Caitlyn Mckenzie blogs from the Festival of Politics 2013
Academics and journalists came together to discuss ‘Public Attitudes to our Constitutional Future’ at the Festival of Politics. Chaired by Iain Macwhirter, journalist and commentator, the panel comprised Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde and Dr Nicola McEwen, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Edinburgh University, both of whom currently hold an Economic and Social Research Council fellowship, along with Mandy Rhodes, Editor, Holyrood Magazine, David Walker, writer, journalist and commentator, and Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University.
‘Public Attitudes to our Constitutional Future’ was billed to consider the extent to which national identity shapes attitudes to independence as compared to other factors. The panel discussed the difficulty both the Yes and No Independence campaigns appear to have in shifting attitudes, which appear to have remained remarkably stable over the last eighteen months, along with data on differences in attitudes to the EU in Scotland compared to England. Curtice was not convinced these differences on the EU could be a “game changer” in public opinion. More significant for him was the economic debate: convincing voters they would be better off was more likely than other factors to shift opinion next year. McEwen expressed her hesitance to have confidence in the poll figures so far ahead of the voting date.
The panel also discussed the effect of context on the referendum debate. While researchers have asked questions about independence for decades, only now are we beginning to have a discussion in detail about what exactly an independent Scotland might look. Wyn Jones noted that while Scotland seemed set on further reform, whether independence or fuller devolution, he saw both a lack of imagination on both sides in the current debate and a failure to consider Scotland’s relationships with other UK nations as they clarify their own perspectives on self-government..
Walker and Rhodes explored the possible impacts on the Scottish debate of the current volatility in international and in Westminster politics around Syria, the Edward Snowden controversy and welfare reform. Rhodes was concerned that the information both the UK and the Scottish governments are putting forward in the referendum debate is not trusted by voters. This presented a huge challenge and responsibility for the media to put that information under critical analysis.
The panel concluded that the forthcoming Scottish Government White Paper will answer some, but not all questions when it is released this autumn. Mr Walker suggested the Yes campaign had an advantage in its young, enthusiastic reserve of foot soldiers, but wondered whether they were being provided “with adequate air cover” by the campaign leadership. .
Caitlyn Mckenzie is reading a joint honours MA in International Relations and Law at the University of Edinburgh, and writes on and runs the blog at www.statelessdiplomat.blogspot.com, working closely with other contributors from around the world. She also contributes to thegayagendauk.wordpress.com, a British queer women's collective.
Edited by Charlie Jeffery