Of all the policies the Scottish National Party has, the one that is most obviously irritating is the one on tuition fees. University tuition is free in Scotland to Scots and to students from most European countries. However, it is not free to residents of England or Wales.
At the moment this is more a demonstration of ill will than an illegality. But if the Scottish were to vote for full independence, that may well not be the case. European law forbids discrimination between member states (Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU) and that is exactly what this would be.
That might be mildly amusing from a distance, but it would be something of a disaster for Scotland’s universities, who have become rather used to English largesse.
According to a new group, Academics Together, the forced scrapping of fees for those south of the border would not only mean more English students applying (it is already recognised in the south that university education can’t be free for everyone), but it would also represent a loss of around £150m a year in actual cash. That’s something that would, as one of the members of the group says, “have negative consequences on our ability to teach Scottish students”.
You might ask if Scottish students might be asked to pay. Apparently not. According to Mr Salmond, that will happen only if “rocks melt wi’ the sun” (The Times). Mr Salmond has suggested he has taken legal advice that says this is OK. However, no one has yet seen it.
I’m rather with Alistair Darling on this one. His take? We know that Alex Salmond “has form” on legal opinions. “If he has legal advice that tells him he would be able to fly in the face of European law, let him publish it.” If he can’t, he might like to explain to us where the extra £150m is going to come from.
Keeping universities running is an expensive business – particularly when no one is paying for them. If I were a Scottish student, hoping to become a Scottish student, or for that matter, hoping to be the parent of a Scottish student, I think I’d be looking at the money and voting No.
• There are a good many Scottish students who wouldn’t mind a change in the system in Scotland. As this article in The Herald notes, the fact that the places for Scots are ‘free’ also means that they are capped. Once the places for Scots are filled, that’s it.
“Universities are free, meanwhile, to accept fee-paying students from elsewhere in the UK even on courses ‘closed’ to Scottish students.”