What does ‘independence’ mean for Scotland?

Alan Convery, Lead Educator on The University of Edinburgh’s free online course discusses the key issues surrounding Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum and reveals how taking this course can help place you at the heart of the debate.

Towards Scottish Independence? Understanding the Referendum

In just a few months’ time, we will know whether Scotland will stay in the United Kingdom or become an independent country. However, Scotland’s referendum debate can be difficult to navigate. Beyond the claims and counter-claims of the two campaigns, there are also arguably different understandings of what ‘independence’ means for a country the size of Scotland in the 21st century. Our free online course is designed to help people make sense of the issues and place Scotland’s choices in context by looking at other stateless nations like Quebec and Catalonia. We are definitely not attempting to give people the answers, but we are going to try to give them the tools to understand what is going on and find out more.

The centrepiece of this course is our weekly live-streamed seminar. On Wednesdays at 1pm over six weeks, we will bring together a panel of experts from the University of Edinburgh to discuss the issues. Our participants will set the agenda through our discussions and via Twitter. We hope this will allow us to target the areas our participants find most difficult or interesting. We will also be conducting regular opinion polls of our participants to see if any minds are changed over the six weeks of the course.

We warmly welcome anyone who wants to participate in the course. We are hoping for a mixture of Scottish voters, expats and anyone interested in finding out more. In particular, we hope that the Wednesday 1pm seminar will allow school pupils in Scotland to benefit from our resources and direct the conversation.

Although we have structured the course around six themes, we want very much to be led by our participants. The team behind the course is looking forward to shaping the course to answer their questions when we kick off on 25 August 2014.

Category Learning
Struggling to understand the referendum?

Struggling to understand the referendum?

Join in at the heart of the debate

Join this free online course now

Comments (44)


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  • Tommy Taylor

    So much time & money spent on this issue. Great for the politicians, & the media, but irrelevant for most of us. It has created sore divisions, which will take a long time to heal. So unnecessary.
    Scotland, despite it’s massive contribution to British & World progress, has always shot itself in the foot. We have always fallen out with each other. The Union, despite it’s flaws & bad start, has been one of the most successful in history. Now we face the possibility of divorce, & the loss of our British identity. We would not have the best of both worlds, & the stability that we have now. We are a wealthy country because of the Union, not despite it. Scotland’s identity has been preserved, in the law, education, religion, sport etc. etc. Unravelling three hundred years of working together would be an absolute nightmare, & there would be no going back. Just hope that the parachute would open when we jump out of the plane. What a waste of time, money & effort. I remember 1978, when we became hysterical, as we reached fever pitch prior to the world cup in Argentina. We had our victory parade before we left these shores, only to return with our tails between our legs. No going back!

  • laura mccreadie

    this is a question for today’s panel

    how can the BBC be unbiased, a yes vote looses them £300 million in licence fees from Scotland

  • Halima Q. Rastin

    I’m wondering why should Scotland be separate from UK? What is the main reason for it?

  • Thérèse Caron

    I am from Québec, Canada, which means that I have been voting twice already in a referendum that was defeated.
    What is surprising is that after having read almost everything on the subject and listened to discourses, you believe that your mind is made up! However, when time comes to put a yes or a no, you get scared of the consequences and change your mind.
    I am taking the course to see other opinions on the subject.
    It will be interesting to hear the comparisons made between Québec and Catalonia.
    I wish the best for the Scots!

  • Rocio Ferro-Adams

    Dear Future Learn Team.

    I have signed up for this course. My background is in policy and I have worked on Constitutional issues in relation to Scottish independence, but not directly in the last 10 years. I am interested in the referendum.

    I have completed a MOOCS recently and am wondering whether I should have received an email from by now with registration details.

    Thank you

  • Madeleine Currie

    As the course starts tomorrow I have been reading articles on the website futureukandscotland.ac.uk which has given me some insight into the Independence debate. I found the article “The uncelebrated union” to be particularly interesting.

  • Mary Martin

    Does this run from Wed 27 Aug to Wed 24 Sep with an intro on Monday 25th?
    What time on Monday and how do I link to it and/or catch up if I miss a session please? Unfortunately, might not be able to join in live on Mon 25th as it is a bank holiday in England but hope its easy yo catch up.

    • Joan Greenleaf

      Mary don’t worry, if it is like other FutureLearn courses the main course material will be available for you to use in your own time from Monday. The Wednesday live sessions will be added later as a video in case you missed it live. I don’t know what time Monday it will start possibly from midnight on Sunday but certainly by 9am Monday. When it starts the join course button on the course will change colour and takef you to the course when you click. There will be a video showing you how to navigate the site. Use the comments sections if you need help,.

  • David McGovern

    The use of the word “Independent” in the referendum question was agreed by the First and Prime Ministers, but not exactly what it means, and there seems to be some ambiguity. Can we please have clarification about this, as for the central issue of the currency. The leaders of sovereign states are expected by their populace to protect their currency from foreign interference. How can independence be squared with the assumption of a currency union?

    • Tom Kavanagh

      I wouldn’t attempt to answer this in the Scottish case, but note that several countries use the US dollar as their official currency. Ecuador and El Salvador are two that recently adopted it, I believe. They are both pretty independent otherwise. Look at Ecuador giving refuge to Julian Assange in its London embassy.

  • Joan Greenleaf

    I am a bit confused because here it says the live debates will be at 1pm on Wednesdays but the recant email says 12.10 to 12.50.

  • Elaine

    Will the question time videos be available afterwards, for those who are working between 1 -2 pm?

    • Tom Kavanagh

      Elaine… The FutureLearn team said in response to an earlier question that the videos would be available online for those who missed them live.

      I don’t know where in the world you are, but I believe the time given is BST… so if you live in another time zone it might fit your schedule. (That’s the case with me in Canada.) And BTW the actual time for the live stuff is 12:10 to 12:40.

      • Tom Kavanagh

        I goofed… it should be 12:10 to 12:50. According to an email from professor Alan Convery.

  • Chris

    It strikes me that this course is being left behind in the debate!
    It is a real pity that the first TV debate was only screened on STV (I gave up trying to connect to the live Internet stream as every time it seemed to connect it crashed). At least the next will be screened on BBC on the 25th August so those of us outside Scotland (in the UK) can see it. There was a very interesting programme on BBC2 last night about the implications of independence to the rest of the UK. It looks like there will be major implications to everyone in the present UK if Scotland votes yes – and also if the vote is no. I find it disappointing that the course isn’t running now.

    • Ian

      The first debate was actually streamed on the BBC Parliament channel a few days after the event. The debate shows quite a divide but I must show my hand. As a born Scot but living in England I do not want to see the UK broken up. I am very proud of our flag, as I am of the Saltire, but the union flag is so well known and respected throughout the world which I know from personal experience whereas the Saltire and the Cornish flag are of mistaken. Both are Celtic but quite different.

  • Scott Forsyth

    Im going to be away the first two weeks in September, can I still do the course, is there anyway I can have the seminars sent to be via e-mail to catch up on?

    • The FutureLearn team

      Hi Scott,
      Thank you for getting in touch. The course content will be open for the duration and once registered you will be able to continue learning even after the course has finished. This allows you to work at your own pace and if you miss certain weeks you will be able to catch up.
      Happy learning, the FutureLearn team

  • Ray Oliver

    I’m 76 years old and although born in England I have visited Scotland regularly for nearly 70 years, I have close Scottish relatives and my DNA results show close genetic links with north of the border. What concerns me about the referendum has little to do with my roots but what is deeply worrying is the security of my (and thousands of others who live to the south) occupational pension income and the employment prospects for thousands of Scots if the result is independence. The income I refer to is paid from and administered in Scotland (my HMRC tax office is in Scotland) by insurance companies based there. My request, asking what contingency plans they have in place, to the two companies who hold my pension funds yielded one response which basically said “we are going to wait and see what happens” the second has yet to reply. It is all very well the Scottish politicians raising the emotional temperature with stirring forecasts of the wonderful future independence would bring for Scotland but I have yet to see any realistic assessment from them of the impact of massive transfers of pension funds and supporting administrations out of Scotland should the vote be yes.

    • The FutureLearn team

      Hi Ray,
      Thank you for your comment, we hope that you will join the course and share your thoughts with other learners.

  • Ellen Campbell

    I am in the same position as your relatives who live outwith Scotland, and I have lots to say about the rights and wrongs of independence! But, at the end of the day, it is the people who live in Scotland at this present time who are going to have to live with the outcome of the ballot, and, if I lived in Scotland now, I would not be happy about people who live elsewhere having a vote on my future. So I second your point of view.

  • Tracey

    I would like to hear what has been discussed in the course but I am not available at 1pm on a Wednesday. Is there an opportunity to watch the video streams after they have taken place? Thanks

    • The FutureLearn team

      Hi Tracey, thank you for getting in touch. The videos will be made available afterwards for those who could not watch them live.
      Happy learning,
      The FutureLearn team

  • Jo Thomas

    I am the daughter of a Scots father and an English mother. I live in the south of England, but when I have the opportunity to visit Scotland it feels like home. I am very concerned about the outcome of the referendum, but am being given no opportunity to vote in this referendum.

    • Nathalie Perdoux

      That’s a shame ! Do you need to live in Scotland to actually have the right to express yourself on this referedum ? What about English people living in Scotland ?

      • Ellen Campbell

        Nathalie, good questions. To get a vote, you only need to live in Scotland. Your nationality doesn’t come into it. All English, and other nationalities, living in Scotland will be getting a vote along with the Scots living in Scotland. So Scots living in England, or anywhere else other than Scotland, will not get a vote. I guess it would be an administrative nightmare to ensure that all Scots get a vote, no matter where they live, and that no English or other nationalities may vote, even if they live in Scotland.

        • Nathalie Perdoux

          Thank you for this reply. Things are clear now.
          I get the nightmarish aspect of allowing Scots from all over the world to have a say at this referendum, but isn’t there a way (on an actual election) for UK citizens to vote when they live abroad ? I know that it is the case in France for French people who live in the USA or in African countries. Would it be that difficult to ensure that Scottish people who have to work and hence reside in England could participate in this once-in-a-century referendum ? After all, they should be listed as potential electors for an election, shouldn’t they ? Proof of their Scottish origin should be enough…
          That said, I realise that things might not work as they do in my country. The fact that the UK is a union of several countries, some with parliaments of their own, and some without, is probably something that I don’t get yet. That’s why I am eager to learn more about Scotland through this event.

          • Ellen Campbell

            How do you prove you’re a Scot? UK citizens have never, as far as I know, had to prove their Scottish, English, Irish or Welsh origins, and I’m not sure that there is a given way of doing it. (We just make sweeping assumptions based on a person’s accent – and clearly that is not a very scientific way to go about it!) Would we require the person to have been born in Scotland, have Scottish parent(s), have lived in Scotland for a minimum number of years or what? The question has never before come up in a UK election. This referendum is a real “first” for the UK. I am amazed that it is even happening. It seems far-fetched to me.

      • Lesley

        I can understand that some people who don’t live in Scotland, but have ties with the country, feel concerned about not being able to take part in the referendum. I have close family living in England who have strong views and are champing at the bit to cast their vote! However, I think it’s right that only those who live here get to choose. We are the ones who will be most affected by the decision whatever it is.

  • Nathalie Perdoux

    I am looking forward to learning more about this subject. As a french person, I am curious about the outcome of the referendum. However, I feel I am in need of more knowledge about Scotland and its link to the UK historically speaking. Is there any book, film, website you could recommend ?

    • Lesley

      Natalie, this might help….the 1707 Act of Union is explained on the BBC website:

      • Nathalie Perdoux

        Thank you very much. It certainly gives some useful background information.

      • Tom Kavanagh

        Good link, Lesley. Thank you.
        Looking forward to the course.

      • Monique

        Thanks, Lesley for this link. Thanks also to Ellen Campbell for the information on who can vote. As Nathalie I am frenchspeaking, but Belgian, and I’d like to understand more about this referendum, also on the european point of view. What would happened if Scotland becomes independent ? Would they apply to become a “new” Member of the European Union ?

      • Scott Lord

        That’s a beginning. I’m in the United States. I can see the context is between Mary Queen Scots and Charles II and I have to quickly find Lord Cromwell somewhere.

        As an American novelist, should I watch history in the making and learn about Parliment that way; something is telling me to find a Scottish author and skip the political science.



  • Sabah Elradi Ahmed

    we say ( united we stand,divided we fall ) . Every single person wants to be happy and lead a life over difficulty. But due some or others reasons he/she cannot find it easier to tackle the problems in front of him/her. In difficult situations there is only one way and that is you. I am not British but I will try to explain this as overseas , I wants to show what is the positive enough effects and the opposite side differently in different angle. Firstly , feelings cannot divided , there is an examples Germany . Secondly, economic is one unit and Great Britain play a leading role throughout the history. I believe all of British they learned the lessons . Also, they teach others how to be .They respect nations to be independent , help others to fight poverty -stricken, diseases and continuing provide developing countries to be free. I think period is difficult , but as I said the history by the door to register a new achievements and to stand up Great Britain , because this is a key lesson to be given to all generations and to play a great role to tackle the problems and to stay Great Britain higher over all individuals in the society , because the benefits exceeded The UK..,,,,,

    • The FutureLearn team

      Hi Sabah, thank you for your comment. It sounds like this is a topic you are really interested in. We hope that you’ll join the course and contribute your ideas.
      Happy learning,
      The FutureLearn team

  • Catriona Bracker

    This 6 week course will not nit finish until AFTER the referendum! What use is that?

    • The FutureLearn team

      Hi Catriona, thank you for getting in touch.

      The course begins three weeks before the referendum and also considers the implications of the result after the referendum. It is structured around six main questions:

      Why is Scotland having a referendum?
      What does ‘Yes’ mean?
      What does ‘No’ mean?
      What do Scots think?
      The Day After
      What Next?

      We hope that answers your questions.

      Happy learning,
      The FutureLearn team

      • Lesley

        I’m taking this course to help me understand the issues surrounding independence in the run up to the referendum. I also am looking forward to the second half of the course after the 18th September, so that we can consider the ramifications of the referendum result as they unfold.