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September 21, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Should they stay or should they go?

By the time this magazine is printed, the people of Scotland will have decided for themselves whether they want to remain a part of the United Kingdom or become their own independent nation. The “Better Together” ‘No’ campaign has been consistently negative and has been unable to clearly enunciate a package that would keep Scotland part of the United Kingdom but give it greater autonomy. Conversely, the ‘Yes’ campaign has been unreasonably idealistic: it is still unclear whether an independent Scotland will keep the pound and how Scotland will survive without being propped up financially by its friends in England. Salient got in touch with the University of Edinburgh student newspaper, The Student, to try to get some student perspectives on the referendum. This piece demonstrates both the complexity and the importance of the referendum for everyone in Scotland.

Contrary to popular belief, students, for the most part, are not apathetic. In fact, political dialogue on campus has never been so dynamic. With the Scottish Independence Referendum fast approaching, The Student spoke to four University of Edinburgh students to discuss their views on Thursday’s vote.

Jovan Rydder will be voting ‘Yes’. He said: “I think there are clear indications that Scotland would be economically secure post-independence. Even the ‘No’ campaign is far from declaring that Scotland would not be able to handle independence, or that it does not have the resources for it. With this in mind, I think non-significant differences in economic outcome on the national level cannot rule the decision to create such significant and permanent change. Instead, my major reason for voting ‘Yes’ will be the distorted politics of the broader UK, specifically the opportunity to properly enfranchise the Scottish population, which clearly deviates in voting patterns from the broader UK. It is a significant question whether any UK government has at all been representative of the political will of the Scottish population since the rise of New Labour.

“The expected turnout for the referendum is incredibly high, more than doubling the turnout for the European Parliament elections and by far outstripping turnout in any standard election in countries where voting is optional. I think it is important that students vote in the referendum in order to get experience of directly taking political action for change on a national level (whether voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’), but given the incredibly high expected turnout I think students will clearly not be missing on the voting booths on the 18th.” Rydder added, “I think having succeeded in such direct democratic action towards political change will enliven the political will of students as well as the broader population, hopefully compounding the positive impact of having national government so much closer to the population.”

There has been much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of non-Scottish voters, an issue particularly pertinent to the vast numbers of English, EU and international students currently living in Edinburgh. Rydder suggests: “Working from the more inclusive model of citizenship that does not delineate Scots based on ethnicity but rather on whether they feel like stakeholders in Scotland’s future, it is clear that it is right that voting is not restricted only to ‘ethnic’ Scots. Thus, this legitimacy comes mainly from how involved you feel with the issues at stake for Scotland.”

Third-year French and Spanish student Warren O’Donnell will also be voting ‘Yes’ on Thursday. He said: “I would like to see an independent Scotland which allows the people of Scotland to build the society that they want to see, a society that works for everyone and not just the few. This isn’t about Salmond or the SNP; this is about the potential for people to take control of the future of their country.

“I feel like students at Edinburgh have a great reputation for taking action on issues they care about and I hope that whatever the outcome of the referendum, students continue to work together on issues they feel strongly about. It’s incredible that this referendum has really encouraged people to engage in debate and discuss what they expect from their country. I hope that, in the event of a ‘No’ vote, there won’t be a sense of apathy after all of this enthusiasm and hope.

“I think it’s important that students vote in the referendum as the student population makes up an important part of our society and the outcome of this referendum is undoubtedly going to have an impact on future generations of students.”

Eve Ryan is a third-year student. She told The Student: “I am voting ‘No’, to put it simply, because I think together we are a greater force for good than separately – both on a local and international scale. I agree this referendum should be a wake-up call to Westminster to increase the powers held by the Scottish government; however, I do not think we need to split in order to enable this increase, and that both parties would risk losing too many benefits from the other if we were separate.”

Eve believes that the referendum has already taken its toll and has increased tension on student life. “The media frenzy surrounding the referendum has become, on both sides, quite antagonistic in parts, and the worry that you aren’t on ‘Team Scotland’ if you vote ‘No’ is one thing that in my mind has come to the fore. There seems to be a dialogue existing whereby ‘Yes’ campaigners are emphasised as having a stronger moral compass and interest vested in their country, and this is simply not true. Both sides possess valid arguments, both sides are equally as concerned with the needs of Scotland, and both sides want to create the most moral Scotland possible.”

Ryan added: “It is incredibly important that students vote. We are, after all, the generation who will truly feel the repercussions of this choice (especially if there are changes to tuition fees for Scottish students).”

“It is also extremely important that English students vote, as it is important that the other partner in the union has at least some representation in this matter. We will obviously feel the effects less than the Scots will, although I do wonder how English people living on the border feel given that they have no vote in this referendum.”

Macleod Stephen is a second-year Law student, who also resides firmly in the ‘No’ camp. He explains, “I’m voting ‘No’ because I strongly believe Scotland’s best future lies, in the long term, as part of a federal United Kingdom. For me, independence is not only a divisive and nationalistic act, but a massive compromise on achieving the best deal not only for the people of Scotland, but for the rest of the UK as well. Economically, Scotland would be hit very hard by independence, and while some of us are able to weather the storm, there are many people who would seriously struggle. Whilst many are taken by the optimistic version of the future presented by the ‘Yes’ camp, for me, the reality of having no lender of last resort, a significant loss of jobs, a £6 million black hole, uncertainty over currency, increased interest rates on Scottish bonds as well as massive hits to university funding all point to a very tough time in Scotland post-independence. At the moment, we have a real influence in Westminster through the Scottish MPs who have helped to stop a majority Tory government and to reduce the effects of the bedroom tax, amongst other things. It’s important for us to keep fighting for what’s best for everyone in the UK, and not to just cut them off.”

Macleod also sees Scottish independence as having a detrimental effect on student life. He says: “Student life would be affected materially by independence in the form of the loss of about £150 million in funding, meaning our quality of education wouldn’t be so high. Also, Scottish universities wouldn’t be able to charge students from the rest of the UK any more, so massive numbers of these students would come up north, meaning less Scottish kids are actually getting into university due to the massive competition from the UK. I think it will also have an impact on how students feel towards one another. Across the whole of Scotland, it’s been a divisive debate, and I think no matter what the result, whenever something negative happens, one side will feel very bitter. I worry it will cause arguments and bad feeling, although I hope that it won’t!”

Macleod believes voting in the referendum is of the utmost importance, and is himself travelling back to Aberdeen on Thursday just to cast his vote. He adds: “It’s so important not only to vote, but to do a huge amount of research into the issue and come to a decision you are totally comfortable and happy with. Otherwise, after the outcome is announced, you could be left feeling that you could have made a difference, but didn’t. It’s so important because this isn’t just an election, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime vote on the future of an entire nation.”
This piece was originally published under the title ‘Talking IndyRef with Ed Uni Students’.You can read this and other perspectives on The Student’s website

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