© The Financial Times Ltd 2016 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Last updated: November 26, 2013 3:04 pm
Scotland’s government unveiled its long-awaited vision of an independent future with promises of economic growth, transformed childcare, easier immigration and lower corporate taxes – but gave no details on what it might do if the rump of the UK declined to continue with the shared use of sterling.
Discussion of a “Plan B” for the currency was a notable omission from the 667-page “guide to an independent Scotland” white paper launched in Glasgow by Alex Salmond, first minister and leader of the Scottish National party.
The much-heralded paper lays out how Scotland would negotiate an end to the 300-year union with England and Wales if people vote for independence in the September 18 2014 referendum and what policies a future SNP government would seek to implement.
“With independence we would have the powers and responsibilities to be able to seize the opportunities to build a wealthier and fairer nation – but also to face our challenges,” Mr Salmond said. “We will also have to tackle a legacy of debt, low growth and social inequality bequeathed to us by Westminster’s control of our economy.”
Scotland’s government has proposed that if people vote “yes”, the country would become independent on March 24 2016.
But the pro-union campaign, which enjoys the support of a majority of Westminster MPs, has been consistently ahead in the polls.
In nine polls over the past three months, the average support for independence has been 32 per cent, according to What Scotland Thinks, an impartial organisation tracking public attitudes towards independence, but there is significant variation between polling companies.
The most recent survey by Panelbase showed the “no” campaign on 47 per cent, with “yes” at 38 per cent.
The Scottish government paper calls for a cut of up to three percentage points in corporation tax, halving air passenger duty and the removal of Trident nuclear missiles from Scotland “within the term of the first parliament” of an independent nation.
Immigration policy would be transformed, with a points-based system to attract skilled workers and possible incentives to encourage them to settle in geographically remote areas.
On future relations with the EU, the paper states that it expects to take 18 months to negotiate membership under Article 48 of the Treaty of European Union. It also says there would be no border controls between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Scotland will decide in a referendum to be held on September 18, 2014 whether or not to end the 306-year-old union with England
Among other policies in the document which answers “650 real questions from real people”, the Scottish government promises to renationalise the Royal Mail.
The paper asserts as fact that Scotland would continue to use sterling as part of a currency framework to be agreed with London, arguing that doing so would be in the shared interest of both sides.
But while UK leaders and anti-union campaigners have said such a currency deal would be unlikely, none of the 650 questions addressed as part of the white paper discusses what Scotland might do if a deal could not be achieved.
At a media briefing, Mr Salmond waved aside repeated questions on the issue saying post-referendum negotiations would lead to a “logical and desirable” outcome – suggesting that if they did not, an independent Scotland might not be willing to take on its share of the UK debt.
“The Bank of England and sterling are . . . as much Scotland’s assets as London’s assets,” Mr Salmond said. “We put forward in this paper our willingness to accept liabilities and we are also entitled to a share of these assets.”
Alistair Darling, former UK chancellor and head of the pro-union Better Together campaign, has condemned any effort to link use of sterling with the division of UK state debt, saying that for an independent Scotland to refuse to take on a fair share would be tantamount to a sovereign default.
The big question is, ‘do the people of Scotland believe we’re the best people to take the big decision for our future?’ . . . Scotland’s future is now in Scotland’s hands
- Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland
Mr Darling also took aim at what he said was the “claims and assertions” of the Scottish white paper. “We want the facts,” he told the BBC.
Though opinion polls suggest nationalists are trailing badly in the referendum campaign, Mr Salmond contrasted the SNP’s upbeat and forward-looking vision for independence with the negative tone of pro-union politicians.
“People will vote for a positive vision,” he said.
In a reflection of the social democratic political ground staked out by the SNP, the paper promises to scrap unpopular Westminster policies such as the “bedroom tax” charge on social tenants seen as underoccupying their homes and the Universal Credit welfare system.
Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister, said plans laid out for a “universal system of high-quality early learning and childcare” for children from the age of one to when they enter school would boost growth by raising female participation in the workforce and add to tax income.
However, most of the policies set out in the paper have already been widely discussed and critics say many could prove impossible to fund given the fiscal pressures that an independent Scotland would be likely to face as revenues from North Sea oils decline.
Additional reporting by Emily Cadman
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in