If you want a glimpse of the kind of chaos that would engulf Britain should the SNP have its way, take a look at the universities.
The situation is bad enough as it is. There are currently no tuition fees for Scottish students in Scottish universities. Nor for students from the European Union. Only students from the rest of Britain have to pay fees. Alex Salmond’s Scottish government proposes to continue to charge students from the rest of Britain tuition fees if Scotland left Britain, unlike students from all other EU member states.
This proposal arguably conflicts with EU law. For if Scotland left Britain and joined the EU as a separate state, the rest of Britain would be like any other EU member, so Scotland would be legally obliged to provide university education free to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is, of course, a funny old world where it’s legal for Edinburgh to discriminate against English, Welsh and Northern Irish students, as long as we’re all part of the same country. We don’t need the EU to tell us that the discrimination is grotesque.
Even if the numbers of students from elsewhere in Britain stayed at the same level as today, under EU rules the loss of funding from these students would, according to the SNP’s own figures, cut about £150 million from Scottish universities’ finances. This alone would threaten the affordability of free tuition for Scottish students, or academic employment and standards in Scottish universities, or both. Now imagine how many more would seek to study in Scotland if there were no fees.
If the numbers were to increase – and there would be a very strong incentive for young people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to come to Scotland for a free education – the effect could be even greater. It could drain students from the universities of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, causing a massive funding crisis in higher education throughout Britain. Yet the Scottish government expects the rest of Britain to continue to share research facilities and fund research in Scotland’s universities.
Scotland’s higher education institutions received £257 million of UK Research Council funding in 2012-13, 13 per cent of the total and a lot more than Scotland’s 8.4 per cent of Britain’s population.
The Scottish government claims that nothing would change for this funding in Scotland if it left Britain. Yet the Wellcome Trust, for example, which has invested over £600 million in health research in Scotland over the last decade, commented, “Our future commitment, and the eligibility of Scottish institutions for Trust support, would need to be reviewed. There is no guarantee that our funding would be maintained at current levels.”
The separatists keep trying to say that nothing would change, anywhere. Education would be the same, the pound would stay the pound, and so on. But that, to use a current SNP term, is preposterous. Create a different state, and everything changes.
And as the article on page 12 makes clear, the pound would not be the pound we have now if it were an item of “shared” sovereignty. Instead of being our protection against the euro, it would become a source of weakness.
Britain is clearly one nation, built up over centuries. We are all intertwined, bound together by class, culture and economy. If that were not the case, its break-up could be accomplished relatively painlessly. The chaos, the pain and the confusion surrounding the SNP’s plans only serve to show how much of a united nation we actually are. ■