Is there less poverty in Scotland: Will BBC Scotland INFORM us?

From Reporting Scotland yesterday:

‘Poverty and income inequality continues (sic) to rise according to the latest figures from the Scottish Government.

‘You deal with it!’

As always, we got the bare facts and a quick reference to the Scottish Government blaming UK Government austerity and the latter saying the Scottish Government could compensate for it. The remarkable opportunity there to probe the morality of the UK Government apparently admitting responsibility for the poverty increase and then arrogantly telling Scotland to deal with it, was not taken.

‘SG Actions to deal with it’

The obvious link, also, to some of the actions taken by the SNP to compensate was not taken. Click on these for a reminder of some:

How steep is the increase?

We often see graphs on Reporting Scotland when the evidence is useful. Why didn’t we see these revealing graphs?

No one wants to see any increase in poverty at all, but this information is important. Is the relatively small increase in relative poverty for children and the flattening-out, at least in part, a consequence of the Scottish Government’s actions. Should BBC Scotland inform us of the possibility?

Comparison with UK and long-term trends

Journalists love to talk of context and journalism educators make much of it, so how does child poverty, in Scotland, for example, compare with the UK? See these:

Child poverty and related low-income in Scotland is less common than across the UK and though it has been in decline long-term, it has begun to increase again.

How much is poverty expected to increase in Scotland comparative to the UK?

Once more, any increase is to be abhorred and decreases will be our aim after independence but it’s informative to see that only the affluent South-East is expected to have as low or lower, for children, increases than in Scotland. Should BBC Scotland at least consider the effects of the Scottish Government’s moderation of austerity and inform us?

After housing Scotland has the lowest poverty levels in the UK

Could this be anything to do with Scottish Government action on, for example, building far more social housing and the unique ban on ‘no-fault’ eviction?

We should be told.

This content was originally published here.


Looking back on knife crime in Scotland – Talking-up Scotland

No knives, better lives

I’m wary of seeming smug when there is so much suffering in other places but it’s still worth reminding everyone of what has been achieved or which has happened for unknown reasons, so here are the most recent TuS reports on knife crime:

The Theresa Effect in the Independent today: ‘Knife crime has risen to the highest level since 2010 in England and Wales, new figures have revealed as police say stabbing investigations are being made harder by social media. In the year…

(c) SWNS According to the Scotsman today: ‘Scottish police officer numbers at lowest level in nine years. In the first three months of year, Police Scotland had the equivalent of 17,170 full time officers, according to Scottish Government statistics. The…

‘Treating knife crime as a health issue has led to a dramatic drop in stabbings: of the 35 deaths of young people in Britain this year, none were in Scotland.’ As violent crime spirals out of control in London…

(c) It’s been more than 80 years since ‘No Mean City’ was set in Glasgow and comedians, including our own, continue to base their humour on an image of a violent, drunken people but the last ten years have…

Michelle Ballantyne, Scottish Conservative early years spokeswoman (c) The Southern Reporter Yesterday, the Scotsman headlined with: ‘Scots teachers pressured to cover up knife incidents’ and followed up with: ‘A Johnston Press knife crime investigation revealed ten pupils across Scotland are…

(c) Police Scotland According to the Guardian yesterday, in England and Wales, knife crime has increased by 21% to September 2017. This a dramatic figure large enough to suggest an emerging and extremely worrying trend. In Scotland, knife crime…

Watching Sky News this morning, making sure I don’t even catch a glimpse of Jackie Bird, I saw a short piece on how London police have been learning from Glasgow police on how they might reduce knife crime especially fatal…

What is Reevel thinking? This is the latest in a series of lies by Reporting Scotland on, for example, gangs, knife, crime, obesity and hospital infections. I’ll summarise in the next post today. Last night, Jackie Bird opened confidently…

I think we’re all getting a bit embarrassed with comparisons revealing Tory England to be a place in hell. While there are times when I will persist because the justifiable target is not the poor souls living there but…

This content was originally published here.


Scotland? What Scotland? – Peter A Bell

Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process, and excluding The National in this way simply underlines how she is running scared of answering tough questions.

The stuff about Theresa May “running scared” of difficult questions makes for great political rhetoric. But, as I’m sure the First Minister is well aware, it doesn’t quite reflect the reality.

Theresa May is not afraid of tough questions, for two reasons. Firstly, as a professional politician, she is trained to deal with hard interrogation. And, as the British Prime Minister, she has a small army of advisers whose task it is to ensure she is thoroughly briefed and equipped with well-rehearsed responses for any question.

This, incidentally, is how she will deal with Jeremy Corbyn in the proposed TV .debate’. She will be armed with a sword of stock phrases and a shield of glittering generalities. Corbyn will have nothing but a water-pistol loaded with vacuous slogans and the Pac-A-Mac of his self-righteousness.

Then there’s the arrogance. I have not the slightest doubt that Theresa May considers herself an excellent orator and debater. Again, she has a small army of people around her whose jobs rely on assuring their charge of her shining brilliance after every performance – no matter how dire that performance may have been. May, like most senior British politicians, exists in a bubble of near-adulation that shields her from both criticism and reality. She is entirely oblivious to the ineptitude that is clearly apparent to detached observers. And almost entirely unaware of how widely she is detested.

This conceit of herself makes her unafraid. The protective phalanx of minders makes her self-assured.

The significant point in the above quote is right at the start. When Nicola Sturgeon says “Theresa May has ignored Scotland throughout the whole Brexit process”, she hints at what is actually behind decision to exclude The National from her press event. The British establishment has discovered the power of ignoring.

We exist in a world of media. We swim in a sea mediated messages. If something isn’t trending on Twitter or the subject of Facebook fury, it barely exists. If it doesn’t warrant a mention in the crowded 15-20 minute space of rolling news, then it isn’t happening. If it isn’t being talked about by the Andrews Marr and Neil, it just isn’t important.

The British establishment has deployed the ignoring strategy as one strand of its effort to diminish Scotland in the public consciousness. They denigrate our public services, delegitimise our democratic institutions and trivialise Scottish issues They aim to eradicate our distinctive political culture.. They seek to obliterate our national identity in a storm of unionjackery.

The National would seem an obvious target for this studied ignoring. May’s lackeys doubtless thought it in keeping with the ignoring agenda to exclude the paper which, almost uniquely, presents the news from a Scottish perspective. Very evidently, they got it wrong.

If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence campaign.

This content was originally published here.


Bloody Scotland: The Origin Story | Historic Environment Scotland

A number of years ago, I went with a small group of friends to visit the ruins of Castle Campbell in Clackmannanshire. It was a strikingly bright June afternoon: a cloudless sky, no breeze, and the sort of humid, energy-sapping heat that very occasionally and very unexpectedly intrudes upon Scottish summers.

The castle sits between two narrow glens in the Ochil Hills, above the small town of Dollar. From the car park, you still have quite a distance to walk – all part of the experience, as a steep path winds up the hillside, with the ruined walls revealed only gradually on approach.

Castle Campbell overlooking Dollar – once known as Castle ‘Glume’

That summer the surrounding undergrowth was an uncontrolled explosion of greenery, punctuated everywhere by bright, colourful wildflowers. It was so warm that the castle was blurred in a heat haze. There were no other visitors. We climbed in and out of the ruins, enjoying the dry coolness in the shade of the old stones. The only sounds were our own footsteps, the scratching of grasshoppers, and the lazy hum of bees drunk out of their minds on nectar.

The castle nestles a little in its hillside setting, surrounded by tall trees. When you are there, you can look out and see almost no sign of the modern world. We walked down to the stepped terraces in front of the castle to sit in the sun. And that was when we heard it. A gunshot. In the stillness of the day, it echoed off the hillsides like a thunderclap. One of our group screamed at the shock of it.

We all looked at each other for the tiniest instant with genuine alarm. And then we started laughing. ‘Must be a farmer’, one of us said. And we didn’t question it beyond that. A farmer doing the sorts of things farmers do; not that any of us really knew what those things might be. Within seconds, we had relaxed again. We walked some more around the castle, and descended the winding path back to our car, the gunshot forgotten.

Author Denise Mina, whose contribution to Bloody Scotland, set in Edinburgh Castle, won the 2018 Crime Writer’s Association Short Story Dagger

Buildings have ways of getting under our skins…

Well, perhaps not totally forgotten. Because that moment of alarm always stayed with me. It teased with possibility. What if it hadn’t been a farmer, I wondered? What might we have stumbled upon unwittingly? Who was firing the gun? What – or indeed who – was in its sights? Why was the trigger pulled? The setting that afternoon added immeasurably to the potential for drama: the heat, the stillness, the seclusion. And looming over it all was the castle – called ‘Glume’ before it was Campbell, and set between the valleys of two portentously named burns: ‘Care’ and ‘Sorrow’. It is a dark, implacable ruin; a survivor; a witness to so much over the half-millennium since it was first built.

So perhaps, in some imagined story, it could have been more than just a witness, perhaps it could have had a purpose too. Buildings and places have ways of getting under our skins, of provoking thoughts, memories and feelings – good and bad. If we had to recall all of the major emotional moments of our lives, all of the highs and lows, and were then asked to plot them on a map, I suspect most of us would be able to do it remarkably easily. You always remember where you were when… Buildings don’t pull triggers. But perhaps they can trigger people to pull them. Perhaps.

Author Chris Brookmyre in Bothwell Castle – the setting for his contribution to Bloody Scotland, ‘The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle’

What If?

That day at Castle Campbell came back to me when I found myself talking to the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, Lin Anderson, and its director Bob McDevitt, in the Authors’ Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016. ‘What if?’ I asked them. ‘What if we asked twelve of Scotland’s top crime writers to write short stories inspired by twelve of our most iconic buildings? What would they think? What would they come up with? What could possibly go wrong?’

Bloody Scotland is the answer.

Prepare yourself for a lot going wrong for a lot of people in a lot of ways in a lot of buildings. Prepare yourself for crimes of passion and psychotic compulsion. Prepare yourself for a 1,000-year-old Viking cold-case, a serial killer tormented by visions of ruins old and new, and an ‘urbex’ love triangle turning fatal. Prepare yourself for structures that both threaten and protect, buildings that commit acts of poetic vengeance or act as brooding accomplices to murder.

Author Val McDermid at the Hermit’s Castle in Assynt, setting for her Bloody Scotland story ‘Ancient and Modern’, which has been shortlisted for best short story at America’s 2019 Edgar Allan Poe Awards © Alan McCredie

Two of Scotland’s Greatest Assets

Yes, a lot goes wrong. But, of course, a lot goes right too. Because these stories offer a perfect demonstration of the incredible wealth of creative literary talent in Scotland today. Scottish crime writing has carved out a formidable reputation. Our authors can entertain and they can shock. And they are fearless when it comes to tackling many of the issues at the heart of contemporary society, shining lights into some of the darkest corners.

Bloody Scotland paperback book jacket

Bloody Scotland, then, is a tribute to two of our nation’s greatest assets – our built heritage and our crime writing. Read these stories and, if you haven’t already, go out and visit the structures and sites that feature. Seek your own inspiration from the experiences, let your imagination wander. Just like our writers have done, feel that electric jolt of excitement at all the myriad possibilities that Scotland’s places can offer.

Bloody Scotland is out now in paperback, RRP £8.99, and is available from the Historic Scotland online shop


Most popular names in Scotland | National Records of Scotland

Olivia and Jack remain the most popular baby names in Scotland, and Smith, Brown and Wilson the three top surnames, according to figures published today by National Records of Scotland (NRS).

The full lists of first forenames given to babies whose births were registered in 2018 replace the top 100 lists published in December, and include the first forename of every baby, including those whose births were registered in December.

The three top surnames in the Birth, Marriage and Death registers for 2018 – Smith, Brown and Wilson – have been the most common surnames recorded in the registers for over 40 years, based on five-yearly analysis going back to 1975.

The NRS website includes annual lists of babies’ first forenames back to 1974. Jack has been the top boys’ name for 11 years running.  Three boys’ names have been top in at least five of the years from 1974 to 2018: David (19 years: 1974 to 1992), Ryan (five years: 1994 to 1998) and Jack (16 years: 1999 to 2002, 2006 and 2008 onwards).  Olivia has been the most popular girls’ name for three years running.  Four girls’ names have been top in at least five of the years from 1974 to 2018: Laura (11 years: 1979 to 1989), Emma (eight years: 1990 to 1993, 1996, 1997, 2003 and 2004), Chloe (five years: 1998 to 2002) and Sophie (nine years: 2005 to 2013).  

Many once popular names have gone out of fashion.  A table of the Top 10 names for each sex for 1975 and for every fifth year thereafter, shows that (for example):

This year, NRS has added a section on names given to babies of both sexes.  As one might expect, most names were very strongly associated with only one sex.  However, the numbers for some names were split between the sexes roughly two-thirds to one-third (e.g. Alex, Rowan) or even around 50:50 (e.g. Ellis, Taylor).  For a few names, there has been a change in the balance.  For example, the name Jan used to be given mainly to girls but latterly has been given only to boys, and Morgan is a name that was once given only to boys but nowadays is given mainly to girls.   

The publications Babies First Names – 2018 and Most Common Surnames in Birth, Marriage and Death registers are available on this website. An Infographic and Interactive data visualisation for Babies First Names – 2018 can be found on the Infographics and Visualisations page of this website.

No GP Crisis in Scotland but.. – Talking-up Scotland

I do hesitate to make these comparisons between NHS Scotland and NHS England as they always go one way and I then start to feel a bit uncomfortable. However, if I want to talk-up NHS Scotland in a defence against our Loyalist media bias, it’s the only readily available comparator with a Tory government to blame for it all.

Anyhow, the Guardian piece above, does carefully and unusually, state that this is about only England, based on NHS England research.

So dear reader, how do you think things are in Scotland? Could be better, but health provision like education or policing is infinitely improvable and so could always be better. What is clear though is that there is no crisis in general practice in Scotland.

1. 93% of Scots can get an appointment in two days!

From research published in the Scotsman on 25th April 2018:

‘More encouragingly, it also found 87 per cent of people found it easy to contact their GP practice, while more than nine out ten (93 per cent) were able to get an appointment within two days.’

2. GP vacancies in Scotland are only just over one-third of the level in England

Based on a survey by the GP magazine on 6th July 2018, Pulse, the Independent reported today:

‘GP vacancies (in England) rise to record levels despite recruitment pledge, survey suggests. Long patient waits and unsafe, rushed appointments are unlikely to end any time soon as vacancies have risen from 9.1 per cent to 15.3 per cent since the (UK) government pledged 5 000 more doctors.’

In sharp contrast, the GP vacancy rate in Scotland was only 5.6% at the end of 2017.

3. There are significantly more GPs per head of population in Scotland

So, the ratio of GPs to overall population is:

4. The Scottish Government is taking steps to ensure there are more GPs, and doctors in general, coming through the system.

NHS Scotland’s waiting time targets abused again by BBC Scotland? – Talking-up Scotland

Nearly all of the NHS Scotland targets are for treatment within a period of time for between 90% and 95% of patients. Anything below that is described as a failure to meet the targets and is the trigger for ministerial apologies, opposition attacks and miserable patient interviews, but I think I’ve noticed something interesting and vulnerable in these reports.

I haven’t done the research. I’ve just got an emerging wee thesis. The typical waiting time for removal of wee theses in 18 weeks. Here it is:

Reporting Scotland tell us about every failed target on the day it is released by ISD. They always tell you that the target was failed and that it has now been failed for whatever period of time it has been failed.  They sometimes tell you what the actual target percentage is but not always. They rarely if ever tell you what the actual percentage seen on time was.

I’ve noticed this pattern recently and will be watching from now on to see if it repeats to suggest a propaganda tactic. I’ll have a look back at some earlier reports for evidence too. Why? Well, is it possible that the omission of the actual performance percentage and of the target percentage is because both, when presented that way, seem very high and may trigger an unpredictable response in many viewers?

Targets are almost always 90% or 95%. Performance commonly ranges from around 70% to over 90%.

Now, imagine your base assumptions about whether or not a percentage score is good or not derives mainly from your own experience in educational assessments, in school or in college or at university, or in some craft or professional programme. Isn’t 70% really pretty good, an A? In all my time on the way to a BA Hons (2.1), even as a mature student, I only once reached 82% and commonly scored in the 65% to 75% range. Isn’t 70% for most of us, evidence of greatness and 95% evidence of freakish unworldliness?

So, is there a danger that viewers will think performance by NHS Scotland is actually pretty damn good across the board and that the targets are a bit OTT?

There is evidence that in Scotland and in the UK ,we have come to treat what should be longer term aspirational targets as opposed to everyday minimal targets.

A bit of context from an international study in 2014, is illuminating:

‘Most countries are following the UK 4-hour target as it is recognised that there is a benefit to adding in a time constraint. Victoria and Ontario [Canada] both have set the achievement target lower, at 75% and 90% respectively, compared to 95% in England [and Scotland]. Moreover, neither system actually meets their target, and especially in Victoria there are few consequences to this. In Stockholm [Sweden] the county monitors performance on the 4-hour target but this is not nationally mandated.’

Dundee is Scotland Coolest City – Scotland Info Guide

V&A Dundee – photo Ross Fraser McLean

I bet you didn’t see this one coming right? Don’t be mistaken though, Dundee is going from strength to strength and now Lonely Planet has named Dundee as one of their Best in Europe for 2018. And it’s not just Lonely Planet who point point out Dundee as the Go To City for 2018. Prestigious publications like The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Bloomberg and the Guardian all citing the city in their 2018 travel itineraries. Famed for its continual reinvention, particularly after the decline of traditional industries such as whaling, shipbuilding and jute manufacturing, the city has transformed into a capital of cool – home to some of the country’s most exciting examples of design, innovation and culture.

Opening of V&A Dundee

The eye-catching event for this year in Dundee, and perhaps even for Scotland, is the much anticipated opening of V&A Dundee. Set to open on the 15th of September, the Kengo Kuma-designed attraction will be the jewel in the crown of the city’s tourism offering and provide an introduction to over 500 years of brilliance, ingenuity and achievement in Scottish creativity and the best examples of design from around the world. So what else has Dundee on offer? Let’s have a look at some of the other things that might tempt you to visit Scotland’s coolest city:

A feast for foodies

Sample some of the city’s tasty delights thanks to a diverse range of trendy bars, boutique restaurants and unusual eateries. Draffens is a unique speak easy bar, renowned for its inventive cocktails, tucked away in a hidden location within the city centre. Or raise a glass to Verdant Spirits, the first distillery in Dundee for 200 years and Scottish Gin of the Year in 2017. Inspired by the growing popularity of ‘Mother’s Ruin’, plans are now underway to open a gin school and visitor centre. Of course, no trip to Dundee is complete without trying an authentic Dundee pie or ‘peh’ at a local butchers such as Scott Brothers or why not have a slice of the iconic Dundee cake? This bakery favourite is still lovingly created at bakers like Clarks’ Bakery or Goodfellow & Stevens.

A new take on some old favourites

With so much to see you’ll be spoiled for choice so how about sightseeing with a difference? Dark Dundee offers entertaining and informative walking tours around the city, partnering with venues such as Verdant Works, HM Frigate Unicorn, and The Howff, a 16th century graveyard in the city centre, to tell spine-chilling tales of the city’s sometimes gruesome past. If you prefer sightseeing on the go try Run the Sights, which combines a run with a guided exploration of some of the city’s most interesting and beautiful locations. Finally, see the city from the glorious River Tay with Pirate Boats, an exhilarating one-hour boat trip packed with anecdotes and local lore to bring the scenery to life.

Exciting new additions

Dundee is chock-full of exciting experiences but here are some new additions to the city’s travel offering. OpenClose is an exciting street art project, showcasing the best in local talent. The city-centre art trail aims to brighten up unexplored nooks and crannies with 18 individually painted doors by 18 local artists. This year, OpenClose has extended into the Stobswell area of the city with 20 more new street-art locations to explore. For thrill-seekers a visit to the new 5-star Foxlake is a must. Dundee’s new wakeboarding centre at City Quay has premises opposite the APEX Hotel and within sight of the HM Unicorn.. Finally, Slessor Gardens, Dundee’s new public space, has been warmly embraced by the citizens and now with the advent of massive outdoor gigs, visitors can experience the waterfront for themselves. The inaugural concerts happened in 2017 and this year Steps, Rita Ora, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, and KT Tunstall will be hitting the right notes with music fans in the city.

A city built on design

Dundee was in competition with 50 other global cities to join the City of Design network in 2014. It was named the UK’s first City of Design by the United Nations for the diverse design innovations. Dundee’s contributions to the world, include aspirin, biomedical research which has led to hundreds of new cancer drugs, comics including the Beano and Dandy, orange marmalade, and video games including Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. Today the city’s vibrant population of young people continues to create and contribute to the city’s design reputation, including fashion and lifestyle designers Hayley Scanlan, Isolated Heroes, Abandon Ship Apparel and globally recognised luggage designers Lat56. Dundee’s young people are currently co-designing the opening event for V&A Dundee in September and the city’s first ever Dundee Design Parade is set to take place on Saturday 26 May as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People celebrations.

The Comic Capital

Dundee is the birthplace of the Beano – Britain’s longest running children’s comic published by DC Thomson. Every week, children and adults across the world can follow the antics of legendary characters like Dennis the Menace.. Read an issue of The Beano Comic on the newly named Bash Street or check out the city’s best-loved comic characters, like Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx in statue form. This year from June to October, to celebrate the Beano’s 80th birthday, the McManus will become The McMenace as The Bash Street Kids take over the museum.

A warm welcome for all

From legendary ships to the stunning shorelines of Broughty Ferry, Dundee is perfect for an accessible adventure. Handily Access Review website Euan’s Guide has created an informative guide to the city, packed full of highlights and advice to help visitors with access needs get the most from their trip. From wheelchair access on the Gun Deck of the only wooden warship in Scotland, HMS Unicorn to the induction loop system that film lovers can enjoy in the cinemas at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

For more info on Dundee go to


Education becomes the latest Scottish sector to be targeted by BBC Scotland – Towards Indyref2…

Teaching has become the latest target for the BBC in Scotland in what appears to be a campaign aimed at portraying Scottish institutions as failing.

This morning the BBC Scotland radio phone-in programme hosted by Kaye Adams featured education as the subject.  One caller, who called herself Joanna, lambasted the teaching profession and claimed to have recently left the sector.

During the call which approached an astonishing 15 minutes, Joanna described herself as a “middle manager” and said she knew nobody who was happy in the profession.  She claimed her former colleagues would end their day slumped on the sofa drinking half a bottle of wine.

However, later that afternoon the call was used as the basis for a headline news article by BBC Scotland.  An online article Former teacher tells minister ‘teaching is an undoable job’appeared as the fourth top story.

The article began: “A teacher who left the profession because it became an “undoable” job has told Scotland’s education secretary the profession is a ‘disgrace’.

“Speaking to SNP MSP John Swinney, former teacher Joanna told the cabinet secretary she would never work in a school again.

“She told him many teachers felt under pressure, took medication and felt ill at the thought of going to work.”

The targeting of teaching follows a string of BBC Scotland headline news reports which portayed a variety of Scottish institutions and initiatives negatively.  Recent examples have included the Scottish Police Force, the Scottish NHS, ScotRail and the Scottish Fire Brigade Service.

Initiatives such as the Baby Box have also been targeted as has Scotland’s reputation as a welcoming country.  Only yesterday BBC Scotland claimed research showed Scottish drug users consumed the most cocaine in a single session than addicts anywhere else in the world.

This latest attack on a Scottish institution coincides with the advent of the exam season.  Last year BBC Scotland mounted a sustained attack on Scotland’s examination system [See video below].  A similar approach by the broadcaster is expected this year.

Indyref2 would like to do more news pieces. Feel free to make a contribution towards this goal.

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Is education policy driving Scotland and England apart? – What Scotland Thinks

There is an assumption in public debate that – regardless of the outcome of the referendum – devolution has already caused Scotland and England to drift apart, and especially in education policy. The best-known of all the policy divergence is on student fees. In university classes now in Scotland there are students paying nothing and students paying a great deal. That has always been so, but the difference now is that the divergence is between citizens of the same state.

Equally significant is the radical departure in the structure of secondary schooling. The deliberate creation of diversity in England was started by Margaret Thatcher and John Major. It was given a strong impetus under the Blair government, and has become the most visible education policy of the present UK government. This is in stark contrast with both Wales and Scotland, which have done absolutely none of this. Scotland and Wales have still essentially a common structure of comprehensive, non-selective secondary schools, not diversified in any way.

Even more profound are changes to the curriculum in schools. On the one hand are the reforms in England introduced by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove, who tried to re-establish a traditional curriculum based on what he sees as the emancipating power of knowledge. This approach is centred on traditional subjects, such as English and Maths, and on teachers as experts. In contrast, the Scottish approach, in the form of the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’, is described by the Scottish Government as placing ‘the child at the centre of learning provision,’ rather than emphasising the knowledge that is to be learnt or the teacher that is to impart it. This Scottish approach is supported across the political spectrum, in contrast to the controversies in England which Mr Gove’s reforms have provoked.

So the differences seem stark. But are they? Evidence from evaluations and from public opinion suggests that the headlines and much academic commentary may have exaggerated the divide.

Take fees. If we compare opportunity rather than mechanisms of opportunity, the conclusion from careful research is that the differences in the financial regimes have no effect on the educational outcomes. Professor Nicholas Barr of the London School of Economics has noted that the difference in student finance does not mean that someone from a working class background in Scotland has a relatively better chance of attending university than someone in England from the same background. Moreover, public opinion is very similar in Scotland and England. While according to the 2013 British and Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys, 69% of people in England support means-tested fees, so also do 64% in Scotland..

Much the same is true of the structure of secondary schooling. Research in many countries (for two examples click here and here) has shown that, on the whole, the structure of a school system – even the presence or absence of selection – makes little difference to outcomes, whether these are achievement in examinations, social mobility, or civic values. Meanwhile, public opinion on how schools should be governed is very similar in Scotland and England. In the 2013 social attitudes surveys, the proportion in favour of private companies running schools was 12% in Scotland and 19% in England. So far as charities running schools is concerned, the proportion in favour was 29% in Scotland and 37% in England. True, Scottish opinion is more favourable to comprehensive schooling than English views (68% compared to 51% in the 2010 British and Scottish Social Attitudes Survey), but that difference long pre-dates devolution.

Finally, on the curriculum, the irony is that Mr Gove’s reforms owe more to Scottish educational traditions than does current Scottish policy. ‘Having grown up in Scotland,’ he said in 2009, ‘I identify the principle that all should have access to the best with the Scottish Enlightenment ideal of the Democratic Intellect.’ That Mr Gove’s thinking reflects his experience and understanding of education in Scotland suggests that his ideas are not as alien to Scottish preconceptions as has often been claimed. Scottish debates might in due course find rather more to admire in some of what he proposed than seems possible in the heat of the referendum arguments.

Public controversy can conceal deeper continuities. There are more similarities of culture, of opportunity, and of cultural ideas between Scotland and England than the rhetoric of politics sometimes indicates. If Scotland does decide to leave the UK, it will not be because the country has a fundamentally different educational philosophy from England.