What an Independent Scotland would mean for Archaeology and Heritage.

Posted on September 15, 2014


On September 18th the people of Scotland will vote on their independence from the United Kingdom, potentially becoming the oldest-newest independent nation in the world. Until last week the result of the referendum was predictable, the ‘Yes’ campaign (pro-independence) was heading for a shellacking. A few months ago some polls had the No Campaign, more correctly the ‘No Thanks’ (such a British thing to do, labeling it ‘no thanks’) group, ahead by 20 points i.e.  34% voting Yes and 54% voting no, with the rest undecided. If they had swung the ‘not sure’ voters the ‘No Thanks’ campaign could have easily won 2/3rds of the vote. Like I said, a shellacking. Going into September some polls still had them ahead by 10-15 points. In the last few weeks that lead has collapsed and now some polls have the ‘Yes’ campaign within the margin of error or ahead. An independent Scotland has now become a distinct possibility.

Especially given the very poor handling of the ‘No Thanks’ campaign in the last few weeks. One of my Facebook acquaintances said it best:

“Bringing David Cameron* to Scotland to try (to) boost the Better Together campaign is like bringing a steak to a vegetarian dinner party; no one likes it, no one wants it, and if anything you’re just going to turn them even more against it.” -HM

With this relatively new development — literally a week ago — some archaeologists have started to wonder what an independent Scotland could mean for Heritage and Archaeology in Scotland (see BAJR Facebook page/forum). In light of this, now, very real possibility I am going to take a brief break from my posts on publishing in Archaeology to discuss, through several posts, what an independent Scotland would mean for Scottish (and UK) Heritage and Archaeology.

From Simpsons

Could It Be Anymore Different?

Strangely, we talk about an independent Scotland affecting Heritage and Archaeology but in reality there are already huge differences across the different ‘nations’ of the UK. It is unlikely that independence, or not, will change that. Let’s run through the differences real quick:

Public/Community Archaeology

In England & Wales the large umbrella group for Public/Community Archaeology is the Council for British Archaeology (CBA). In Scotland it is Archaeology Scotland (AS), which started out as a branch of CBA but since 1988 it has been separated. Yes, for 26 years Scotland has had a separate umbrella group for Public/Community Archaeology. Also, Northern Ireland has the Archaeology Forum since 2007.

National Governing Bodies

England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all have different national bodies to look after their heritage e.g. manage heritage sites, schedule monuments, manage permissions on national monuments, etc.

If you work in the UK you will know that English Heritage is splitting into two different organisations. One will be a charity that manages the heritage sites in England. The other organisation will still be in the government and look after the government’s statutory requirements.

In Scotland meanwhile, Historic Scotland is merging with the Scottish Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments to form a new organisation. Wales has opted to keep Cadw, separate from their RCAHM(Wales). England had already merged English Heritage with its commission 15 years ago. Northern Ireland is a world onto itself.

Essentially, for decades each nation in the UK has had their own separate national bodies, with distinct organisational structures, to look after their own ‘national’ heritage.

Local Government Bodies

The local enforcement and management of cultural resources is very different in the different regions. In England most of this regulatory work falls to Council Archaeologists and the actually survey, evaluation, and excavation is carried out by private contractors. Some councils do have units that do this sort of work but there are very few left and they compete with the private sector. Scotland is similar but some councils have sub-contracted out their regulatory management work to private companies. Wales is very different in that the regulatory work is mainly controlled by trusts and those trusts also carry out much of the archaeological work as well. Northern Ireland does not have council archaeologists at all– DOE takes care of that sort of work — but like Scotland and England private companies do the archaeological work.


An undergraduate degree in Scotland takes fours years, in the rest of the UK it is three years. A system that dates back hundreds of years– since Archaeology degrees have been around Scottish undergraduate degrees have been different from the rest of the UK.


Scotland has different laws governing heritage than England and Wales. The most recent law for Scotland is the Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2011 . England now has the National Planning Policy Framework to govern development and its impact on heritage. While the laws and regulations may be similar they are separate.

Treasure Trove Vs Portable Antiquity Scheme

The difference in legislation can be seen when it comes to metal detecting and finds. England and Wales have the Portable Antiquities Scheme which encourages the reporting of finds, and if it is “Treasure” requires reporting,  but allows the finders/property owners to keep the objects. Scotland and the Isle of Man have different laws. In Scotland all lost property, except for some types of money, is the property of the Crown. You must report all finds to Treasure Trove and they might reimburse the finder.

Heritage Lottery Fund

There is already a regional office in Scotland with its own committee that decides what projects get funded in Scotland.

Would an Independent Scotland make a Difference?

Currently there are very different systems in place across the different ‘kingdoms’ that make up the United Kingdom. These difference have been on going for decades or even centuries. More importantly, all of the nations have the ability, to varying degrees to change these areas.

  • Laws can be changed  in the case of Scotland.
  • Even without the ability to write laws Wales has managed to carve out a very interesting niche in heritage management with the Welsh Archaeology Trusts system.
  • For years universities can and have been able to make their own programmes.
  • Community organisations have the ability to pursue their own goals and interests as charities.

Independence will not change the direction of these areas because change can happen regardless of the outcome. Independence or not, the power is still there regardless.

Will Anything Change Soon?

I don’t see independence being a catalyst for any short term changes either because Scotland already has laws, systems, government bodies, etc. in place. None of this will have to be created from scratch with an independent Scotland. There is going to be very little pressure, resulting from the referendum, to change anything in relation to Heritage and Archaeology.

If the vote is ‘Yes’ than Scotland will be incredibly busy for the next few years preparing for independence negotiating new treaties, etc. etc. I doubt making changes to how Heritage and Archaeology is run will be high on Scotland’s to-do list. Moreover, Historic Scotland and the Scottish Commission will be merging soon and will be very busy with that probably for several years. Even with a ‘No Thanks’ vote the Heritage Sector will be busy enough with the new government body. Overall, expect very little to change in the short term, next 2-5 years, in Scotland no matter what the vote is.

What Will Change?

There are a few areas that might be affected e.g. money, but I will touch on that in the next few posts. Still overall the act of independence, or not, will make very little difference to how heritage and archaeology is run.

*For my non-British readers, Cameron is the Prime Minister of GB and the leader of the conservative party. Easily the most hated political party in all of Scotland. For 30 years they did not win a single parliamentary seat in Scotland and only got their first one in the last election- in the border area with England. The conservatives go over in Scotland like a fart in church.

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