Ex-EU judge warns SNP that discrimination against British students would end with independence
A former judge with the European Court has warned the Scottish Government that its current practise of discriminating against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would not survive independence. Professor Sir David Edward made his claim in a piece of written legal advice for the pro-Union campaigning group Academics Together.
EU rules force member states to treat students from other member states no differently than domestic students when allocating higher education places. However, the Scottish Government currently exploits a loophole that allows it to place restrictions on would-be students from the rest of the UK, who do not count as coming from ‘another member state’. The justification for this policy has been to ensure there are plenty of places for home-grown Scots.
The Scottish Government believes that it will be granted leeway for “exceptional circumstances” and allowed to uphold a discriminatory regime against a single member state upon accession to the EU, in order to stop applicants from the rest of Britain ‘to ensure Scottish domiciled students continue to have access to higher education opportunities’.
However Sir David points out that, with only one very strict exception, the European Court has struck down all attempts by member states to discriminate in this fashion – particularly Belgium, which has tried several times to impose fees on outsiders whilst maintaining free provision for its own citizens.
It is unfortunate that any Unionist organisation is attacking the Scottish Government over which course of action best secures Scotland’s ability to discriminate against her fellow Britons. In the event of a No vote, the next unionist administration in Holyrood should end this shabby cash-grab and put British students on an equal footing with their Scottish and European counterparts.
Devolved health services miss targets in Scotland and Wales
The Northern Irish NHS is not the only one facing problems: both its Welsh and Scottish counterparts have made the news this week.
In Scotland, the nation is apparently in the midst of what the Scotsman calls a ‘bed-blocking crisis’. Since 2012 the amount of time waited by patients to be discharged beyond government targets has risen by 30,000 days.
In July this year alone, 272 patients in Scottish hospitals were made to wait for more than four weeks after they were ready to be discharged because post-hospital care arrangements were not in place. According the BBC, 175 of those were kept for at least six weeks. The BBC also reports that only a handful of Scotland’s 14 health boards are passing many of the Scottish Government’s targets.
These figures will doubtless concern Alex Neil MSP, the SNP government’s health minister, who is rumoured to be angling for Alex Salmond’s job in the event of a No vote on September 18.
Meanwhile we have the news that the Welsh NHS has missed its cancer treatment target for the sixth year running. The current target is to start treatment for all urgent cancer patients within 62 days – which is not, as Alex Massie points out in the Spectator, a particularly impressive target to begin with. It was last met in June 2008.
Stormont civil servants already at work on next round of spending cuts
The Northern Irish civil service has already started to implement a fresh tranche of public spending cutbacks, according to the Belfast Telegraph. The next round amounts to £87 million, on top of the £78 million that have already been signed off by the Northern Ireland Executive’s ministers.
These cuts are necessitated by penalties being imposed on Northern Ireland by the Treasury for defying devolved protocol and not implementing welfare reform. As I have detailed previously, Sinn Fein is vetoing attempts by the other parties to bring Northern Ireland in line with the mainland, where the Coalition has implemented substantial reforms.
The Northern Irish government has elected to ring-fence education and health spending, but the Health Service in the province nonetheless faces tough choices over patient contributions and scaling back services.
Stormont’s control over welfare policy is unique amongst the devolved assemblies. However the Executive’s budget is drawn from a block grant from the Treasury – rather than tax-and-spend choices made by the electorate – which are not intended to subsidise more generous welfare regimes. For this reason Stormont is expected to mirror mainland welfare policy, and is being fined for not doing so.
Archaic language finds its way into Welsh legislation through cut-and-paste lawmaking
What do you think of when you hear the term ‘half-blood’? These days, it is most commonly associated with the bigoted bloodline-fixated wizards from the Harry Potter franchise, and is more broadly considered a racial abuse. Not the sort of word, in short, that you would expect to find on the statute book of a legislature that has only existed some fifteen years.
Yet a private members bill on Mobile Homes from a Liberal Democrat AM, which was later taken up by Carwyn Jones’ Labour administration, includes the phrase, which technically refers to two people who share a single common parent. It also refers to ‘illegitimate’ children. The language was only altered after a Plaid Cymru AM raised concerns.
Dame Rosemary Butler, the Presiding Officer, claims that the incident raises concerns about Welsh law making. She singles out for particular criticism a tendency to rely on Westminster legislation as a model: the Mobile Homes Bill which contained the unfortunate phrases was modelled on a British law from the 1960s, and is not the only incidence of archaically-worded legislation being used as templates for modern bills.