I happened to hear the papers being reviewed on BBC Radio Scotland recently. One of the 'media experts' was Professor Murray Pittock, who was introduced as 'vice-principal of Glasgow University', which indeed he is. He is also co-founder of Academics for Independence which was unmentioned but rather more relevant to what followed. This tends to happen a lot.
My limited knowledge of Professor Pittock arises out of googling him after about 30 seconds of his 'review', simply because it launched straight into a startlingly tendentious dose of nationalist propaganda, at a level so facile that it seemed more suited to the school playground than the ivory towers of Gilmorehill.
On the basis of a report that the financial services sector is seeking a special deal in Brexit negotiations, the professor announced: 'So the issue is that there are going to be sectoral deals in England which will allow some of these freedoms but she (Theresa May) is pledged to stop any of these freedoms coming to Scotland'. Let us apply a little academic rigour to that statement.
If Professor Pittock has information that plans are afoot for a 'sectoral deal' which would benefit the financial services sector in England but not in Scotland then that is indeed a major story. But does it exist? The alternative is rather different – that a favourable 'sectoral deal' for financial services would be beneficial and welcome for Scotland. In other words, horror of horrors, there is much more likely to be a shared interest to pursue.
Eighty five thousand jobs in Scotland are dependent on the financial services sector and about 90% of Scottish financial services are 'exported’ to the rest of the UK. The interests of the Scottish financial services sector and those of the City of London are integrally connected, and – according to the Scottish industry itself – being part of the same jurisdiction has been a crucial element to Edinburgh’s growth.
Relationships with the EU are critical to both. If the City of London is able to exercise influence in support of the best possible Brexit accommodation, then Charlotte Square will be standing four-square by its side, in defence of its own interests. Unless, of course, the vice-principal of Glasgow University knows better and Theresa May is indeed devising some fiendish plot to grant 'freedoms' to the City of London but 'to stop any of these freedoms coming to Scotland'?
Like 16 million of my fellow citizens, a tenth of them in Scotland, I voted to remain within the European Union. We lost. I now make the best of it, in terms of both damage limitation and exploration of opportunities. If a mechanism can be found, I would like to see the fundamental question asked once the package is known. But in the meantime, I have absolutely no wish to be claimed by Nicola Sturgeon, Professor Pittock or anyone else as numerical fodder for their ongoing manoeuvres to turn this into another Scotland v England parody.
Academics do not have far to look for where shared interests arise. The most urgent concern for our universities is the potential loss of research funding through exclusion from EU-wide programmes. The need for safeguards against that deeply damaging outcome is exactly the same whether viewed from London, Glasgow, Belfast or Cardiff. I have no doubt that academics, who are pretty good at fighting their own corner, will unite in common cause. So too should politicians.
An alarming precedent already exists. Switzerland’s decision to place restrictions on freedom of movement led to its rapid exclusion from EU-funded programmes like Horizon 2020 and Erasmus, both hugely important to the funding of UK universities. Not only money is at stake here but also the vital human collaboration – and movements – between universities which are at the heart of academic research.
A formidable campaign will be mounted by the UK’s universities to protect these interests and my guess is that the battle is too important to be lost, whatever Brexit may currently mean. Is it then conceivable that any 'freedoms' which are secured for English universities would be denied to Scottish ones? Of course not. It is the sector which must fight this corner on the basis of unity, rather than internal division. That is the approach which the Scottish Government should be promoting if its priority really does involve 'what’s best for Scotland' as opposed to its own partisan objective.
In every sector, our interests lie in working with partners throughout the UK to seek the best possible terms – and, in some cases, to take advantage of the potential benefits which can arise from not being in the EU. The pretence that nobody in Scotland voted to leave the EU for any respectable reason and that the arguments all flow in the one direction is absurd. For example, I find it particularly odd that the Scottish fishing industry has been written out of the nationalist script with such ease.
For decades, the fishing communities of the north-east provided the SNP with its electoral heartland. In June, they voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU, in common with their counterparts throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, all of them believing – rightly or wrongly – that the Common Fisheries Policy is at the root of their woes. They are now entitled to expect that their political representatives will seek a regime outside the EU that will address their needs, rather than havering on about how another independence referendum could take Scotland back into the EU (and the Common Fisheries Policy).
This is the serious stuff of negotiation. Scotland must have its say – but not only, or even primarily, as a generic political entity based on the fallacy of exaggerated differentiation between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. In every sector of our economy and society, we should be working with kindred spirits and shared interests across the UK to seek thousands of different deals that will add up to what Brexit means.
That approach would not only maximise our influence within the great issues to be determined but also ensure that our genuinely distinctive needs – as opposed to impossibilist demands – are advanced. I suspect that is now the approach which most Scots are looking for rather than the permanent pursuit of grievance based on the premise, fostered by those of Professor Pittock’s political disposition, that they’re all out to get us. I live in hope rather than expectation.