Scottish independence would put right a great harm done to students in the country by Brexit, the Scottish National Party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford MP has told The Student in an exclusive interview.
“I really feel quite passionately that what we’ve done to your generation is just so wrong,” says Mr Blackford.
“By not being in the EU there’s a barrier you put up in terms of attracting people.”
For Mr Blackford, Scottish independence is very much tied up with taking the country, its students and its whole academic business back into the EU.
“For us it really is important to be in the EU.
“We see ourselves as internationalists.
“The opportunities for being in the EU are massive in terms of trade; in terms of free movement of people – students and academics being able to come here.”
He thinks that the University of Edinburgh is already in tune with that outlook.
A senior professor told him:
“Twenty-six per cent of the academic staff at Edinburgh are European, and I take a real sense of pride in that.”
Mr Blackford made a commitment to maintain standards in Scottish universities.
Would carrying on the regime of free tuition be part of that for Scottish and European students?
“Yes. The very simple answer is that we are very much wedded to the idea that access to education should be based on ability and not based on ability to pay, and for us that’s something that really is non-negotiable.”
What if you were among the 17 per cent of undergraduates in Scotland who come from England, would you pay the same as now?
“I think the answer to the question is probably yes.”
But he doesn’t see the relationship as starkly as that and it’s about more than just tuition fees.
Despite his long-held belief in Scottish independence from England, he believes strong bonds will remain.
“We’re partners, we’re friends, there’s a social union that will continue to prevail.”
Opponents challenge the SNP’s commitment to Europe as unrealistic and not affordable.
Some argue that it is odd for the party to want to jump out of one union and into another.
But Mr Blackford is at pains to show that while an independent Scotland is a viable proposition, it won’t be forgetting its friends.
“England is our dearest and nearest friend and we want to have a positive relationship with any government that’s in London.
“Indeed that’s the case between Ireland.
“You’ve got the common travel arrangements between Ireland and the rest of the UK – we want to see those kind of relationships being established for an independent Scotland as well.”
He’s optimistic the English students would continue to come to Scotland to study.
“There would still be the open access that is there at the moment.
“Students from south of the border would be very much encouraged to apply to places at Scottish Universities.”
But he would not just send them straight back once they’d graduated.
“It’s not just about students coming here to study: it’s also what happens in a postgraduate context; the Post Study Work Visa is something that we’re obviously very much wedded to.
“I’d very much like to see people continue to make a contribution to the future economic success of Scotland.”
Blackford, who has been the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber since 2015 and the Leader of the SNP in the House of Commons since 2017, was speaking to The Student as the former SNP First Minister Alex Salmond gave evidence to a Scottish parlaiment committee investigating the government’s handling of sexual misconduct claims against Mr Salmond.
The row between Mr Salmond and his former protegee, the current First Minister and SNP MSP Nicola Sturgeon, has become increasinly acrimonious with Mr Salmond accusing Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code and all but calling for her to resign over her government’s botched investigation of the complaints against him.
Ms Sturgeon will give evidence to the committee next week, in what will be a watershed moment for Mr Blackford’s party as she answers questions about what she knew and when she knew it.
A separate inquiry, led by James Hamilton, will investigate whether or not Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.
If she is found to have broken the code, she will be expected to resign in what would be a major blow to the SNP party in the run up to Scottish elections in May.
Image: Richard Townshend via Wikipedia