Michael Russell must publish legal advice on fees

Education secretary Michael Russell. Picture: Johnston PressEducation secretary Michael Russell. Picture: Johnston Press
Education secretary Michael Russell. Picture: Johnston Press
CLARITY rather than obscurity is essential for people to be able to make a reasoned choice in September’s independence referendum.

Few of the many matters at stake demand as much precision as the question of university education and whether an independent Scotland, presuming it would be a member of the EU, would be allowed to compel students coming from the rest of the UK, uniquely amongst other EU citizens, to pay tuition fees.

Making a success of independence, if that is what Scotland votes for, arguably depends on this issue. To be economically successful, Scotland needs a highly educated workforce. Having a high number of graduates is a key to that, and the Scottish Government argues that we currently do well in this area because of its policy of not charging Scottish-domiciled students tuition fees. But it is able to charge fees to students from the rest of the UK and without that, it is reckoned, Scottish universities would be swamped by non-Scots seeking to escape fees of up to £9,000 a year charged by all other British univ­ersities.

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Within the EU, which prohibits one state from discriminating against people from another state, this anomalous-sounding situation is permitted. While Scotland has to offer free university tuition to students from all other member states, it is not prohibited from discriminating against people from the state of which it is a part – the UK.

But if Scotland was an independent EU state, many people believe that this discriminatory loophole would disappear, so English, Welsh and Northern Irish students would be entitled to cross the Border and claim free university tuition.

As we reported in January, the Scottish Government estimates that if this were to happen, there would be so many “fee refugees” that Scottish applicants would be squeezed out. The implications for the future workforce would be disastrous.

Universities Scotland believes an independent Scotland could argue that this would be so intolerable that the EU would allow the present arrangements to continue. This, however, is only a legal theory and does not appear to have a precedent. Comments by EU education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou that it could be regarded as “a covert form of discrimination on grounds of nationality” suggest it would not be favourably regarded.

Educat­ion secretary Michael Russell, however, has absolute certainty that it would be allowed. Universities Scotland thinks he must publish whatever legal advice he has received to that effect. That is an entirely reasonable request.

If Scots, esp­ecially young voters intending to go to university, were to vote Yes and then discover the consequence was they could not get a place, or had to pay fees, and Mr Russell had been so advised, they would be entitled to regard themselves as victims of an outrageous fraud.

Eric Joyce has to resign now

For once, after yet another unacceptable bout of viol­ent behaviour, Falkirk MP Eric Joyce has accepted that it might not be appropriate for him to carry on as a Member of Parliament. He should take those considerations to their proper conclusion and resign.

Yesterday he was fined £1,500 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for an altercation at Edinburgh airport last May in which he abused and swore at airport workers and police officers. And all because, when he realised he had left his mobile phone on the plane from which he had just disembarked, he got angry with the workers when they, quite reasonably, asked him for the flight details.

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He had consumed alcohol, but, even so, this is not remotely the kind of behaviour to be expected or tolerated from a man whose job is to represent the public and make important decisions on their behalf in the highest democratic forum in the land.

Mr Joyce has a long track record of this kind of unreasoning, belligerent behaviour, mostly drink-fuelled. He says he has put his drink problems behind him and he has apologised to thepeople he abused.

But enough is enough. His constituents are entitled to expect that, when they go to see their Member of Parliament with their concerns, he will listen to them calmly and deal with the matters they raise respectfully and judiciously. With Mr Joyce’s record, they cannot be confident that will be the case.

If having the confidence of the public is an essential part of being a public representative, so is integrity and dignity.

Mr Joyce now has none of these characteristics. His best way to regain something of them is to do the proper thing and resign.