Funded PhD Studentship on Indyref 2014

ARCHIVE AND NARRATIVE
IN THE 2014 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM

AHRC COLLABORATIVE DOCTORAL PARTNERSHIP
(SCOTTISH CULTURAL HERITAGE CONSORTIUM)

Application deadline: 8 May 2017

The Faculty of Arts and Humanities is pleased to invite applications for this fully-funded AHRC PhD Studentship (fees and subsistence at current AHRC UK/EU rates). The studentship includes a 6-month placement at the National Library of Scotland.

The Studentship: 

The 2014 referendum on Scottish independence was clearly a major historic event. How will it enter the historical archive, and the stories told by future researchers and citizens about the meaning of ‘indyref’ 2014?

This PhD project will explore a series of questions and challenges related to the National Library of Scotland’s ‘Collecting the Referendum’ project, an ambitious two-year project to collect the documentary record of this event in a wide range of formats: print and digital, social media and websites, archives and moving image.

These questions include: 

  • To what extent, and via what practices, was the indyref ‘remembered’ even as it was being experienced? (That is, how did campaigners and commentators try to position 2014 within stories looking back on it from the future?)
  • How was the indyref collected (and made collectible) in the midst of the campaign?
  • How did its self-conscious ‘historic’ quality affect the way indyref 2014 was documented and recorded?
  • How will future researchers interpret records and narratives of 2014 which exhibit this self-conscious ‘historic’ quality, i.e. which seem to ‘memorialise’ indyref in advance?

The student’s doctoral work will investigate both the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of indyref collecting. It will examine how archives of the 2014 referendum are constructed and used (both physical and digital), and the various factors that shape how the makers and users of such collections view the narrative possibilities and complexities presented by their materials.

While the student will have freedom to shape the exact parameters of the project, it is likely to involve research into recent Scottish political history, archive studies and digital collecting. Some awareness of relevant cultural and narrative theory, and digital humanities research methods, is preferred but not required.

The PhD student will be jointly supervised by Dr Scott Hames at the University of Stirling and Dr Amy Todman at the National Library of Scotland, with input from a wider supervisory team including Dr Peter Lynch (Stirling; expert on Scottish politics and referendums) and Eilidh MacGlone (NLS web archivist). Collaboration with the Scottish Political Archive, based at the University of Stirling, is an additional dimension of the project, supported by our archivist Sarah Bromage.

At Stirling, the student will join a lively community of PhD students linked to the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies. At the National Library of Scotland, he or she will have the opportunity to work closely with curators and web archivists, and gain valuable research and technical skills.

How to Apply: Applicants should have a good undergraduate qualification and a relevant Master’s degree in any related field of expertise. Experience of the following areas of study is particularly welcome: history, archive studies, politics, cultural theory, digital humanities, cultural studies, Scottish studies. You will have some experience of relevant research methods (but note that research training is a key part of the studentship).

NB the AHRC rules governing this scheme note that if a student does not have experience of formal postgraduate study, they may be eligible for a studentship only if they can demonstrate evidence of sustained experience beyond undergraduate degree level that is specifically relevant to their proposed research topic, and could be considered equivalent to Master’s studyApplicants in this category (i.e. without a Master’s qualification) should include with their application a 1-page statement outlining the ‘specifically relevant’ skills, experience and knowledge they have gained ‘beyond undergraduate degree level’, that ‘could be considered equivalent to Master’s study’.

For further details on eligibility criteria, including UK residency, applicants should check the AHRC website (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/).

The application: Applicants should submit:

  • a summary curriculum vitae (max 2 pages)
  • an example of recent academic writing (e.g., MSc/MLitt chapter or undergraduate dissertation)
  • a short statement (1 page) outlining your qualification for the studentship, and initial thoughts on how you’d approach the project
  • the names and contact details of two academic referees

Submit your application via email to Dr Scott Hames (scott.hames@stir.ac.uk) and Dr Amy Todman (a.todman@nls.uk). Applications will close 8 May 2017 at 4pm. Please ensure your referees are able to provide (on request, via email) an academic reference by 19 May, 5pm.

As noted above, applicants without a Master’s qualification should submit an additional 1-page statement outlining their ‘specifically relevant’ skills, experience and knowledge that could be considered equivalent to Master’s study.

Interviews will be held on Tuesday 23 May at the University of Stirling.

Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Dr Scott Hames (scott.hames@stir.ac.uk) and Dr Amy Todman (a.todman@nls.uk) for ‘further particulars’ of the project, or with informal queries.

What will be the history of now?

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SCOTT HAMES

After years of looking forward, we grow weary of possible tomorrows. With history about to pick a side – and as both sides try to make history – fevered minds turn to the politics of the past-in-prospect. The result on September 19 will profoundly colour the meaning and memory of everything leading up to it. On the cusp of that verdict, our current moment seems emptied of its own ‘live’ significance, awaiting the roar of impending retrospect. In the words of a James Kelman story, ‘not too long from now tonight will be that last time’ – a time we inhabit but cannot know.

History as a living and made reality is at its most liquid, but in a few weeks the facts will freeze textbook solid. Explanation will quickly usurp speculation. And so the indyref imaginary begins to pivot, worrying forward to dream back. See Martin Kettle’s wistful invitation to ‘Remember 2014, the last golden summer of the old Britain’, projecting us into a surreal and scrappy post-Yes reality, then puzzling out the complexity (and ultimate nullity) of post-British wrangling from a jaded 2024.

Alongside musings of the future-past, the empirical mania of what the Lallands Peat Worrier (playing hipster correspondent for The Drouth) fittingly deems ‘archival fever’, whereby no campaigning experience ‘is adequately authenticated without having been documented’, curated, catalogued.

What of this impulse to collect and record everything? Simply a nod to what is self-evidently historic about what’s unfolding – whatever it might soon mean –with the occasional dash of I-was-there self-regard? As with the rash of DIY polls, there is a powerful thirst to make your own evidence – owing much to a bristling mistrust of those taking the measurements and writing the first draft of this history. So capture ALL the facts (and spin) for later scrutiny: some clear-eyed scholar of the future will be equipped to see and evaluate everything – finally, and naturally, coming to vindicate our own view here and now.

There is something lively and brittle in the public memory this weather, beginning to wonder seriously how this – and we – might eventually come to look.

So go on, take a speculative selfie. Imagine that we’re looking back on the hectic present from a few decades into the future. How do we look here in 2014 — prescient? Foolish? Admirably sober? Het up about nothing?

On August 23-24 the If Scotland: Posting 2014 conference will explore just this premise, asking how the indyref will be remembered, historicised and understood a few decades from now – whatever the result.

  • What will our children find puzzling, appalling, banal about what we’re gripped by today?
  • Who and what will future historians be chortling at?
  • What will veterans of 2014 struggle to get across to a future generation of the uncomprehending – Scots who can barely fathom a country different to what they know (independent or otherwise)?

 

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The conference will explore all facets of this question at one remove from the cross-fire of the campaigns – looking forward to a moment when current divisions have faded, and it matters a bit less which side anybody was on. Naturally the conference will explore both post-Yes and post-No futures – and future pasts reflecting on what came after 2014. The whole weekend is FREE to attend for all but salaried academics, and boasts a stellar line-up including:

– Lesley Riddoch, looking back on 2014 from 2034, reflecting on the cultural shift that came with independence. (Teaser: Charlotte Square is now Margo’s Market.)

– Ken MacLeod on the ‘New Improvement’ that followed a decisive No vote

– set-piece debates (post-Yes and post-No) featuring David Torrance, Kirstin Innes and Aileen McHarg

– a literary discussion event with Jenni Calder, Meaghan Delahunt, Kerry Hudson and Hannah McGill

– historian Catriona Macdonald on conjecture and Scottish memory

– Amy Westwell, Andrew Tickell (Lallands PW himself), Jenny Morrison and Ewan Gibbs on the politics of future Scotland(s)

– a letters workshop with Dearest Scotland

– Gerry Hassan on how Scotland became a democracy (unless it didn’t)

– literary debate with Ewan Morrison, Nicola White and Alan Wilson

– Robert Crawford on 2016’s game-changing moment in Scottish fiction

– online activists from both sides of the debate comparing notes

Plus plenary lectures from Professors Michael Keating and Cairns Craig, a So-Say Scotland gaming session, a retrospective exhibition on Scotland in 2044, and dozens of academic papers on everything from the language question(s) to the ‘high-rise kailyard’ of the future.

All this, and a specially commissioned bit of youth theatre with BBC Scotland’s ‘Generation 2014. If there is a more thought-provoking event anywhere in this debate, we’d like to hear about it.

Entry is FREE but you need to email ifscotland2014@gmail.com to register for catering purposes.   (There is a limited number of places, so be quick!) You can check out the full conference spiel and programme at the If Scotland website. Not too long from now it will be the last time.

Twitter: @ifscotland

Facebook event

(With thanks to our sponsors the University of Stirling, the Saltire Society, and the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies)

Conference: IF SCOTLAND: POSTING 2014, 23-24 August

The Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies is very proud to host IF SCOTLAND: POSTING 2014, a two-day conference and festival exploring how the indyref will be remembered and understood a few decades from now – once the uncertainties of September 2014 have set and hardened into historical facts.

The event will consider a wide range of post-Yes and post-No possibilities, and is aimed at the general public as much as academics and postgraduates.

Confirmed speakers include Lesley Riddoch, Ken MacLeod, Jenni Calder, Michael Keating, Catriona Macdonald, David Torrance, Kirstin Innes, Aileen McHarg and Cairns Craig – and many other distinguished scholars, activists and commentators.

what

In addition to lectures, papers and debates, the programme features:

  • special panels on the future of Scottish literature and politics

The registration fee is £80 for salaried academic delegates, and much less for postgraduates, independent scholars and members of the public (£20). Lunches on both days are included in the fee.

The Call for Papers closes in late June, and online registration is open now.  Full details, and news of further confirmed speakers and collaborations, at the conference website:

http://ifscotland.wordpress.stir.ac.uk

Facebook Event

Twitter: @ifscotland

Conference: Battle of Bannockburn, 25-26 June 2014

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MICHAEL PENMAN

On 25-26 June, Stirling will mark the 700th Anniversary of Robert Bruce’s victory over Edward II of England at the battle of Bannockburn by holding a two day conference. Set to take place at Forth Valley College’s new Drip Road campus the event will bring together scholars working on the military, archaeological, environmental, literary and heritage history of the battle and should be of interest to scholars, students, heritage practitioners and interested members of the public alike.

A book fayre is also planned with relevant publication on display from Brepols, Brill, Birlinn, Ashgate and Shaun Tyas press, including conference organiser Michael Penman’s new book, Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots (Yale University Press). This work, along with a number of the conference papers, focuses on the events of Bruce’s reign as King after Bannockburn and challenges a number of assumptions, not least where he was born, how he died and where his body was buried.

Conference fee: £55 waged, £35 student/retired (including lunches).

Further details, registration forms and an outline programme at the conference website; to register or enquire please email m.a.penman@stir.ac.uk.

Scotland’s Devolved Tax Powers and the Implications for Independence

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PAUL GILLEN

Recent controversy surrounding the ‘Bedroom Tax’ – and Scottish Government powers to mitigate its impact – underscore the importance and complexity of cross-border tax politics. Stirling PhD student Paul Gillen examines the role of devolved taxation within the independence debate.

Announcing the Scottish Government’s Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill in December 2013, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney MSP said ‘This Government will take a distinctly Scottish approach to taxation, including a vigorous approach to combatting tax avoidance’. Swinney added ‘We firmly believe that decisions about Scotland’s taxes should be taken by the people of Scotland. The Bill and the establishment of Revenue Scotland are important steps in taking greater responsibility for setting and collecting taxes in Scotland’.

Though the details of tax management policy seldom lead the political debate, this is a clear instance of pro-independence politics bumping up against the limits – and opportunities – of devolution. Under the new bill, the non-ministerial body Revenue Scotland will become the tax authority responsible for management and collection of the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) and the Scottish Landfill Tax (SLfT), both of which are due to be devolved from April 2015 as per the Scotland Act (2012).

What does this tell us? Whatever the referendum outcome, the Scottish Government intends that Scottish Ministers will lead on devolved tax policy development and future legislation. The newly established Revenue Scotland will be given the lead on measures to tackle tax fraud/tax evasion through Targeted Anti-Avoidance Rules (TAARs) or through application of the General Anti-Avoidance Rule. Scottish Ministers see clamping down on tax avoidance as a key priority, the politics of which are central to financial arguments for independence. Requiring Revenue Scotland to publish an annual report, and to submit it for Ministerial as well as full parliamentary scrutiny, will strengthen the sense of Scottish fiscal accountability and democratic oversight.

Devolved tax collection can also be closely aligned with other areas of Scottish Government policy, becoming an important lever of ‘joined-up government’. The UK Government introduced Landfill Tax in 1996, attempting to ensure that landfill waste was properly priced and to discourage the disposal of waste to landfill. The new Scottish Landfill Tax includes provisions allowing the Scottish Government to alter the rates and exemptions inherited from the UK tax (via subordinate legislation). This power would allow the Scottish Government to alter the tax collection system in pursuit of policies such as its current Zero Waste Strategy.

A similar shift is in store for the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax. The Bill sets out a ‘progressive’ system of taxation, as opposed to the ‘slab’ structure of the UK Stamp Duty, set up in 2003. According to John Swinney, this ‘slab’ system ‘caused market distortions and leads to the false recording of house prices in an effort to avoid paying tax at the higher rate’.  Swinney’s assertion was supported across the chamber, including Scottish Conservative Gavin Brown MSP, a Finance Committee Member.

The Tax Powers Bill marks a critical juncture in the ability of the Scottish Government to prove that it can successfully set up a distinctly Scottish tax regime, and (over time) the opportunity to display how taxation would work in an independent Scotland. Revenue Scotland, as the authority responsible for the collection of the devolved taxes, could establish itself as tough in tackling tax avoidance and efficient by running with as few staff as possible, and on a small budget. That, of course, has implications for the independence debate.

One only has to look towards the Scottish Government’s Independence White Paper to understand the link between how successfully the Scottish Government plans for the new tax powers, and how that plays into the SNP’s overall vision of how taxation would work in an independent Scotland. Ultimately, the goal would be to use independence as an opportunity to design a tax system ‘based on a clear set of principles and to better link to complementary areas of policy such as welfare’.  What this indicates is an ideological belief in a redistributive tax system, which the Scottish Government believes to be fairer. There are a number of options open in order to achieve a more redistributive tax system, and Revenue Scotland would provide the foundation for the collection of a much wider range of taxes under independence, but also through further devolution.

It is important that the Scottish Government gets the devolution of new tax powers right. Any problems during the transition process will be pounced on by the pro-Union politicians both inside and outside Holyrood, in an attempt to negate the SNP’s claims that all tax decisions should be made at Holyrood, through a Yes vote.  This could come in the form of the argument that if the Scottish Government could not get the devolution of two new taxes right, then how could Scots have confidence in the Scottish Government to design and manage a completely independent tax system? However, if the Scottish Government does get the devolution of taxes right, pro-Union parties are equally likely to argue that it was a display of how devolution for Scotland worked best, and that independence was therefore unnecessary. Indeed, the devolution of tax powers to Scotland has already been articulated as a benefit of the Union in the debating chamber at Holyrood.

This underscores the importance of tax devolution within the context of Scotland’s constitutional debate. If the Scottish Government can oversee a smooth transition process and successfully convey the benefits of the devolved taxes to businesses and individuals, then business people in particular may decide that the Scottish Government could be trusted in designing a completely independent and robust tax system. Furthermore, if Revenue Scotland can function on a low budget with successful outcomes, this will establish the organisation as a legitimate and capable tax authority which could successfully take on the management of a wider range of taxes either through the devolution of further taxes from Westminster, or through independence.

Paul Gillen is a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling.  His thesis analyses how the Yes and No camps promote and subvert national identity during the Scottish independence referendum campaign. Paul’s other research interests include the extreme right in Britain and Europe, British counter-terrorism policy, IR theory, and environmental justice. Paul is an avid Chelsea fan, and attempts to attend a game once a season.

Back to Scotland’s Future: Re-editing the ‘new Scottish politics’

Scottish Parliament 1
(Image © Adrian Hart, 2007)

EMILY ST.DENNY

Unsurprisingly, the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future has been forward-looking: projecting the nation as capable and deserving (or not) of political autonomy. But it has also drawn from an existing toolbox of meanings and representations, situating itself in a juncture between past and potentiality. Current debates clearly reflect the legacy of ‘new politics’ discourse emergent in the devolution campaign of the 1990s. Both campaigns, I would argue, are drawing lessons from the mitigated results of the ‘new Scottish politics’ in order to bridge the gap between their rhetoric and the political and economic realities facing Scotland.

Read in this light, the White Paper (Scotland’s Future) can be seen as seeking to establish a compelling equilibrium between aspiration and reassuring realism. Both the SNP and the broader Yes campaign are attempting to reframe the principles of ‘new politics’ as compatible with independence, rather than as the exclusive dividend of well-calibrated devolution within the union.

Devolution and ‘new’ Scottish politics

Talk of ‘new politics’ in Scotland was first associated with the campaign for the Scottish Parliament in the mid to late 1990s. At the time, most advocates of home rule, including many of the parties, civic groups and churches that made up the Scottish Constitutional Convention, emphasised ‘new Scottish politics’ as the potential dividend of devolution: a break from ‘old’ Westminster politics, considered by some to be discordant and divisive. The Labour UK government saw devolution as a means of enabling the development of appropriate Scottish responses to issues faced north of the border while fostering distinctiveness within the union. While the SNP also bought into the ‘new politics’ rhetoric, it presented the progressive potential of devolution as an improvement in the broader context of a continued effort towards full independence, which they argued to be the only means of bringing about a truly new Scottish politics. Overall, proponents of devolution presented ‘new Scottish politics’ as the positive culmination of new institutions, new policy processes and a new political culture.

While devolution has undeniably transformed the way policy decisions are made and implemented in Scotland, the extent to which it has delivered on its promise of new politics is contested. Most significantly, the institution of a Scottish parliament repatriated the debate and negotiation of policy in devolved areas to those they were due to affect. Indeed, the new Parliament was imagined as a forum for cooperative and constructive deliberation, supposedly in contrast to the adversarial House of Commons. This institutional development was wedded to the principles of consultation and civic participation, which the Scottish government has since extensively operationalised by involving local authorities, associations, unions and professional bodies in the negotiation and design of policy priorities. Additionally, the willingness of the main parties to cooperate, illustrated by the experience of the 1997 campaign on the devolution referendum, as well as their substantial overlap in policy matters and electorate, led many to believe a different, and more consensual, type of political behavior would become the norm.

The Scottish government has successfully realised some of the cornerstones of ‘new politics’. In particular, devolution led to significant changes in institutions and has certainly impacted upon the policy process. Nevertheless, the contrast between ‘new’ Scottish and ‘old’ Westminster politics has been overstated, and electoral competition being what it is – the intense and fraught vying for attention and support in a context saturated by adversaries and alternative ideas – inflated hopes of consensus politics have been somewhat frustrated. In this sense, devolution has not appeared to engender and embed a new political culture in Scotland. In particular, evidence would suggest that in the sixteen years since the Scotland Act established the Scottish Parliament, there has not been a significant move away from traditional adversarial politics. Rather than being the product of a putatively distinct political culture, cooperation in Scottish politics, when it happens, has tended to be the result of perceived mutual advantage or a shared goal.

Re-editing representations of Scottish exceptionalism

The representation of Scotland as different is not new. In fact, the myth of a Scottish exception pre-dates the debate over devolution and has recurrently surfaced throughout the period of the union. It is therefore not surprising that the inter/national debate over the upcoming Scottish independence referendum has re-edited the conversation over the possibility of new and different politics in Scotland’s near future. Indeed, this is an old discussion reinterpreted and reissued. What is interesting, however, are the emerging modalities of the most recent debate, with the Yes campaign vying to shift the framing of ‘new’ Scottish politics away from its connotations of fostering political and policy distinctiveness within the union and towards a broader discussion of sovereignty and democracy.

Scotland’s Future notably couches the constitutional future of Scotland in terms of democracy and progress. As such, the Scottish Government attempts to frame the discussion as one over issues of legitimacy, appropriateness and sovereignty, placing the representation of the stakeholders in the referendum at its heart. Rather than opting for a nationalist representation of the Scottish people heavily anchored on a purported cultural or ethnic singularity, the SNP has sought to put forward a case built on civic nationalism, whereby an independent Scottish state would derive its legitimacy from the expressed will of those who live and work on its territory. In keeping with the democratic principle of self-determination through participation, this general will is posited as being expressed through the making of decisions:

Decisions about Scotland – decisions that affect us, our families, our communities and the future of our country – should be taken in Scotland to reflect the views and concerns of the Scottish people, rather than by governments at Westminster with different priorities, often rejected by voters in Scotland. (Scotland’s Future, Introduction)

Interestingly, the act of making decisions on political and policy matters is presented as inherently worthwhile, separately from the act of making the right policy decisions. Thus, prefacing the White Paper, First Minister Alex Salmond states: ‘No-one is suggesting an independent Scotland would not face challenges. We would be unique is this was not the case. But we are rich in human talent and natural resources […] With independence, we can build the kind of country we want to be.’ In this sense, the challenges an independent Scotland would undoubtedly face are not rejected but owned, as the price and privilege of self-government.

This approach seeks to establish­ the viability and desirability of path-breaking political decisions in the context of significant uncertainty and risk. In this context the Yes campaign is faced with having to find an equilibrium between providing sufficient (and sufficiently compelling) information about how it would address the implications of independence, and setting out a case for autonomy liable to attract voters with a variety of policy preferences.

In Scotland’s Future the SNP has broadly resisted the urge to instrumentalise the White Paper as a definitive manifesto on what policies would look like in an independent Scotland – which would require the unpalatable hubris of projecting both a Yes vote in the referendum and the election of an SNP government in the first democratic elections penciled in for 5 May 2016. Instead, they opt to emphasise the role independence would play in opening up the twin realms of politics and policy to democratic design by those living and working in Scotland.

The document’s 670 pages lay out a relatively detailed vision of the policy options an independent Scotland could envisage, from free childcare provision to the re-nationalisation of Royal Mail, seen through an undeniably partisan lens. This strategy nevertheless aims to decouple the partisanship of policy preference, associated with electoral competition and routine politics, from the discussion of the future of sovereignty and legitimate representation in Scotland, considered above adversarial and short-termist party politics. Attempts are made to emphasise the democratic implications of, and policymaking opportunities afforded by, independence; these are discussed more prominently than the policy minutiae that would attend realisation of these opportunities. Correspondingly, broad principles that have become recurrently linked with representations of Scottish society, such as social justice, fairness and prosperity, are preferred over discussion of how each could be achieved through policy.

This effort to depoliticize the issue aims to place at a remove the political aspect of decision-making from the referendum debate, arguably to minimize its association with the perceived pettiness of politics at a time when trust in politicians has plummeted. While depoliticisation is a strategy associated with New Labour in the late 1990s, it did not emerge as an element of the debate over independence until recently and, therefore, cannot be considered an intrinsic aspect of the original ‘new politics’ discourse.

Unsurprisingly, in the context of vigorous campaigning for Scotland to remain within the union, and in the absence of similar blueprints setting out the modalities of possible increased devolution, this particular vision of Scotland’s future has met with widely contrasting responses. Thus, proponents of a Yes vote, such as Robin McAlpine (director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation) consider it a successful harmonisation of priorities and preferences in the context of a nation-building project supposed to enhance participation and representation regardless of partisan politics:

What I was looking for was a promise that between a Yes vote and the first democratic election in 2016, the SNP wouldn’t behave like it had the right to design a new country all by itself. The paper promises we will all get to play a part in writing a constitution and that its opponents will be included in the negotiating team that agrees the deal we get when leaving the UK. So I am reassured. (Jimmy Reid Foundation)

Conversely, critics, such as leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, interpret this stance as a smoke-and-mirrors deflection tactic resulting in the failure to address key questions about how an independent Scottish government would set about achieving its naïve and nebulous goals.

In the 1990s, talk of ‘new Scottish politics’ was tightly tethered to the campaign for devolution and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. This transformation was argued to hold the key to the development of new institutions, which would enable fair, inclusive and effective decision- and policy-making processes through which Scottish solutions to Scottish issues would be found, and ultimately would foster a consultative and cooperative political culture unlike the adversity held to characterise ‘old’ Westminster politics. Central to this argument were multiple and competing interpretations of a perceived Scottish difference. Scotland is different: her population’s problems and interests are different; the principles and priorities she is built on are different; the future she seeks for herself is different. Far from idiosyncratic, incantations of Scottish exceptionalism are a systematic fixture in debates over the nation’s political future. Unsurprisingly, with less than a year to go until the referendum on Scottish independence, the current debate has re-edited this tradition, merging old and new ideas and strategies, as the stakes are raised and Scotland’s constitutional future is reimagined once again. On the one hand, we see elements of the original ‘new politics’ discourse maintained; see the renewed interest in the possibilities an independent Scotland would afford the nurturing of a new political culture. On the other hand, elements such as the attempted depoliticisation of the democratic implications of the referendum have only recently been mobilised.

Overall, the white paper reframes the possibility of ‘new Scottish politics’ in terms of democracy and self-governance, and breaks away from traditional conceptions of representative and fair politics in Scotland solely as the reward reaped from effective devolution within the union. This exercise of projection and meaning-making seeks to navigate the obstacles presented by overwhelming uncertainty and staunch opposition – with very mixed reactions. 

Emily St.Denny is a Research Assistant at the ESRC-funded Scottish Center on Constitutional Change, working as part of a team looking at policymaking in Scotland. She is also working towards a PhD in politics and public policy on the subject of contemporary French prostitution policy. She is based at the Division of History and Politics at the University of Stirling.

 

Here Comes Scotland, Ready Or Not

PETER LYNCH

New to the independence debate? Baffled by what you’ve already heard? Stirling politics lecturer Peter Lynch offers a more expansive view of the ‘who’ as well as ‘what’ of constitution-making.

Brace yourselves – here comes Scotland.

It’s 2014 and you’re going to be hearing rather a lot about us this year. Some good, some bad and quite a lot in between. Some cultural, some sporting and definitely quite a lot political. It’s a big year for us after all. We’re just not sure how it’s going to go.
If you live in Scotland, you might have heard a lot of the political stuff already. The media has been covering the independence referendum on and off for the last two years and you might even have met campaigners out on the stump in Bathgate, Linwood, Methil, Irvine and a host of other towns and villages across Scotland. If you live somewhere like Miami or Canada, you might be tuning in for the first time but you will be hearing a lot more about us this year and some of it will be baffling. What do the Scots want? And what are they actually voting on come 18th September?

Well, here are three different ways to think about the independence referendum and its significance.

First, it would be a fundamental mistake to adopt a minimalist view of the referendum – that it’s a simple Yes/No vote on independence come September. It’s a lot more than that. The way to understand the referendum more fully is as a process not an event and also an example of constitution-making, as state and citizens participate in a lengthy debate about the future and what it should look like.

Some of this is about government structures and policies – the constitutional nuts and bolts if you like – but it’s also about ‘who’ we are, what values we support and what kind of society we want to live in. The referendum has thrown all sorts of issues and debates up into the air, far more than the governments can control, and organisations and individuals at all levels will have their say.

Second, the referendum is about independence but it’s about a particular version of independence. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the referendum is actually part of a process of turning the UK into a hybrid confederation – by democracy and negotiation. What the Scottish Government is proposing is NOT classical independence, but modern European independence. It proposes to retain the UK and EU single markets, keep the Queen as head of state and share the pound with the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government proposes a range of other, quite practical, arrangements for sharing institutions and policy and also seeks a share of UK assets. That’s not to say the UK government would accept all of this of course, but it does tell you about the ‘type’ of independence being advanced here.

Third, whilst it appears on the surface as though the referendum is all about governments and political parties, there is also a lot more to it than that. Whilst the referendum provides a tricky political problem for business – wary of offending customers at home or abroad by being seen to take sides – other organisations have seen the referendum as an opportunity for constitution-making and agenda-setting and sought to examine a wide range of issues and interests related to the referendum.

Take the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which set up a Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy or the islands councils that used the debate to seek more autonomy within Scotland and the UK. Trade unions like Unison sought to use the debate to promote the devolution of more powers that falls short of independence but beyond those of the main pro-Union political parties – even though it’s not on the ballot paper.

The Network of Development Organisations in Scotland has used the debate to set out its stall for greater Scottish and UK engagement in international development issues and a range of charities and civic groups are also engaged in debating the issues around independence and what they want from a ‘Future Scotland’ across social and welfare policy.

Institutions and pressure groups are engaging and so are the public through public meetings, consultations and conversations with family, friends and neighbours. And that’s all before we get to the campaign proper over the summer months of 2014.

Peter Lynch is an expert on Scottish politics and is currently involved in a project on the devolution referendums of 1979 and 1997 with the Stirling-based Scottish Political Archive. He is also Director of the MSc in International Conflict and Cooperation; a second edition of his SNP: The History of the Scottish National Party appeared in 2013.