Friday, 12 September 2014

The Independence Referendum and Defence

By Dr Phillips O’Brien, Director, Scottish Centre for War Studies, University of Glasgow. This article first appeared in the spring 2014 edition of the RSGS's magazine, The Geographer.

The questions of defence and security, surprisingly to some, have been some of the most hotly debated and contentious of the independence referendum campaign. The sheer number of different topics connected with defence means that it has rarely been out of the news. There have been clashes over issues as diverse as the nuclear weapons now based in Faslane, shipbuilding on the Clyde, the future of the historic Scottish Regiments, and whether or not Scotland should be a member of the NATO alliance. Needless to say, with that many issues, different interest groups and political pressures have exerted themselves in many different ways.

One of the best ways to see these conflicting pressures is in the rather tortuous discussions over Faslane and Britain’s nuclear deterrent. The west of Scotland not only hosts all of Britain’s nuclear submarines, it also is the base for Britain’s nuclear weapons. The ‘Yes’ campaign has received consistent and energetic support from a group of campaigners, sometimes associated with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which would like all nuclear weapons withdrawn from Scotland almost immediately after independence. Therefore the ‘Yes’ campaign has had to stress its antinuclear credentials regularly.

On the other hand, basic economics mean that the jobs attached to these facilities are important. At present, the MOD employs around 6,500 civilian and military personnel on the Clyde, and therefore it is one of the largest employers in one of the economically less well-off parts of the nation. This has led the ‘Yes’ campaign and the Scottish Government to try and craft an anti-nuclear policy that also would protect many of these jobs.

Since the launch of the Scottish Government’s White Paper, what is interesting is how the anti-nuclear stance, in the short term, has become a second priority to the protection of jobs. This can be seen in two parts of the document. In the first case, far from requiring that the rUK’s nuclear weapons be removed from Scotland as soon as possible, the Scottish Government actually set out a very flexible policy on Trident. While it was stated that the Government has a ‘view’ that the weapons should be removed by the end of the first Parliament (2020), this in no way is a hard and fast deadline. Instead, it opens the door for the nuclear weapons to remain in Scotland until the government of the rUK decides what it wishes to do with Trident. On the other hand, it would allow any Scottish government considerably more time to decide what it would base in those facilities once the nuclear weapons had been removed.

The second area was in the definition of a non-nuclear Scotland. The White Paper did not call for a non-nuclear policy along the lines of New Zealand, which bans all nuclear weapons from its soil and territorial waters at all times. Instead, anti-nuclear seems to be defined for Scotland as meaning that the Scottish government will not build, maintain or base nuclear weapons. However, there is no provision to ban them from visiting warships. This important proviso is a way of reassuring NATO, which defines itself as a nuclear alliance, that a Scottish government would take the necessary steps to make Scotland a co-operative part of the organization. In the end, the strong political pressure being placed by one element of the ‘Yes’ campaign seems to have lost out to the need to appeal to those employed by the MOD in the west of Scotland, and crucial international partners such as the United States.

Another way that the politics of independence seem to have arisen is the question of shipbuilding on the Clyde. In November 2013, the UK Government announced that all of the Type 26 Frigates (the next generation, most advanced warship that Britain will build during the next 20 years) will be constructed on the Clyde. Yet, at the same time, they announced that the actual construction process will not begin in earnest until 2015. It seems to be a classic example of a carrot and stick political approach to the question. The west of Scotland shipyards have received priority over those in England – Portsmouth will now be downgraded to a facility that can refurbish existing warships but will have a great deal of difficulty constructing new ones. At the same time, those communities eagerly anticipating that work were made aware that if independence were to be voted in, the contracts could still be shifted.

Together, these two issues show the different political impulses driving the discussion of defence within the independence debate. Ultimately it is the economic benefits of independence or remaining in the Union that have become the focus of the debate.

Scotland’s Pensions Future

By Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. This article first appeared in the spring 2014 edition of the RSGS's magazine, The Geographer.

Pensions have emerged as one of the most fiercely debated topics pre-referendum, along with the more overarching issues of currency, and membership of the European Union. Perhaps this is not surprising, as security in retirement matters to us all.

The challenge for the Scottish Government is to demonstrate that an independent Scotland would be better placed to deliver a pensions system which meets citizens’ needs while ensuring that they would at least be no worse off in retirement.

The State Pension - From a public expenditure perspective, the State Pension is significant. In 2011-12, State Pension payments of £87bn were made by the UK Government, representing 41% of all social benefit payments and 12% of UK expenditure.

In Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, the Scottish Government confirms an intention that current pensioners would continue to receive their pensions as now, on time and in full, and that accrued rights would be protected. A ‘triple lock’ would be adopted for the first parliamentary term of an independent Scotland to protect the value of the State Pension (and single-tier pension and guarantee credit) over time against prices or earnings, with a minimum annual increase of 2.5%.

The new single-tier pension would be introduced in an independent Scotland, as planned for the UK, in April 2016. This is to be paid in full to those with 35 qualifying years of NI contributions, with a proposed minimum qualifying period of seven to ten years. This could mean that someone who worked in England for six years during their working life and in Scotland for the remainder would need to work an additional six years to achieve 35 qualifying years of NI or credits, as is the case for workers from other EU states currently working in the UK.

Accepting that the State Pension Age should rise to 66 by 2020, as proposed by the existing UK timetable, Scotland’s Future commits to a review of this age and notes the possibility of postponing the planned further changes as laid out in the Pensions Act 2007. There is some uncertainty as to how to interpret the lower average life expectancy in Scotland. Scotland’s demographics, with a higher projected ratio of pensioners to those of working age population, mean that this is likely to be more of a challenge. Economic growth and inward migration may be possible solutions.

Public Service Pensions  - Scotland’s Future confirms that all public service pension rights and entitlements which have been accrued would be fully protected and accessible, and the Scottish Public Pensions Agency would deliver public sector pensions in an independent Scotland. This comes with assurances that the Scottish Government would take on responsibility for the pensions of active, deferred, and pensioner members of unfunded schemes, including members of UK-wide schemes living in Scotland.

Private Sector Pensions - ICAS believes it would be advantageous for the Scottish Government to continue, at least in the early years of independence, to adopt existing UK arrangements for pension regulation and protection, and to develop these over time. According to Scotland’s Future, the Government intends to roll over UK law, and to form a similar regulatory framework and Scottish equivalent of the National Employment Savings Trust.

There would be significant crossborder issues for schemes which currently operate UK-wide. Under EU law, schemes which operate in more than one member state must fund their liabilities in full, and any under-funding must be rectified immediately rather than through a staged recovery plan. Scotland’s Future lays out a three-year transitional grace period, which ICAS believes is wholly insufficient for many schemes which are currently funding their deficits over much longer periods. The European Commission’s plans to reform the Pensions (IORP) Directive could provide an opportunity for the rules around crossborder schemes to be altered in a manner which eases the problem.

The ability of an independent Scottish Government to deliver the proposed pension policies laid out in Scotland’s Future is largely dependent on future negotiations with the UK Government, the European Union, and other bodies.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Geography, Difference and the Question of Scale

By Helen Packwood and Professor Allan Findlay FRSGS. This article first appeared in the spring 2014 edition of the RSGS's magazine, The Geographer.

Population growth in Scotland has continued to increase over the past decade and looks likely to meet the Scottish Government’s official population target, which is to match average European (EU15) growth from 2007 to 2017. Population growth has long been viewed as a key priority for the devolved Scottish Government, and at the core of its strategy for economic growth in Scotland.

The latest population growth in Scotland is slightly lower than the EU15 average; however, for most of the period since 2007 it has exceeded this level. Scotland’s population has grown by 3% since 2006-7, whereas the average across the EU15 countries has been 2%. Therefore Scotland seems on track to meet its population target.

Immigration plays an important role in maintaining this population growth in Scotland, and the Scottish Government sees continued population inflows as central to maintaining this demographic growth. However, Scotland still has a relatively small immigrant population (c7% of usual residents) compared with other European (EU27) nations.

Figure 1 reveals the geography of international migration to Scotland. Poland emerges as the most common non-UK country of birth in Scotland, despite being ranked 18th in 2001. As the most populous of the ‘Accession 8’ countries, Poland has been the biggest sender of East-Central European migrants since the enlargement of the European Union in 2004. Polish migrants now form 15% of all foreign-born residents living in Scotland.

In contrast to crude binary comparisons between England and Scotland, this article builds on the work of McCollum et al (CPC Briefing Paper 10 2013) and argues that a more pertinent comparison is to consider how Scotland compares with English regions. Figure 2 reveals the quantity and origins of foreign-born residents in the English regions and in Scotland. It is quickly apparent that, in terms of ‘distinctiveness’, the outlier is not Scotland but London.

The proportion of non- UK born residents in Scotland is similar to the English regions, with the notable exception of London.  By asking respondents, “If you were not born in the United Kingdom, when did you most recently arrive to live here?”, the 2011 Census gives an interesting snapshot of how long migrants have been resident in the UK. Scotland has a larger proportion of recent international migrants than any of the English regions. There is a varied distribution of recent migrants to the UK, with 22% of Scotland’s migrants arriving within the last two years (before the 2011 census); in contrast, the West Midlands, London, and the South-East of England have seen a smaller proportion of recent migrants.

A further 22% of international migrants in Scotland arrived within less than five years prior to the 2011 census; again this marks a distinction with migration to other parts of the UK. Based on this data, migration to Scotland appears to be relatively transient, with migrants settling for shorter periods than in England. Analysis of the age of migrants on arrival in the UK reveals an interesting picture of the nature of new migrants. These figures point to where young migrant families are arriving in the UK. At 17%, Scotland is among the top three locations for migrants arriving aged 0-4 years old. In contrast, just 9% of London’s foreign-born population arrived aged 0-4 years.

This analysis has important policy implications that impact on the current debate on constitutional change. While it is possible to argue that current UK immigration policy does not serve the interests of the Scottish economy particularly well, given the powerful influence of London in shaping perceptions of the UK’s immigration needs, it is seldom recognised that the same argument is true for other regions of England. Moreover, establishing migration policies suited to the different needs of regional economies is a policy option that has been taken up by some states such as Canada, and is an option open to the Scottish and UK governments regardless of the outcome of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.

In examining Scotland alongside regions within England, it is apparent that London has a much more diverse population than anywhere else in England. In fact, London stands in contrast to many areas of the country, particularly geographically ‘peripheral’ regions such as the South-West, the North- East, and Scotland. The ‘London effect’ clearly has a bearing on the UK and English averages in relation to most migration statistics, which underlines the importance of examining the data at a range of scales, rather than defaulting to considering only aggregate Scottish/English data.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Hugh Miller & The Cruise of the Betsey (6th -12th September)

RSGS and the Friends of Hugh Miller have chartered an old sailing boat to re-enact the voyage take by Hugh Miller in 1844, on the sailing boat The Betsey. We will be departing from the North Pier in Oban this Saturday afternoon, and plan to visit Mull, Eigg and Rum. Our floating manse, scientific laboratory and art studio is the wonderful Brixham trawler Leader, built in 1892. We hope to be able to communicate via Twitter, Facebook and on our Betsey website during the journey. We also have linked events on Eigg during that week, plus a follow-up Hugh Miller Festival in Cromarty (23rd -25th September).

Full details are on the Betsey website

 Come and find us at the North Pier in Oban if you are anywhere nearby around lunchtime on Saturday 6th September.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Inspiring People 2014-15

Doug Allan The Changing Poles

What do a world's leading wildlife film maker, Britain's most legendary young climber, Norway's leading polar explorer, an astronaut, TV presenters, several Everest summiteers, a man who circumnavigated the world through his own steam, and a round the world yachtswoman all have in common? 

They are all giving public talks for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society this winter. With stories from the top of the world, to the ends of the world and around and above the world; from Glasgow to Rockall, from Harris to Iceland and from North Korea to New Zealand to China and the mountains of the Antarctic there are stories from everywhere to everyone.

View the full programme here

Talks are free for members of RSGS, but anyone can come along (non-members are asked to pay £8).   Talks take place throughout Scotland from Dumfries to Inverness and many points in between, and run from September through to March 2015.    For further information see or check for details on Facebook

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The relationship with the EU

By David Crawley. This article first appeared in the spring 2014 edition of the RSGS's magazine, The Geographer. 

The current debate about how and when an independent Scotland might join the European Union as a full member – vital though that is – risks obscuring the extent and nature of Scotland’s current links with the rest of Europe, and the long-term importance of our European relationships whatever the outcome of the referendum. 

Scotland has long had a strong relationship with Europe as part of the UK. We have played an active part in many sectors – notably farming and fisheries, but in many others which touch closely on Scottish interests, including environment, justice and home affairs, regional development, and the single market. Before devolution, Scottish Ministers and officials were routinely involved in EU Council meetings as part of the UK team negotiating on key issues like the Common Fisheries Policy, the regular Common Agricultural Policy discussions, the environment, food and animal health. After devolution, a set of formal agreements known as concordats between the UK and Scottish Governments have provided for continuing Scottish involvement, and Scotland has pursued its interests through its representation in Brussels, which has operated alongside the UK representation and which, unusually among EU regional representations, was allowed the huge advantage of full diplomatic status. 

We have developed links with many European regions and member states, and now have a strong reputation in Brussels built around Scottish culture and our core priorities of farming, fisheries, food and the environment. We have also been able to access substantial EU resources for regional and rural development. Also important, our links with non- members of the EU have depended on common interests – notably in the case of Norway, with whom we share common concerns in oil and fisheries, and a long cultural history. 

If Scotland votes for independence, the economic, social and cultural case for Scotland remaining within the EU as a full member looks unarguable. Access to the single European market, which is a major destination for Scotland’s exports and a major source of goods and services, would be central to future Scottish economic policy. Our place within Europe is a key factor in inward investment; we would remain a substantial beneficiary of European funding; and the flow of people and skills in both directions would create huge opportunities. I believe Scotland also understands the wider political case for the EU, and its record in cementing peace across the whole of Europe and in developing a European culture alongside existing national and regional cultures. For Scotland, there are no credible alternatives – the option of joining countries like Norway in the European Economic Area has few attractions, given that it involves most of the costs and responsibilities of EU membership without involvement in the decisions. 

Arguably Scotland has understood the value of its links with Europe better than other parts of the UK. The recorded view of the Scottish people is relatively positive, and it seems clear from polling that a substantial majority think Scotland should stay in the EU if it becomes independent. Yet European membership is no free ride. Scotland would have to move to a much more grown-up version of its European role. It would be one of the more prosperous member states of the expanded EU and would have to bear its share of responsibilities and costs. It would have to work hard at alliances and would need to recognise that small states tend to do best if they support European ideals and objectives. 

The road by which an independent Scotland would become a member of the EU faces awkward obstacles. It would require complex negotiation with all member states within the framework of the European Treaties: the EU is based on agreements between states, not peoples. It still seems likely that most other member states would welcome Scotland, but there are no guarantees and it is already clear that there would be opposition. This would require hard thinking about how far to press for similar opt-outs to those of the UK, or for special measures on the euro or fisheries. We are likely to be disappointed in the hope of quick and seamless entry, however strong we feel our case to be. If Scotland votes to stay in the UK, our European future will be tied to that of the wider UK, with the possibility of an in/out referendum during the next parliament. I would expect that, after much debate, the UK will vote to stay in the EU and that Scottish involvement will help to ensure that. If, on the other hand, Scotland were to vote for independence and the remainder of the UK were to vote to leave the EU, Scotland would be forced to make some very difficult choices. However much we wish to remain part of the EU, therefore, we can only look forward to a period of intense uncertainty.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Writer in Residence

In an innovative new scheme we have appointed our first ever writer-in-residence – Hazel Buchan Cameron.  Hazel is mentoring young writer Josh Morris in a variety of writing skills and approaches, drawing inspiration from the collections and history of the RSGS, currently in its 130th year.  With a collection of 250,000 maps, 40,000 books, a bulging archive, and an association with many of the world’s most famous scientists, explorers, adventurers and educationalists, the charity has been described as a repository of some of the best stories of the past century and a half.

 There are so many inspiring people’s stories connected to the Society it is hard to draw breath,”  Hazel commented.

Mike Robinson, our Chief Executive, is very enthusiastic: “We are grateful to Creative Scotland and PKC for giving us this opportunity to introduce Hazel and Josh to our collections.  It has been really rewarding seeing them become more and more engrossed in discovering the many and varied stories hidden away.  I genuinely believe there is something here to interest everyone.”

The project, funded by Creative Scotland through the Perth & Kinross Place Partnership, runs throughout the summer months, and will culminate in an exhibition in Perth Museum, opening in early October.