The argument for an independent Scotland

Scottish Education Secretary Michael Russell visits Dal

Ryan McNutt - December 4, 2013

Michael Russell speaks in the Lord Dalhousie Room of the Henry Hicks Building. (Nick Pearce photo)
Michael Russell speaks in the Lord Dalhousie Room of the Henry Hicks Building. (Nick Pearce photo)

It’s the size of a telephone directory: 670 pages in all, outlining the case for Scotland’s political and economic independence from Great Britain and the process by which it would be implemented.

Scotland’s Future, known casually as the "white paper” on Scottish independence, was released Tuesday, November 26 to widespread media coverage and political debate across the British Isles and around the world. And last Friday, one of Scotland’s prominent voices for independence brought the conversation across the pond to Dalhousie.

In what he claimed was the first public lecture by a member of the Scottish cabinet since the white paper’s publication, Michael Russell, Scotland’s education secretary, addressed the Scottish national question during his visit to Dalhousie.

Russell’s public lecture was sponsored by Dal’s European Union Centre of Excellence, and was part of a larger Canadian visit by the education secretary to build stronger links between Scotland in Canada in trade and investment, education and science, culture and arts, and diplomacy.

Scotland’s stand

Built around a question asked in Shakespeare’s Macbeth — “Stands Scotland where it did?” (IV, iii) — the lecture focused on the principles guiding the nationalist cause in Scotland. It’s no surprise that Russell is a passionate advocate: he’s a long-time member of the Scottish National Party, currently the majority government in parliament, and he helped lead the national discussion while serving as minister for culture, external affairs and the constitution.

“The political and economic union has served its purpose, and needs to be replaced with political and economic independence,” he argued.

Russell joined the National Party in 1974, becoming the party’s first full-time chief executive 20 years later. He was elected to the Scottish parliament in 1999 and has also served as environment minister.

In his lecture, he discussed the limitations of Scotland’s current governance, painting a picture of British policies that fail to take Scottish interests into account. He also shared observations on the limited role Scotland is allowed to play in international affairs, despite how important these conversations are to Scotland as a coastal, resource-wealthy region: “Scotland’s voice is always heard in the world, second-hand.”

Considering the national question

As for the white paper itself, Russell championed its comprehensiveness — “If you read it at a regular reading pace and started at breakfast, you wouldn’t be done by dinner” — and argued it addresses many of the questions Scottish citizens are asking in the lead-up to next September’s referendum. He also shrugged off what he called a “fear” campaign on the part of opponents, saying that many of their claims don’t properly consider the real choice: weighing the possible outcomes of independence in comparison to the status quo offered by remaining part of Great Britain. On that front, he argued, independence wins.

“Every part of governance would benefit from independence,” he said, later concluding that “it is fundamentally better if decisions about Scotland’s future are made by the people of Scotland.”

Many in the audience were eager to follow up with their own questions about certain topics, from the environment to how the status of women might change in an independent Scotland.

Russell also spent time on campus visiting researchers in the Faculty of Engineering — he had a particular interest in marine technology work happening in the region — and also discussed education and policy with some of Dal’s academic leaders.


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