An independent Scotland would have little scope to offer emergency lending facilities to its banks, raising questions about its likely financial stability, a leading think-tank has found.
If Scotland was forced to adopt the pound without entering a formal currency union with the rest of the UK, Scottish banks would not have access to the Bank of England’s lender of last resort facilities, and a UK chancellor would be unlikely to authorise emergency aid, said the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
The alternatives would come with drawbacks, it argued. This could leave Scottish banks high and dry if they hit a 2008-style financial crisis, raising questions about whether big players would decide to move south of the border following a Yes vote in next month’s referendum on independence.
The analysis will increase pressure on Alex Salmond over the currency question with just six weeks to go before the vote. The main Westminster parties have said they would not share the BoE with an independent Scotland.
Mr Salmond, Scottish first minister, was thrown on the defensive this week in the debate with Alistair Darling of the pro-union Better Together campaign over his refusal to identify a “Plan B” if the rest of the UK rejected his currency union plans.
One answer would be for Scotland effectively to self-insure against the risk of banking crises by building up large fiscal and foreign exchange reserves – something Hong Kong has successfully done.
However, the paper warns Edinburgh would not have the financial muscle given it would have to inherit a portion of the UK’s public debt, which Angus Armstrong, one of the report’s co-authors, describes as “a pretty intractable problem”.
An independent Scotland might instead have to find an alternative, third-party lender of last resort. It could seek a commercial line of credit from the BoE, but the researchers conclude the deal would be too burdensome to justify.
An alternative could be to join the European Banking Union to diversify some of the risk of a banking crisis, but this would not directly address the lack of a lender of last resort. Ultimately, Scotland might be forced to adopt its own currency and central bank if it wants to have the flexibility it needs, the report concludes.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The Scottish government’s position is to keep the pound, which is as much Scotland’s pound as the rest of the UK, as part of a formal currency union. In fact, this report demonstrates precisely why a currency union and a shared system of financial stability is in the overwhelming interest of Scotland and the rest of the UK.”
Lord McFall, a Labour peer and former chair of the Treasury select committee, said: “This latest expert intervention makes clear that using the pound without a currency union, and without the Bank of England acting as the insurance policy for our economy, would be a huge risk for Scotland.”