Leaders: SNP fallout hastens case for independent analysis
IN THE wake of the events of Tuesday – what was, by general agreement, Alex Salmond’s worse day in his term as First Minister – during which he was accused of lying over legal advice on membership of the European Union – it was hardly surprising that his political opponents should seek to keep up the pressure on the SNP leader.
So, yesterday, there came wave upon wave of attack on Mr Salmond. It was led by the Prime Minister, who said the case for independence completely fell apart under scrutiny. Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, now leading the fight against the break-up of the United Kingdom, joining gleefully in to warn the First Minister cannot be trusted. Scottish Secretary Michael Moore chipped in his tuppence worth of criticism for good measure.
Mr Salmond can hardly complain, for his explanation of his apparent confirmation of receiving advice from Scotland’s law officers – that he was referring to advice not given at the time of the publication of previous constitutional documents – reflected badly on the Nationalist administration, as we said here yesterday. The First Minister, one of the foremost exponents of politics as a contact sport, can hardly complain either of rough treatment. That is the way of politics.
Yet, for all the heat, yesterday’s exchanges provided little light. However, while the politicians were trading blows, a House of Lords committee sitting in Edinburgh heard evidence that reinforced the growing concerns over the information which the Scottish Government will provide voters in advance of the referendum.
Owen Kelly, the chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise, told the committee – which the SNP boycotted – that he did not believe the SNP administration would provide the authoritative voice on issues that are crucial to the financial services industry, including membership of the EU.
Mr Kelly, who speaks for some of our biggest banks and insurance businesses, said he would go to the EU itself or the UK government for answers, rather than to the Scottish Government, as it “aimed at persuading rather than providing a conclusive, authoritative conclusion”.
He may not have used the word, but Mr Kelly was, in effect, saying that the Scottish Government cannot be trusted to tell his members – and, therefore, the electorate – the truth, or perhaps more accurately the whole truth, about policies that effect not just businesses and their employees, but also everyone in Scotland looking for information ahead of the plebecite.
Mr Salmond’s dissembling and Mr Kelly’s warning serve to strengthen the case, made on several occasions in these pages, for properly-funded, credible, independent, research into both the benefits and disbenefits of independence. We trust it will not be long before the work on such research is begun. Our future depends on it.
University report deserving of study
The report published today by the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the United Kingdom’s elite universities, does not pull its punches when it comes to the issue of the funding of our best higher education institutions.
According to the group, which counts Glasgow and Edinburgh among its numbers, there must be a radical overhaul of funding as our universities are falling
behind countries where “astounding” amounts of money are being spent.
To the group’s credit the report, entitled Jewel in the Crown, does not shy away from suggesting two controversial solutions to this problem of increased global competition in higher education.
It says, bluntly, that research funding should be concentrated in the hands of its members and, in an equally forthright way, suggests scrapping the cap that currently limits tuition fees to £9,000 a year. Let us take each in turn. Concentrating research funding in the hands of a relatively few institutions would mean that others would lose out and those who did so would, understandably, be angry.
However, in allocating money governments north and south of the Border must try to get
the best return in terms of research results and attracting high-quality academics and students.
Raising fees beyond the £9,000 limit for England is even more problematic as Scottish students do not pay fees. It is unclear whether Glasgow and Edinburgh support this idea from a group of which they are fully a part.
What is very clear is that there is a problem and that solving it is in the interests of not just the universities, but also the country as a whole. This report deserves serious, mature, consideration.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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