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Yes vote or No, we must invest in young people

The issue about dependency is in many ways at the heart of the independence debate.

Can our nation reach its true potential without the full powers of separate government?

To what extent does political interdependence leave us reliant in other ways? For many years, an alleged over-dependence on a bigger country has been used as a stick to beat Scots with, or a switch for self-flagellation. We used to talk about the cultural cringe, more recently discussion has centred on the welfare state or on the additional state funding distributed via the Barnett Formula. Scots have often been accused of relying too much on largesse from our neighbours in the south.

So it is refreshing that the message from Professor Ferdinand Von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, is a more positive spin on this old conceit. In comments made to Edinburgh University's academy of government, he argues Scotland could certainly thrive on its own should the vote in September's referendum favour Yes. However a "dependency culture" currently discourages innovation, he claims.

It is not clear on what evidence the academic bases this argument, but as an Irish citizen he is at least reasonably placed to comment on whether or not Ireland is more attractive for investors.

He argues a lower level of creativity and entrepreneurship in Scotland than in his home country is the result of over-reliance on London for creative thinking and investment.

Greater powers over fiscal policy and more autonomous decision-making could arguably help unlock local initiative and enterprise, he claims.

Scotland's history of innovation is a proud one, in engineering, science and commerce, and most people would welcome a re-energising of that tradition.

Likewise, few would object to a goal of reducing dependence, particularly on London, which has a disproportionate influence on much of the UK. Professor Von Pondzynski is right about the need for a thriving indigenous innovation culture.

But can this greater opportunity only be achieved through independence as Yes Scotland insisted yesterday? It is not clear that this is the only way to equip Scotland with the tools to thrive. Labour suggests the desired outcome can be achieved by investing in the education and skills of our young people.

Prof Von Pondzynski is likely to get his prescription either way, as whether the referendum leads to independence, or to increased devolution, Scotland will have more powers to release untapped potential.

But one of the failings that has not yet been fully addressed by government at Westminster or Holyrood is the poverty of opportunity which sees too many children thrust on to the scrapheap, without an equal chance to flourish. With or without independence, we have to do better at ensuring young talents are not wasted.

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