SUMMARY by professor Nicola McEwen FRSE
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The Constitutional Futures Initiative was developed in response to a growing interest and discussion of Scotland’s constitutional future. The constitutional question continues to dominate and polarise Scottish politics and political debate, but the contested nature of the process (especially whether or not there should be an independence referendum) has crowded out meaningful discussion of the substance of constitutional options and how these have been reshaped by recent developments, including Brexit and Covid.
The purpose of this project is not to provide recommendations in relation to alternative constitutional futures. Rather, the aim is to provide impartial, expert reflection and guidance on this topic. Drawing on the collective expertise of the RSE, the project will provide inter-disciplinary analysis of the new context in which constitutional debates and developments are taking place, and how that context shapes options for Scotland’s constitutional future. I will also aim to provide a space for deliberation and produce outputs that draw attention to the opportunities and constraints of alternative options. Furthermore, it will aim to empower citizen participation in this important debate through public engagement activities.
The main activities in this project will be four roundtables which will be organised in the autumn/winter of 2022. All activities associated with the four roundtables will be organised in partnership with and funded by the ESRC and UK in a Changing Europe, as part of the project convened by Professor Nicola McEwen FRSE, entitled: A Family of Nations? Brexit, Devolution and the Union. The themes for the roundtables are outlined below.
Roundtable 1 | How sustainable is the current devolution settlement?
The first roundtable in the series brought together participants from different sectors (e.g. academia, civil service, research organisations) to reflect on the complexities of fiscal powers and spending responsibilities following the 2016 Scottish devolution settlement, and the sustainability of public finances. The key experts convened by the RSE reflected on the influence of different factors, such as predicted long-term demographic changes, as well as the historical lessons offered by the economic changes. Participants also reflected on the efficiency of the current settlement and possible impacts of changes (taking into consideration different scenarios including increased devolution) on the country’s fiscal sustainability. Roundtable attendees agreed that increased public understanding and knowledge of Scotland’s finances is essential to informing public debate, including on how many revenues are raised from taxes devolved or partially devolved in Scotland, the complexities of income tax powers, the continued significance of the block grant from the UK Treasury, how this is adjusted to offset revenue-raising powers, and the scope of the Fiscal Framework Agreement. A summary of some of these issues is available in the briefing provided by Professor Graeme Roy.
Roundtable 2 | The Westminster dimension
The second roundtable was organized in partnership with the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and the Institute for Government. It brought together experts from different sectors and disciplines to discuss how well the Westminster system and the constitution work for Scotland. The rich discussion focused on inter-related issues such as the weakened protection of the devolution settlement in the recent years in light of Brexit and the operation of the Sewel convention, especially in Brexit-related legislation. The second part of the event focused on a potential reform of the UK parliament, including a revised second chamber which would see the House of Lords replaced by a chamber of nations and regions. The Institute for Government has captured an in-depth summary of the roundtable discussion.
Roundtable 3 | Public Opinion and political debate
The third roundtable in the series focused on public opinion and constitutional views in Scotland, including those related to sovereignty. This was a wide-ranging discussion that reflected the complexity of opinions on Scotland’s constitutional future that go beyond the general pro- and -anti independence stances often represented in the media. The participants reflected on recent polling results that show a much more complex landscape of political attitudes. Participants considered that better understanding and representation of constitutional and political preferences and aspirations could help to overcome the divisive aspects of the constitutional debate and nurture consensus and/or consent regarding Scotland’s future status within these islands. The second part of the discussion focused on recent analyses of public understanding and attitudes towards sovereignty within Scotland, with survey analysis again pointing towards a more complex and nuanced picture that goes beyond simple binaries (e.g. Scottish/British sovereignty). The papers by Professor Ailsa Henderson and Professors Michael Keating and David McCrone shaped the discussion.
Roundtable 4 | Independence in a new context: currency, the economy and the border
The last event in the series brought experts from academia, civil service as well as the third sector together to reflect on two key themes: currency and borders. Taking as a starting point the scenario of an independent Scotland, the participants debated what were considered to be the two viable currency options following independence: the establishment of a Scottish currency, or the continued use of the British pound. Reflections on both options included practical aspects (e.g. the ability to borrow, the impact on policy autonomy, currency credibility) as well as a practicable timeline for implementation. Read more about Dr Iain Hardie’s perspective on these options. The second part of the discussion considered the effects of independence on the land border between Scotland and England, which in the event of an independent Scotland’s membership of the European Union, would be a new border between the EU and the remaining UK, and subject to the terms that govern that relationship (as set out currently in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement). The discussion considered the obligations and options for managing such a border, implications for the Common Travel Area, and how mutual commitments to minimal trade barriers may be affected by concerns around security and migration. Professor Nicola McEwen provided a summary of some of these issues.
PROJECT WORKING GROUP
Professor Nicola McEwen FRSE
Professor of Public Policy, University of Glasgow
Nicola McEwen is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Glasgow, and a fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change. She specialises in nationalism, devolution and intergovernmental relations, with a focus on Scotland and the UK in comparative perspective.
Her recent research has examined the impact of Brexit on UK devolution and the future of the Union, supported by an ESRC Senior Fellowship with the UK in a Changing Europe (https://ukandeu.ac.uk/). Nicola is actively involved in informing the policy process and public debate, through media work, public engagement, and advice and support to parliaments and governments.
Professor Michael Keating FBA FRSE FAcSS
General Secretary, Royal Society of Edinburgh
Michael Keating is General Secretary of the RSE. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of Aberdeen. Michael has taught in universities in Scotland, England and Canada and at the European University Institute in Florence. A graduate of the University of Oxford, he was also the first PhD to graduate from what is now Glasgow Caledonian University (1975).
He is a fellow of the British Academy, Academy of Social Sciences and European Academy. His research has covered comparative European politics, public policy and territorial politics and from 2013 to 2020 he was founding Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change in Edinburgh.
Professor Ailsa Henderson FRSE
Professor of Political Science, University of Edinburgh
Ailsa Henderson is Professor of Political Science and Head of Politics & International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Ailsa Henderson conducts research on political culture(s) and political behaviour in federal and multi-national states, and focuses in particular on variations in political culture at the sub-state level. Her publications explore how national identity, federalism, devolution or institutional design can affect regional variations in political attitudes and behaviours.
Professor Jo Hunt
Professor of Law, Cardiff School of Law and Politics
Jo Hunt is Professor of Law in Cardiff School of Law and Politics, and a member of the Wales Governance Centre. She has over twenty years of expertise in interdisciplinary (law and political science) work on the European Union. I conduct real-time research into the processes and consequences of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, especially as it relates to devolution and the UKs territorial constitution. I publish significant contributions to this debate in leading journals and edited collections. She engages, influences and informs policy actors in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh on these matters; regularly appearing before Select Committees, (including, at Westminster, PACAC, Welsh Affairs, and former Committee on Existing the EU), and from 2017-2021 I was a member of the Welsh Government First Minister’s European Advisory Group.
Professor Jeremy Peat FRSE
RSE VP Business and Economy and Enterprise Committee Convener
Jeremy Peat has been a professional economist since 1969 and actively involved in watching and analyzing the Scottish economy for over 35 years. His formal roles have included Senior Economic Advisor at the Scottish Office (1985-92); Group Chief Economist at RBS (1992-2005); Director of the David Hume Institute (2005-2014); board member of Scottish Enterprise (2011-2017); and Chair of Trustees at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for six years until 2020. He was also (inter alia) a member of the Competition Commission (2005-2015) and BBC Governor and then Trustee for Scotland (2005-2011).
His present activities include serving as Vice President (Business) at the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Chair of the RSE’s Economy and Enterprise Committee. He is also a member of the Economics Committee of South of Scotland Enterprise.
Jeremy wrote a monthly column for the Herald from 2005 until 2022. He has been an Honorary Professor at Heriot Watt University and a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University and Edinburgh University. He has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by both Aberdeen and Heriot Watt Universities and has also been awarded the OBE.
Professor Graeme Roy
Dean of External Engagement, University of Glasgow
Graeme Roy is Dean of External Engagement in the College of Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at the University of Glasgow. He is a former Senior Civil Servant in the Scottish Government and head of the First Minister’s Policy Unit. He is a past Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde. He has been a special adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee and in July 2022, Graeme was appointed Chair of the Scottish Fiscal Commission, Scotland’s independent economic and fiscal forecasting body.
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