Why Scottish students should vote no

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.”

• Stay up to date with MoneyWeek: Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Google+

15 Responses

  1. 17/01/2014, dave21kj wrote

    Yes we might as well pay for that as well. Same tax even less benefit. And lets do it quickly please before my kids benefit.
    Here are a few more ideas-
    1. Raise the retirement age to 146
    2. Abolish the council tax freeze
    3. Continue to refuse me child benefit and give to other couples on higher income.
    4. Print more money and destroy my savings.
    5. Abolish my pension scheme. Hold on that has happened.
    6. Continue to tax me at punitive rates.
    7. We could change the inflation calculations again to pretend prices are not really soaring.

    May as well vote Independence. The only way is up..

  2. 17/01/2014, WillieH wrote

    I don’t find free tuition for Scots irritating at all, however I live in Scotland. The Scottish Government has been proved right again on the debt and I anticipate that they will find a way for us to avoid paying to teach legions of English students.

  3. 17/01/2014, NeutronWarp9 wrote

    Perhaps it is something most of us will have to learn – we cannot expect to get something free from the State without good reason.
    In other words, if you want it, you pay for it. A shocking concept, I know, but some people would call it a matter of integrity.

  4. 19/01/2014, gamesinvestor wrote

    If Scotland votes for independence and the answer is YES, then Scotland would not be part of the EU so it would not have to answer to the rules you pointed out (Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).

    Now if Scotland were foolish enough to apply to be a member of the EU and it was granted then yes they could be measured by this rule unless Alex has already obtained good advice that ensures Scotland is exempt.

    Why would Scotland want to free itself from what it thinks is a tyrannical body in the UK and join an effective dictatorship with a complete block on all democratic processes?

    Surely that would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. £150M spent on education or not is the least of it’s problems. Handing over £bn’s a year to the unelected EU with no audit process on how money is spent is however a BIG – BIG problem, one that people in England are persistently denied a say on.

  5. 20/01/2014, r wrote

    @gamesinvestor:

    “Handing over £bn’s a year to the unelected EU with no audit process on how money is spent is however a BIG – BIG problem, one that people in England are persistently denied a say on.”

    I completely agree with you on the subject but we do have a say on it – we have a vote next year. UKIP are sworn to leave the EU if they get elected. That is our way out.

    I am not suggesting that UKIP would be good for the country in the long term but their election would overcome the loss of democratic rights that we are currently suffering by the EU’s decisions.

    Salmond is a shrewd operator and I guess he know that he will not be holden to the EU once they get independence. WOW! They will be able to make their own tax rules and actually enforce them. A novel idea for the rest of us, perhaps!

    r.

  6. 20/01/2014, EnisKay wrote

    I don’t know if the people of Scotland would be better off voting ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. What I would suggest is trying to think a bit more long term than how much you might pay in tuition fees next year. If Scotland decides to be independent then I am sure that the British will not have them back if they change their mind in a couple of years like the prodigal son. Will Scotland be better off in 50 or 100 years? That is the real question.

  7. 21/01/2014, Longshanks wrote

    If you’re very lucky, and provided you trust Alex Salmond to deliver on his various legal opinions… Disappointing that none of the posts here disputes that the Scots present policy is based on “ill will” towards the English. Shocking if that truly is the case.

    • 23/01/2014, AlexH75 wrote

      I think it’s because anybody with an iota of intelligence realises that this is simply not the case. The reason as it stands now is because of a quirk in EU law saying Scotland has to provide free education to other countries in the EU, but not for students from other parts of the same member state.

      Merryn states that Scotland’s universities “have become rather used to English largesse”, and that if it were to be declared that if Scottish universities were to be free to English students this would result in an influx from South of the border. So let’s get this straight. Scottish Universities are popular with English students as it stands just now, even although they have to pay. And they’d be even more popular if tuition was free.

      I don’t know about you, but I certainly see no “ill-will” here! Just an excuse to stir up feelings.

  8. 21/01/2014, THE COMMON MAN wrote

    Well Merryn if Scottish students had gone for independence back in 1974,might Scotland now have an oil fund similar to Norway(currently around $828 billion with a population similar to Scotland of around 5 million).
    That being the case I dont think Scottish students would now have to worry too much about how education was going to be funded.
    The McCrone Report in 1974 detailed how strong an independent Scotland would be-but that report was buried by the UK Govt.
    Instead of an oil fund,we have billions of debt.Why was North Sea Oil revenues so badly mismanaged?

    • 23/01/2014, Boris MacDonut wrote

      Given that the average Scot gets £2,000 a year more spent on him than the average Englishman, by the Government. The fictitious Scotland you have going independent in 1974 would have missed out on a tax transfer of over £400billion.

  9. 22/01/2014, Merryn wrote

    @Eniskay. You are entirely right that one’s vote should be based on the long term. But there is no way of knowing what that will bring. Could be better, could be worse. So all anyone can use to decide on their vote is their emotional view and a few short term numbers..

  10. 26/01/2014, JamesH wrote

    23/01/14 Boris MacDonut.

    The 2011-12 Govt. revenue & expenditure figures how that Scotland has 8.4% of the UK population and generates 9.9% of UK taxes and receives 9.3% of UK spending.This amounts to a contribution of £4.4 billion or £824 per person per year more than “our-share”.

    In view of this,and your obvious flair for creative accountancy, I invite you to re-calculate your assertion that Scotland “would have missed out on a tax transfer of over£400 Billion”

  11. 27/01/2014, JamesH wrote

    The charging of fees to English and Welsh students is simply a legal way,under Devolution,of recovering some of the 4.4 Billion mentioned above.

  12. 16/02/2014, fatsough wrote

    Even by the standards of journalism, an exceptionally ill-informed and partisan article,,,,,really exceptional.

  13. 16/03/2014, Borders Biz wrote

    Your own Money week video states how bad the UK debt is at 500% of gdp. How can you even contemplate saying Scotland is worse off than that! Seriously people.

Comment on this article

MoneyWeek magazine

Latest issue:

Magazine cover
Faster and faster...

The frenzied pace of the high-tech revolution

The UK's best-selling financial magazine. Take a FREE trial today.
Claim 4 FREE Issues

Which investment platform?

When it comes to buying shares and funds, there are several investment platforms and brokers to choose from. They all offer various fee structures to suit individual investing habits.
Find out which one is best for you.