This is the latest in a series of historic weeks in Scottish political life. Following the parliamentary approval of the Edinburgh Agreement in the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Parliament’s legal authority to hold an independence referendum is now beyond doubt.
In her closing speech of the year, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called on ‘both sides’ in the referendum debate to be positive, constructive and conducted in a way that helps voters make an informed choice. Doubtless there will be positive and less positive messages coming from both sides between now and the referendum. The polarisation of the debate seems inevitable. But helping voters to make an informed choice is crucial, and not just a matter for politicians and campaigners. The academic community has a vital role to play.
The University of Edinburgh has long been proud of its engagement with the wider community, and of the role it has played in helping to inform understanding and debate on Scotland’s development within the Union. From the 1970s onwards, Professors Henry Drucker and J P Mackintosh, and later Professor Alice Brown and Professor David McCrone helped to shape our understanding of Scottish politics and society, and in different ways contributed to the founding of the Scottish Parliament. Our late and much missed colleague, Professor Neil MacCormick, matched his unparalleled contribution to legal thinking with a dedication to public service, and did more than anyone to broaden understanding of sovereignty in Scotland and beyond.
Today’s academics at Edinburgh are committed to building on their legacy.
Between now and the referendum, this Blog will provide a platform for our research, commentary and events dedicated to informing debate and voters’ understanding of the issues at stake. Many of our academics are already deeply engaged in examining the referendum process, as well as the implications of its outcome for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
We are at the heart of the Economic and Social Research Council’s research programme on the Future of the UK and Scotland. Three Edinburgh academics – Professor Stephen Tierney, Professor Sheila Riddell and myself – were awarded ESRC Senior Scotland Fellowships, examining the referendum process and implications of independence for public policy, the delivery of public services and co-operation between the Scottish and UK governments. The other ESRC fellows are Professor Michael Keating (Aberdeen), Professor John Curtice (Strathclyde), Professor David Bell (Stirling) and Dr Angus Armstrong (NIESR).
These fellowships are part of a broader ESRC programme dedicated to producing high quality research to help inform the constitutional debate. Also part of this programme is research being carried out by the Edinburgh-based Applied Quantitative Methods Network (AQMeN). In partnership with ScotCen, scholars at AQMeN will be seeking to understand and measure public attitudes on national identity, political interests and attitudes towards independence, including a survey of 16 and 17 year olds who will be given the right to vote in the referendum.
Across the university, historians, constitutional lawyers, economists, social scientists and geo-scientists, among others, are engaged in examining different aspects of the independence debate, often in partnership with organisations and networks within the wider community.
These are exciting times in Scotland’s political life. We are dedicated to playing our part, by providing impartial and informed analysis of key issues and events as they unfold.