end up repeating the same mistakes is one of the biggest challenges”. He expressed concern, for example, that we would let KPMG write our tax code rather than anti-poverty campaigners: “we need to be putting capacity in place now – it’s not something I see happening yet.”

De-centralising power and decision-making

Asked how he would grow capacity and break the “strong-hold of institutions”, he responded that debating a written constitution should begin immediately (not in 2016 as the SNP propose) and that power and decision-making should be de-centralised to local government and communities.

Isolationsism and youth engagement

He challenged recent claims that the “Networked Generation” believe independence would isolate Scotland from the modern age, describing it as “laughable” that a younger generation would fear the opportunity to “decide for ourselves the society we wish to live in and what wealth means in our lives”. Barriers to change, he said, “lie in Westminster with a Political culture beholden to the City of London and its institutions”. Asked about the role of young people in an independent Scotland, he responded that strong engagement of 16-17 year olds in September’s vote would strengthen enfranchisement of this generation, something he hoped could be capitalised on for retaining engagement in the future.

Q&A Session

Following the talk by Mr Harvey, there was a 30 minute question and answer session which touched on topics including “the economic and fiscal performance of Scotland post referendum”, “how to address some of the challenges of land/property ownership” and “if there is a yes vote in 2016, what will youth engagement be like”. Mr Harvey provided a robust defence on these topics and further built on some of the topics developed during his earlier talk, stating “I hope there is a strong turnout of 16/17 year olds and [youth engagement] will be significant”.

In conclusion

He concluded that, “yes”, facing up to the (inter-connected) economic, societal and environmental challenges he had outlined “is scary; and, it should be. But we can either pull the duvet over our eyes, or face up to these challenges…” We can read from this that a ‘No’ vote, for Mr Harvie, would be a retreat under the covers.

We await the final two seminars in the series with eager anticipation.

 

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Johann Lamont

‘The Optimism of Politics’ — speech here

Johann Lamont MSP, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, perhaps in response to accusations of too much negativity in the Better Together campaign, explained her optimism for a Scottish future where a progressive movement across the UK could tackle the important issues of inequality in education, health and employment.

At the beginning of the speech, Lamont discussed her Hebridean background, in a Gaelic speaking family, and the surprise often shown by people who would assume that a connection to the islands would make one a nationalist. She countered that her understanding of inequality and injustice in Scotland made her a socialist, not a nationalist.  Clearly stating that she spent her life standing against nationalism Lamont commented; “Geography and identity didn’t determine those who had power and those who didn’t.” Throughout the speech, Lamont touched back on the idea that inequality in Scotland cannot be addressed by “simply erecting a border”, at one point stating she did not believe the notion that Scots would “unite behind a bold and progressive vision once we have thrown off the shackles placed on us by our neighbours”.

A central argument in her speech was that real change in Scotland can be made now and does not have to wait for a referendum. She focused on three main areas—education, health and the economy—in which redistribution of wealth and opportunity could be accomplished without independence, implying it could be better achieved within the union, and could make a significant difference in the lives of Scottish people.  

The speech ended with a call to work for change from within, in partnership with progressives across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. “The answer is to change the government, not the constitution.”

The Young Academy of Scotland posed four specific questions to each of the five speakers in this series via an open letter. First, what are the biggest risks and opportunities of independence? Second, how would an independent Scotland ensure sufficient research funding to maintain their reputation for quality research and innovation? Third, what specific plans would your party implement to ensure Scotland’s economy? Fourth, what is your detailed vision for post-referendum Scotland?

While Lamont did not directly address these questions in her speech, elements were briefly touched on in the question period. Regarding a question about the possibility of the UK opting out of the EU, Ms Lamont speculated on why British people might feel disconnected from the EU and stated that we need to be positive about communicating to the public why the EU is important. Regarding a question about what incentive Westminster will have to negotiate for further devolution following a ‘no’ vote and what the Scottish Labour party would have to offer in terms of increased devolution, Lamont deferred specifics until the upcoming report from the Devolution Commission is published and suggested that the whole of the UK benefits by settling questions about devolution, rather than evading them.

The final question cited the results of a recent poll by the Law Society of Scotland, which found that most voters felt disengaged and uninformed about the debate, and asked why this was and what can be done. Lamont’s response was one that resonated with many in the audience- she encouraged non-governmental bodies  to engage pro actively with the debate, providing independent evidence and, more importantly, opinions in their areas of expertise. “Saying nothing is not being neutral.” As the lecture closed, those present from the aforementioned bodies looked forward to engaging in the forthcoming opportunities to discuss opinions with the remaining leaders who are participating in this joint YAS/DHI lecture series whilst also having the opportunity afterwards to reflect on the quality of evidence, analysis and policy drawn from all invited speakers.

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Maria Ana is an Associate Professor at Heriot-Watt University, where she leads a research group focused on novel ultrafast lasers and photonic systems, as well as their applications to sensing and imaging.

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