Stupid Attack on Scottish Free Education 50

I am, in general, a fan of Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers. But I think he has made a serious mistake over taking the Scottish government to court for charging tuition fees to English students.

Scotland quite rightly refused to follow Blair, Brown and Cameron in the disgrace of abolishing free university education. This is in keeping with Scottish tradition. Scotland had for centuries far higher rates of free education and literacy than England, and five universities when England only had two. The “Scottish enlightenment” and the undeniably disproportionate Scottish contribution to science, medicine, engineering, economics and philosophy were based on education.

The Scottish government would have been delighted to provide free to the student education to English students. Unlike the English government, the Scottish government will continue to pay to Scottish universities tuition fees for Scottish students. The education is not free – the Scottish government pays for it, at the expense of the people of Scotland getting something else with the money instead. If the English government would pay tuition fees for English students, the Scottish government would be very happy.

But plainly the Scottish government could never have the funds to pay the fees of the tens of thousands more English students who would come to Scotland if it were free. The Scottish government has a good defence, that it is not discrimination as fees are based on domicile, not race. Witness my son, Jamie Douglas Murray, who pays fees at Glasgow University.

If Shiner does wins his case, the almost certain result would be that Scotland would have to charge its own students rather than educate the entire UK for free. How on earth would that help anybody? Has Phil Shiner lost his senses?

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50 thoughts on “Stupid Attack on Scottish Free Education

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  • R Young

    For the first time, I disagree with Craig on this. The point is that those English students now deprived of free education in Scotland were not subscribers to the Blair policy of abolishing it. Given that Blair’s policy could not have been anticipated, how are the students responsible for a policy they, or perhaps their parents, did not know about when they voted labour.

    What Craig appears to be saying is that it’s perfectly ok for Scotland to punish the policies of a UK government by picking on English students who had absolutely no part in the decision.

    Surely this is a petty argument that doesn’t hold up.

  • Clydebuilt

    The Scottish Government are in discussions with the E.U. regarding charging EU students a “Maintainance Fee” as the Irish Republic does.
    Charging English students does not infringe EU laws as these laws apply to Nation States. Currently Scotland is designated as a State not a Nation.


  • John Munro

    JohnK Sorry for the delay in replying to your last posting. I still don’t see what your problem really is on this issue in relation to Scotland. It’s not the Scottish people or government who initially ordained 9,000 pounds p.a. university fees. It was the government which came into power, in Westminster, last year, on the back of English votes. The Scottish Government has taken action to try and secure the interests of Scottish young people which is, of course, part of the electorate they are responsible to. Had they not done so then the Scottish Government would have been faced with paying out a minimum of 75,000,000 pounds p.a. (In reality, probably a lot more.)to educate English based students and would have witnessed numerous Scottish universities becoming ‘no go’ areas to Scottish based students as they filled up with English based ‘fee refugees’. The Scottish based students would then have been forced into paying 9,000 pounds p.a. fees as they would, presumably, be forced to go south for a university education. Please note that this entire problem was caused by the coalition’s decision to withdraw some 80% of university funding and switching it to fees. If you have a problem with English students paying 9,000 pounds p.a. then take it up with ‘Disco Dave’.

    I’d like to answer the points you raise in relation to Calmac’s posting. 1) Scottish MPs should not vote on exclusively English matters. However, it’s not quite as simple as it appears and some kind of mechanism should be set up to decide what are exclusively English matters. University funding, for example, was something where English decisions did have a knock on effect on Scottish practice which numerous English people, including yourself, are now complaining about. 2) As for having a body for deciding English only matters: well that could be a reformed Westminster Parliament or some new English Parliament. The thing is, however, that you won’t get it unless you get off your collective arses and work for it. Don’t expect Scots to do it for you or to avoid doing certain things which you may see as unfair until you have your own parliament. The Scottish pro devolutionists lost the 1979 referendum after working for it for years. They then buckled down to working for it again and with the help of Thatcher and Major won 18 years later. Incidentally, The number of Scottish, Westminster MPs is now pretty much in line with Scotland’s population. 3) We are somewhat in the dark as regards Scotland’s fiscal/financial relationship to England and the UK Treasury. The Treasury must be able to give us a pretty exact accounting but somehow refuses to do so. The evidence we do have such as GERS reports, GVA figures etc tend to be relatively favourable towards Scotland. 4) In terms of Health, Education and other matters; you are bound to have growing differences between Scotland and England. That is the whole point of Devolution. We have free prescriptions but not 24 hour, walk in,NHS centres. We have certain cancer drugs which are not available in England but not cardiac medications which are available in England. The monies being made available by the Scottish Government for the Scottish NHS are going to rise more slowly than in England and there may be real cuts in a year or so. Again, incidentally, Scottish health stats aren’t as bad as they are sometimes made out to be. They are generally in line with those other parts of the UK which have histories of heavy industry and mining. Those parts of Scotland wihout a histoy of heavy industry or mining are as healthy as better parts of England. In addition, Scottish health statisics, while still lagging behind the UK, slightly, have been improving more quickly than other parts of the UK and will, I suppose, converge with or better UK averages in a year or so’s time.

    I do find the rigidity of mind of some people in England somewhat depressing. Federal and quasi-federal structures are fairly common, internationally, nowadays. The USA,Canada,Australia,South Africa,Spain,Austria,Germany all have such structures and seem to get by just fine. Scots have adjusted easily to it. The Welsh and Northern Irish people are settling down to it as well. Large portions of the English population seem not to be. Why, I wonder, is this?

  • Shiran

    If it’s legal for Scotland to charge fees to students from England, while not charging Scots and EU students, then it’s clearly also legal for England to do likewise vis a vis differential charging.
    If English and EU students will be charged up to £9000 at English universities, then Scottish students (who – as we have learned – have no protection under the law, as they are merely a regional part of the UK) could be charged much much more, let’s say £20,000, £30,000, or maybe a bit more?

    If Scotland is acting to keep Scottish Universities for Scottish (and by necessity EU) students, then England should be able to keep English Universities for English students (and EU). The above differential charging would be a good way to achieve this. At the moment Scots can choose to go anywhere as the Scottish government pays their fees, whether they study in Scotland OR England.

    If English can no longer study in Scotland due to prohibitive pricing, then Scots should face the same problems in England.

    That’s only fair. And I hope the solution is implemented.

  • John Munro

    Shiran. May I point out that the Scottish Government is not charging English based students any more than they would pay per annum for studying at a good English university. In fact, it is still liable to be lower than English fee levels as there has been no final figure for fees announced yet by the Scottish Government. It could be UP TO 9,000 pounds per annum. So sizable numbers of English based students may still enter Scottish universities. However, not to charge fees approaching English levels would almost certainly lead to some Scottish universities being swamped with English based students who, quite understandably, would come to Scotland to escape English fees and that is hardly fair on Scottish based students or the Scottish tax payer. Incidentally, Scottish based students may get help with fees for English universities but only to a certain level. The Scottish Government does not give full fe payment.

    I spent 25 years or so as HE adviser in various Scottish schools and during that period of time constantly tried to get my HE candidates to move out of some Scottish university comfort zone and seriously consider English universities as options. I had considerable success in this but it has come to a grinding halt due to the imposition of ever increasing fees in England. That, remember, was done by Westminster based governments, not the SNP or any other Holyrood administration.

  • John K

    John Munro
    “I do find the rigidity of mind of some people in England somewhat depressing.”
    Patronising rubbish. And if I said that about the Scots you’d be screaming blue murder!
    “Federal and quasi-federal structures are fairly common, internationally, nowadays. The USA,Canada,Australia,South Africa,Spain,Austria,Germany all have such structures and seem to get by just fine. Scots have adjusted easily to it. The Welsh and Northern Irish people are settling down to it as well. Large portions of the English population seem not to be. Why, I wonder, is this?”
    Perhaps because while you have devolution and quasi-federal structure, we don’t?
    Countries like the USA and Australia work (most of the time) because there are (in essence) reasonably clear line about what are federal responsibilities, and what are the responsibility of the states, and it’s more or less the same for all the states. Not one state having lots of powers devolved but the biggest not having any devolution except for day-to-day services at local government level.
    At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, and because neither you or Calmac have answered my point, all I want is fairness. I argue that the current position is unfair and cannot hold. Either Scotland should become a completely independent country, or the English must have the same degree of devolution as the Scots. Why is this so unreasonable, and so difficult for you to address?

  • John Munro

    JohnK I’ll give you and other people, in England, the same answer I gave earlier. If you want devolved powers, similar to Scotland’s, for some kind of English parliament or assembly then get up off your backsides and work for it. That’s what we did, up here. We got sick and tired of having things dictated to us by people living hundreds of miles away who knew little about us and cared less. We got sick of English Tories suddenly turning up, under party 3 line whips to force through new laws and other government measures when they hadn’t even bothered attending the debates which preceded the votes. We got sick and tired of these measures being pushed through against the wishes of the overwhelming mass of the Scottish population.

    So we agitated. Set up vigils, devolution camps, cross party pro devolution committees, gathered signatures for petitions, did research on possible structures and policies for a new, devolved Scotland etc. Pushed, pushed, pushed to get the majority of the Scottish population on-side to go for Devolution. After 30 years or so it worked.

    At the present time the position seems to suit most people in Scotland. I cannot remember too many people in England getting worried under the old, pre-Devolution dispensation when Scotland could be forgotten about or merely taken for granted that this was, somehow, unfair to Scotland. So, you’ll have to forgive me and most of my fellow Scots for not getting too worked up about it.

  • John K

    John Munro
    Again you raise a different point from the one I asked and avoid my question. Oh well.
    I have nothing but admiration for the way the SNP has lobbied and cajoled its way to the position it’s now in. As you imply, it’s in stark contrast to the total lack of organisation and cojones displayed by the English hitherto. Although imagine the howls if a strong English National Party emereged lobbying for exactly what Scotland has achieved…
    But that’s a different, though important, issue.
    I’ll take it that you are tactitly accepting that the present position leaves something to be desired, but as that’s to Scotland’s advantage you are content with it. Fair enough, that’s logical and consistent. And what you say about most of the English being happy with the status quo years ago when it was unfair to Scotland is also true. But two wrongs don’t make a right, never have.
    I suspect I am pretty much a lone voice in the wilderness on this. Oh well, c’est la vie, as Ecurie Ecosse might have said.
    I think we’d better leave it there. We’ll see whether Craig is right in his analysis in the original post.
    Regards, John

  • Neil


    I respect your views and agree with you on most things but in this instance I think the decision does have a hint of xenophobia.

    I love Scotland, in fact much of my family/ancestry is Scottish, but I do find, as an Englishman, that it does have a viscious anti-English dark side. Whether it’s the graffiti (“Keep Scotland Tidy, Kick Out The English!”), the injustices of Culloden or the celebration of anti-English figures (Burns/Wallace), many Scots embrace a culture they believe is centred solely on the hatred of the English.

    Perhaps David Starkey puts it better:-
    Scotland, Alex Salmond says smugly, is a “different culture”. It is indeed, since the Scots are allowed – and even encouraged – to be as racist as they please and hate the English with glad abandon.

    Scotland should either choose independence and let go of the Westminster teat or accept it is part of a larger entity.

  • John Munro

    Neil, We had the first Scottish university declaring how much it will charge English based students, yesterday. Aberdeen will charge 27,000 pounds for a degree despite it taking 4 years, in Scotland, not 3, as in England. I suspect that the other, better, Scottish universities will do similar. I cannot see anything xenophobic in this; merely an attempt not to see Scottish universities swamped by English based universities.

    Unfortunately, our national heroes achieved that heroic status, in opposition, largely, to English invasions. You may not like that but unfortunately the Plantagenets did invade Scotland, a number of times, over a longish period of time and various other English leaders carried on that tradition. I just wish the English would drop their addiction to anti-French, anti-Spanish, anti-German and anti-Irish heroes. You know people like Nelson, Wellington, Henry V, Elizabeth I, Churchill, Cromwell (He had a pop at the Scots and Welsh as well), Shakespeare, Milton etc. Incidentally, as soon as you produce anything from David Starkey in support of the racism of the Scots then you have to be joking. Starkey clearly has a bee in his bonnet about us and has launched into various frothy, racist rants against the Scots. He’s had a couple on ‘Question Time’ which ought to be retrievable from ‘You Tube’ or other sites.

  • Shiran

    No-one should claim that the Scottish Government is holding some kind of moral high ground here, or even talk about “Free Scottish Education”, to quote Craig.
    It isn’t Scottish education that’s free, it’s education for Scots that is free.

    Scots don’t pay, no matter what their wealth; English do pay, no matter how disadvantaged, or how well-qualified or well-motivated.

    That’s the reality.

    We can contrast that with the top US universities where (to my knowledge) places and scholarships go to candidates from all different nationalities purely on merit, with generous scholarships available to those whose family income is very low.

    The Scottish position is nationalistic and comes from the base motive of “let’s look after our own.”

    Of course the UK government takes a lot of blame for the whole unfortunate situation, but let’s not pretend that the Scottish Government policy harks back to some age of liberal idealism. It is self-serving and borders on being xenophobic.

  • Shiran

    There’s some useful background information on the subject in this Wikipedia article.

    Having read it, I’m shocked.
    Scottish MPs from Scottish constituencies actually entered the UK parliament and voted for ENGLISH students to face huge fees increases, knowing that Scottish students wouldn’t pay.
    The vote was close, and without the Scottish votes the motion would not have carried.

    That’s shocking.

    Who here could defend that?

  • John Munro

    Shiran. Of course the Scottish Government is looking after it’s own. That’s who it is democratically accountable to. Perhaps you don’t like the idea of democratic accountability and think that the Scottish Government should do what, no doubt more moral and noble, English opinion tells it to do. BTW. how many of the world’s poor have English universities opened their doors to free of charge?

    The only real complaint you have is of Scottish MPs voting for variable fees. That was something of a democratic atrocity. However, your beef on that should be addressed to the jolly old UK wide Labour Party who laid a 3 line Whip down during the votes. The SNP broke it’s own self imposed ban on voting on English affairs and voted against fees as it felt, rightly, that it would be a matter that had knock-on effects on Scotland.

    BTW, the initial decision to introduce fees was taken by a Tory government with virtually no support in Scotland. Blunkett, for Labour, carried on the policy without, initially, taking into account the longer Scottish degree course. It was only after a major Scottish ruckus that this was remedied. So, please do not give us, up here, lectures on fairness. A lot of us remember exactly how we were treated throughout the 80s and 90s by our cousins down south.

  • Shiran

    John Munro
    For the avoidance of doubt, I am Scottish.
    Scottish student leaders and representatives at Scottish universities have also spoken out against those charges for English students. They see the unfairness: they are not gloating immaturely about getting revenge on the English.

    Let’s remember we’re talking about teenagers here, and something that will impact on their whole future lives. Kids shouldn’t be punished because they happen to live in one part of the country, rather than another: or because a fundamental democratic injustice means that their local MP only gets to vote in one parliament, rather than two. It’s not their fault. The EU demands equality for all EU citizens.

    It had not previously occurred to me that there was anything morally upstanding about the UK position on fees – I was merely comparing the Scottish system with US scholarships. However, now you mention it, I realise there IS in fact something to applaud about a system that takes into account the spirit as well as the letter of the law, and treats everyone exactly the same – Scots, English, other UK and Europeans. The UK system also makes grants and loans available to all students on an equal basis, according to financial need – even though they know they are less likely to be able to retrieve any money loaned to Europeans who may go back home and disappear.

    Morally, this is undoubtedly a far fairer system.

    Do we know of any other country in Europe doing what Scotland proposes? i.e. Free tuition for certain EU citizens, fees of up to £9000 a year for others?

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  • John Munro

    Shiran. Something very similar happens across Laender boundaries in the BRD. It’s down to EU law. The question you have to answer is what is the Scottish Government supposed to do? Should it offer free tuition to English based students? If it does then there is a very high probability of Scottish universities being swamped by applications from English based ‘fee refugees’with Scottish based students being denied access to Scottish universities. Since the admissions offices of English universities are not exactly helpful to Scottish applicants with non A level qualifications this would be something of a disaster for a lot of Scottish based students. It would also leave those Scottish based students who were forced out of Scottish universities with the option of going south and paying 9,000 pounds p.a. in fees. Who will pay this? Incidentally are you also willing to forego the educational goods that the money diverted into paying the fees of English based students would have paid for? Which sections of Scottish education should be cut back to free up that money?

    There is an alternative, of course. The Scottish Government could charge fees of a high enough level to discourage English based students from applying to Scottish universities purely for a cheaper education. What level of fees do you think would achieve this goal? Would this be fair on Scottish based students who would be forced to pay out tens of thousands of pounds for a degree merely because large numbers of, overwhelmingly, English voters seem to be afflicted by some form of social and political masochism which prompts them to vote for the Tories.

    FWIW. I deeply regret the present fees set up. I spent much of my working life trying to encourage Scottish sixth formers to apply for English, Welsh, Irish and other universities to get out of their Scottish comfort zone just as I did many years ago when I attended the University of Manchester for my first degree. Guess what? Virtually nobody, from up here, applies for English universities now. The reason for that, however, isn’t Scottish but the ludicrous decisions on university funding taken by the coalition. I’ll repeat. If you have a beef, take it up with them.

    Incidentally, look back on what I’ve written on several of my postings here. I think that Scottish MPs voting on purely English matters is an atrocity and should not be happening. take that up with the UK wide parties who continually insist on their Scottish MPs doing that. I also think your missing something else here. There are bound to be differences in the way people are treated by government, in the various parts of Britain. That is the whole point of Devolution. Do you wish that Devolution be ended or eroded to ensure greater uniformity in Britain?

  • Shiran

    Obviously the system is a mess, and there’s no simple solution, but it’s essential that there is some kind of equality for all the young people in the UK. English voters and young people have never voted for huge university fees any more than Scottish people have. Thankfully, Phil Shiner and PIL (even before tackling the Scotland/England fees discrepancy) have already launched a legal challenge to the tripling of fees in England on the basis that it is denying higher education to poorer students. It apparently goes to court in October and may help the situation.
    Language is obviously a major problem for the UK vis a vis the EU. We have the right to go and work and study in any EU country on the same conditions as the people living there, but very very few do because of language difficulties. But, with English being a world lingua franca, hundreds of thousands are attracted to work and study here. It’s a massage inbuilt disadvantage for Britain.

    To answer the final question: Of course it’s great that Scotland has devolution, but a huge mistake was made in not giving England devolution too. From what I understand, had England been devolved the fees vote would not have passed.
    Furthermore, I don’t actually understand how devolution of countries within a sovereign EU nation allows discrimination that wouldn’t be allowed between discrete EU nations. But I guess that’s exactly what PIL’s case is trying to establish. So we’ll presumably find out in time.

  • John Munro

    Shiran. Sorry, but we are where we are and you still aren’t telling me what your solution would be. Do you want the Scottish Government to cut back spending on other educational goods, in order to pay for English based students forcing Scottish based students out of Scottish universities? Do you want the Scottish Government to start charging Scottish students roughly similar fees to those being charged in England on the grounds of cross border equity? In practical terms, if you don’t like the Scottish Government’s present solution then you have to choose one or the other. Either way you are going to screw Scottish young people out of some misplaced feeling of solidarity with our English cousins.

    The majority of English voters may not have voted for the 9,000 pounds p.a. fees but the single largest bloc of English voters sure as hell voted for the parties which pushed the 9,000 p.a. fees through. Scottish voters didn’t. Ergo, it was an, overwhelmingly, English decision. Why should Scottish young people be punished for this?

    England didn’t get Devolution when Scotland did because the English didn’t ask for it and when offered small measures of Devolution, voted against it. Once again, it is worth remembering that those in favour of Scottish Devolution worked for decades to get the measure through. I posted leaflets through letter boxes in 1979 during the failed campaign of that time. I later helped campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the 1997 referendum. Should I, and the others, like me, who won the second referendum, on Devolution, have thrown our hands up and agreed to postpone it’s introduction for 5,10,15,20 years until the English got round to discussing the matter and making their minds up.

    The initial decision to push fees through as a way to finance HE was taken under the Major government but wasn’t voted on until the new Labour administration came in in 1997. Scottish MPs did vote for the measure and they shouldn’t have. I’ve already stated that Scottish MPs should not vote on purely English matters. The SNP do not vote on such matters as a matter of principle. The present set up with withdrawal of 80% of public funding and 9,000pounds p.a. fees was a product of the coalition and was noted voted on until last year.

    Under EU law EU citizens cannot be discriminated against in things such as HE fees by other EU states. So they must be charged no more than citizens of the state (If not their own.) they are applying to. EU citizens cannot be charged more than 9,000 pounds p.a. if applying to English universities and must be charged the same as Scottish based students if applying to Scottish universities; i.e. nothing.

    However, within states citizens can be treated differently if moving across internal administrative borders of the state they are citizens of. So, inside the UK, there are 3 different fee arrangements and British citizens can be charged different amounts when moving to the different administrative units these fee arrangements are in force in. This is the case with both ‘quasi-federal’ devolution in the UK and with full federalism within the borders of the BRD (Germany). A German student from the state of Sachsen (Saxony) may be charged more than a student from the state of Bayern (Bavaria) if he/she chooses to cross the state border to study in Bayern. A student from another EU state outside Germany would pay exactly the same as the native of Bayern.

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