Helen Todd: The Scottish referendum and walking

Picture the scene: a walker’s bar on an autumn evening. As the sun sets outside and the temperature drops, the atmosphere inside the bar gets warmer and louder, heat pumping out of the open fire. Red-faced, tousle-haired outdoorsy types exchange banter over their pints of beer and packets of pork scratchings in broad north of England accents, while dogs settle down for a snooze amongst the rucksacks under the tables.

Is this the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales or the Peak District? Well, possibly, but it’s just as likely to be the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe, or the Sligachan Hotel on Skye. England’s walkers have been attracted to Scottish landscapes and mountains since Queen Victoria set up her holiday home at Balmoral. VisitScotland research shows that 6.1 million trips were made to Scotland by English visitors in 2012, about the same number of Scottish residents who enjoyed staycations (and 0.2 million visitors came from Wales!). Tourists spend money so clearly these visitors from England and Wales are very welcome.

Cairngorms National ParkBut how much would this change if Scotland were to vote ‘yes’ and what would the implications be for a GB organisation like the Ramblers?

How would independence for Scotland affect the delivery of our mission? Would it make walkers think again, in terms of visiting a new nation with all the potential uncertainties as to currency matters, health insurance, and whether you will still get the BBC weather forecasts in Scotland?

The committee which oversees Ramblers policy in Scotland, the Scottish Council Executive Committee (SCEC) decided to investigate the implications of the referendum for its activities and the delivery of the Ramblers’ charitable objectives in Scotland. To help them consider potential outcomes, they looked at guidance produced by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator on how charities can get involved in the referendum process within the framework of charity law.

At its meeting in November 2013, SCEC approved a statement on the Ramblers Scotland position. We already have a devolution agreement to cover policy development, but there’s no doubt that some operational matters would be affected by a Yes vote. However, this is not unique to the Ramblers and would be sorted out in due course.

But what of our work to further our charitable objectives? Since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the vast majority of issues which relate to the Ramblers mission in Scotland are now devolved. What topics does this include? The most obvious one is access, since Scotland has separate legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which secured a statutory right of access to most land and inland water.

In addition, most of the other matters we have a position on - such as national parks, deer management, forestry, landscape, agriculture, planning, active travel, renewable energy, sport, health and outdoor education – are already devolved.

Since Ramblers Scotland’s activities are so predominantly focussed on devolved issues, it’s clear that little would substantially change if Scotland were to become independent. Therefore, in general terms, Ramblers Scotland has no view either way on the outcome of the 2014 referendum.

Notwithstanding this position, there are still certain UK or GB matters which would be transferred to the Scottish Government in the event of a yes vote and which would affect delivery of our mission in Scotland – although this may be either a positive or a negative change, depending on the issue.

For example, there are some UK organisations which operate in Scotland, such as Network Rail with whom we've had disagreements with over the years. It is Network Rail’s view that the public is committing criminal trespass by crossing a ‘private’ level crossing in Scotland since there is no statutory right to do so. As there are 600-odd such crossings, some of which pre-date the railway and are historic rights of way, providing traditional routes across the highlands, we disagree.

Scotland, credit Karen InksterIt’s possible that an independent Scottish Government with responsibility for the railway network might be more sympathetic to our view, as they would have a better understanding of the customary and traditional basis on which access has always been taken in Scotland.

On the other hand, some areas of UK policy which are currently determined by Westminster would be transferred to Scotland without possibly bringing any advantage to our position.

One example is energy policy. The UK government controls the energy market and subsidy regime while the Scottish government controls the planning system which decides where onshore windfarms are located. While supportive of renewables in general, we have long campaigned against large scale developments in our wild uplands, as we believe they are eroding our precious landscapes and habitats. Since all political parties in Scotland are pro-renewables it’s unlikely an independent government would be any more sympathetic to our position than is the case now. Overall, the best that could be said about independence with regard to our mission is that it would be easier to engage with decision-makers on certain issues.

As for English (and Welsh) visitors, the Scottish mountains, lochs, woodlands, islands and coast will still be there to be visited in the future, whatever constitutional arrangements there are after September. The outcome of the referendum is unlikely to result in the need for passport control at Berwick or Gretna, and walkers from all countries will continue to be welcomed for years to come – Failte gu Alba !

Helen Todd is the campaigns and policy manager at Ramblers Scotland. Read more about Helen's adventures in her previous blog posts or follow her @helenrambler.

This blog was originally published in January 2014.

David Moore

The UK Government has identified 200 public bodies that may need to be replicated in an independent Scotland. One of them is Ordnance Survey and mapping on which most walkers rely.
There is potentially a huge bill, not only for Scotland, but also for the rest of the UK if complete separation of public functions occurred. Many throughout the UK are baffled as to the benefit of doing this.
Good luck to all our friends north of the border, but they are unfortunately being asked to write a blank cheque (for them and the rest of us).
The devil of independence is in the detail, most of which has yet to emerge.