The Scottish Independence Referendum Result

Of course I’m pleased and relieved at the referendum result. A majority of 55% for the NO vote is  significant, especially after the (apparent) closeness of the predicted result the weekend before last. In the last few days I have been increasingly concerned about not just the effect of a Yes vote on Scotland, but on the whole of the UK (about which very little was being said). So I am all the more relieved at the result, from the perspective of the whole of the UK.

In the end I firmly believe the result was mainly down to a rational distrust of the SNP’s glib promises, which they couldn’t substantiate, as well as of their habit of crying foul whenever they couldn’t answer important questions (like the ones on currency, EU membership, pensions, defence etc.)

Promises have been made that the Scottish Parliament will get additional powers, and this is going to have a knock-on effect for the rest of the UK. Significant political change is afoot, but that’s for the months ahead. For now, to quote the late Margaret Thatcher, I say ‘Just rejoice at that news . . . Rejoice’.

The Scottish Independence Referendum: final thoughts

Having posted twice on this topic already (on research funding and on general issues), as well as re-blogging Angela’s post, here are some final thoughts in advance of the referendum on Thursday. I’m expecting the media buildup to be almost unbearable, so after today I’ll be avoiding it as much as possible!

The first point, as mentioned in a Facebook update on Friday, is that it has become clear that Alex Salmond and his SNP cronies will stop at nothing to get votes. For example, universally unpopular government policies like the bedroom tax are being rolled out as reasons to vote for independence. The point is that the way to defeat such policies is to vote in a General Election, and they certainly shouldn’t be regarded as something that inevitably comes with government from Westminster. And there are many other examples of such policies being misused in independence arguments..

The second point is the assumption that an independent Scotland will automatically keep the pound, and EU membership. The SNP’s response to being told that neither of these will be the case is to claim bullying and therefore to hide their heads in the sand, ignoring the issue totally.

The third point is very much tied in with my job, and is the topic of research funding, which I posted on before. Last week I spoke to a Scottish academic who told me that many of his colleagues were developing escape strategies in the event of a Yes vote. Why? Because at stake are grants from the EU and EPSRC, which Scottish universities have been very successful in getting. In fact although I don’t have the precise statistics to hand, they have been disproportionately successful in doing so in relation to their size. EPSRC funding comes via taxation, so it is not clear how it could continue in its present form in an independent Scotland. And EU funding depends on membership, which would not automatically continue.

The fourth point is that the SNP government often boast about having things like free prescription charges and free university tuition. But where does the finance come from? Taxation, of course, and much of it from the UK as a whole. This will largely disappear with independence, so in fact these perks are mainly a result of being in the UK. But try telling that to Mr Salmond!

Finally, as eloquently explained by Angela, there’s the issue of Scots living outside Scotland not getting a vote. This seems almost unbelievable, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been challenged in court. Instead there will be many frustrated and disenfranchised Scots who are powerless to influence the future of their country of birth.

In concluding, I’m hoping for a No vote. It will be close, but I think there are enough sensible level-headed voters for common sense to prevail. If the outcome is Yes, it will be like being hit in the face by a large wet fish (a Sturgeon?) Here’s hoping for No!

THE SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM 2014: Thoughts of a Disenfranchised Scot

Rob Jackson:

I couldn’t have put this better myself. Read the thoughts of a Scot living in England ahead of the Independence Referendum.

Originally posted on angiesallsorts:

On September 18th 2014 the people of Scotland will vote in an election to decide whether to declare independence from the United Kingdom and the Westminster Parliament. Those eligible to vote are aged sixteen and above with a residential address within Scotland, who have lived there long enough to get on the electoral roll. There are two options on the ballot paper: Yes for independence, and No to remain within the UK. In the dim and distant past there was a third option suggested, to offer the choice of more governmental powers to the Scottish Assembly. However, this idea was idiotically dismissed by politicians in Westminster, and they may live to regret that decision.

Scotland Decides Or Does She?

People living in Scotland, British and other nationalities have the vote in the Scots independent debate. Last month Alex Salmond described the process as “an impeccable democracy” which is so…

View original 1,794 more words

Miscellaneous research musings

In these valuable weeks before the new semester begins, I’ve been dividing my time between preparing new lectures and research, or at least research planning. In this post I’ll discuss my research plans for the coming year.

I normally hope to get ideas for new research topics from conferences I’ve attended, and Eurodim 2014 certainly gave me some ideas. For the past few years I have been concentrating on modelling materials for optical and energy applications, and there were a few talks that suggested possible new materials. A talk by Philippe Smet on Eu, Dy doped SrAl2O4 got me thinking, as I’ve modelled CaAl2O4 before. I’m thinking of getting one of my final year project students to look at this system; if it looks promising it could lead to further work and hopefully a publication. My friend and co-author Zelia Macedo gave a talk on NaYP2O7 doped with various ions, and this also seemed interesting as I have modelled metal phosphates and have working potentials. However my initial attempts suggest it will be a challenge even to model the perfect lattice, so it’s unlikely to be suitable for a final year project. However it will be kept on the list, hopefully to be returned to later. Then there was a talk from Volkmar Dierolf on doped GaN (gallium nitride), an important technological material which Mário Valerio and myself have tried to model before. The problem with this material is representing the covalency of the bonding while retaining sufficient ionic character in our potential model to be able to carry out doping. Again, this seems a bit too complex for a final year project, but I think it’s something we should be working on in the near future.

I also have a paper to write before the end of the month based on my Eurodim talk. I’m hoping to get this done in the next couple of weeks, but it should be straightforward to extract text from my presentation!

I mentioned final year project students earlier. My usual approach is to give them a real research problem, and if it works we can sometimes get a paper from it, or it may lead to a new project, potentially for a PhD student. In the new semester I will have 3 project students with varying requirements in terms of credits and time they need to spend on their projects. One of them will look at SrAl2O4, but the other two are still undecided. Of these, one might look at ZnO/ZnS as these have some new applications in transparent conductors, and one might look at an old interest of mine – zeolites. With environmental issues on mind, their use in cleanup operations is once again relevant. A colleague in the Earth Sciences part of my school mentioned a possible project in this area which could benefit from modelling, and involving a project student in this area is a definite possibility. Anyway, these need to be finalised in the next two weeks. An update might appear if I have time!

Summer 2014

It’s been an interesting summer so far (although the weather would suggest it’s coming to an end already). I’ve only attended the one conference, Eurodim 2014 (reported on earlier), I’ve had an interesting London trip (with another one coming up), and I had my annual pilgrimage to the GBBF a couple of weeks ago (also reported on in the last post).

One thing that has concentrated my mind has been the need to write some new lectures (on fairly advanced quantum chemistry), and this is both challenging and time-consuming, but I’m getting there.

Another issue is research. With the last of my recent PhD students finishing, it’s time to get some new projects started. I’m currently trying to develop some ideas from the conference I attended, but there is a deeper problem which I will certainly return to. That is the virtual impossibility of getting research funding now for someone in my situation. The EPSRC are concentrating their funding on the larger and (in their view) better appointed institutions, and it’s hard to see a way forward at present. There is the possibility of a student from Brazil spending 9 months or so working with me, but that is contingent on the funding and visa being granted. I’m hoping for the best on that, but suspect I’ll be returning to the subject of research funding here soon.

However, for now, the possibility of being able to work relatively undisturbed for the next few weeks is a definite bonus!

GBBF 2014

This year’s Great British Beer Festival was held from 12-16 August at Kensington Olympia, and as in recent years I attended for 3 days from the Tuesday to the Thursday, including the Tuesday trade session. The festival was well-organised, and once again the volunteers did a great job.

Last year I didn’t have time to write more than a summary post about my visit, but this year I have a bit more time so I can list the beers I tried, mention some favourites, and say something about the winners of the CBOB competition.

To start with, here’s my list. Comments on the beers were made on my Untappd account (see

Fuller’s Summer Ale (my usual starter), 3.9%
Belhaven Festival Ale, 3.8%
Blakemere Cherry Baby, 4.0% (my joint favourite)
Coastal Summer Blonde, 4.4%
Durham Apollo, 4.0%
Just A Minute Golden Dawn, 4.3%
Pitfield Raspberry Wheat, 5.0%
George Wakering Gold, 3.8%
Maldon English Summer, 4.2%
Twisted Oak Spun Gold, 4.5%

Havant The Foggiest (!), 4.5% (One of the best named beers)
Irving Albion, 4.1%
Oakleaf Quercus Folium, 4.0% (Another good name)
Portobello White, 4.8%
All Gates Gin Pit, 4.3%
Canterbury Pardoner’s Ale, 3.8%
Dunscar Bridge True North, 4.1%
Newby Wyke Kingston Topaz, 4.2%
Peerless Jinja Ninja, 4.0%

Golden Triangle Citropolis, 3.9%
Jo C’s Norfolk KiWi, 3.8%
Castle Rock Black Gold, 3.8% (my joint favourite)
White Horse Camarillo, 4.5%
Adnams Topaz Gold, 4.0%
Geeves Captain Gingerbread, 4.3%
Dorking Gold, 3.8%
Hepworth Summer Ale, 3.8%

The list has been divided into days, and suggests a slight falling off in stamina by the third day, but this was more because I had to leave in time to collect my bag from the hotel and catch a train home! Also, with a couple of exceptions, I’ve kept to below 4.5%. I find this to be necessary for the sake of endurance!

My favourites, as mentioned on the list were Blakemere Cherry Baby and Castle Rock Black Gold. The latter looked like a dark mild but tasted like a golden ale; an intriguing combination! The former was wonderfully sharp and fruity; an English take on a Belgian Kriek!

As for the results of the CBOB competition, full results are here, but the overall winners were:

Gold: Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, 4.0%
Silver: Oakham Citra, 4.2%
Bronze: Salopian Darwin’s Origin, 4.3%

I didn’t try to sample any of these at the Festival as once the results are announced they are usually hard to get. However, I’m not a great fan of Timothy Taylor beers anyway! Oakham Citra is a favourite of mine which I’ve had before, and I’ll be looking out for the Salopian one in the months to come.

Looking back on the Festival, it was as good as ever. This year I brought some light snacks with me each day, which was a very good move. The food stalls are varied and good quality, but not exactly cheap, so this reduced overall costs as well.

Finally, for comparison in the future, a word about the cost of the beer. I was drinking halves or thirds, but the price per pint was typically between £3.50 and £4.00 (depending on ABV), which is good for London, where I was being charged between £4.00 – £5.00 per pint in pubs, even for relatively low strength beers. I love London, but perhaps it’s as well that I live in an area where I rarely pay more than £3 for a pint!

The Scottish independence referendum and concerns for the future

In 4 weeks’ time the Scottish independence referendum will have taken place, and at present the outcome is still unpredictable.

I find myself in a difficult place with respect to the referendum. Most of all, I wish it wasn’t taking place at all. But it is, and I am trying to avoid all the hype and buildup by ignoring news items related to it, which is challenging!

The centre of my concerns is this: I’m English, but I’m surrounded by Scots living in England who don’t have a vote, some of whom (most I suspect) are frustrated that they have been disenfranchised in this way. My wife is a Scot, my two programme directors and my head of section at work are Scots, and although I don’t personally have any research links with Scottish universities, my research area is very strong there (I expressed concerns about the future of research funding in a previous post). So relations at all levels with Scotland are important to me. And although my views are irrelevant to the referendum, I am convinced that Scotland would be better off staying within the UK, although as I mention below, there is a need for constitutional reform which could lead to the Scottish parliament having more power, along with the other devolved parliaments.

As a lifelong socialist I can understand the frustration of being ruled by a Tory-dominated Westminster government when there isn’t a Tory majority in Scotland. But the answer must surely lie in giving the Scottish parliament more powers, while Scotland remains under the UK umbrella. Independence is such a drastic step, and it’s a lurch into uncharted waters too. One of the irritating aspects of the SNP’s campaign is the glib reassurances from Salmond et al that things like the currency and EU membership will somehow continue as they are. If they were honest with their voters, they would admit that everything (yes everything) will be up for negotiation if Scotland votes to become independent. Instead they peddle promises of an independent country that will retain all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of the present regime. It is concerning that so many people have been taken in by these promises (including many who should know better!)

Of course, as was pointed out by Bella Caledonia, regardless of the referendum outcome, the ensuing debate has raised questions that won’t go away, including broader questions about the need for further constitutional reform in the UK. The old Westminster dominated system may no longer be fit for purpose, and our constituent countries may need more devolved powers. But when it comes to matters of defence, economic muscle and political influence, I think it’s still in the interests of Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland for that matter) to remain part of the United Kingdom. That’s why I will be quietly crossing my fingers (and everything else available) for a No outcome on September 18th.

Chemistry, Academia, Travel, Technology, Politics and Music


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