EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 27: Delegates attend day one of the SNP Spring Conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on April 27, 2019 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The SNP will decide on a new currency plan for an independent Scotland during the opening day of its conference, the party leadership, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, wants Scotland to keep the pound in the years after independence. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Delegates attend the SNP spring conference in Edinburgh © Getty

The Scottish National party’s spring conference has called for Scotland to set up a new currency “as soon as practicable” after a vote for independence, overruling the more cautious approach backed by SNP leaders. 

The unexpected vote by delegates on the first day of the SNP conference in Edinburgh followed fierce debate over the currency policy the party should use as the basis for a renewed push for independence from the UK. 

The 781 to 729 vote highlights dissatisfaction among many SNP members at the relatively cautious approach adopted by party leaders, who worry that moderate voters would be put off by the prospect of any rapid replacement of the UK pound. 

Party leaders welcomed the conference’s rejection of more radical amendments to their original proposal that Scotland should aim to “be ready to make a decision on a new currency by the end of the first term of an independent parliament”. 

Keith Brown, deputy SNP leader, warned before the vote that any amendment of the leadership resolution would “carry risks”. 

But afterwards Mr Brown said party leaders could “work with” the conference’s demand the government must “aim that the [new] currency be ready for introduction as soon as practicable after independence day”. 

“I don’t think it causes us any problems,” Mr Brown said. 

The new policy retains a set of economic and policy tests that must be met before Scotland would create a new currency, raising the possibility of potentially extended period in which it would continue to use the UK pound, an approach widely known as “sterlingisation”. 

Timothy Rideout, a delegate from the SNP’s Dalkeith branch, which proposed the more urgent approach backed by delegates, pointed out that sterlingisation would leave Scotland unable to act as lender of last resort for its financial sector and with no control of monetary policy. 

“We would not have real independence,” said Mr Rideout, who compared the act of creating a new currency to the murder of the Scottish King Duncan in the Shakespeare play Macbeth. 

“If it were done . . . then ’twere well it were done quickly,” he said. 

An analysis this week by These Islands, a group that opposes Scottish independence, argued that the fiscal and current account deficits that would face an independent Scotland in its early days would make the SNP’s sterlingisation plan unsustainable. 

“Its collapse as a result of Scotland’s banking system running short of sterling reserves would be inevitable, and force an independent Scotland to adopt its own currency in the worst possible circumstances,” the analysis said

During the 2014 referendum the party promised instead a formal currency union with the remaining UK, a position that was rejected by the UK government and opposition parties. 

A YouGov poll for The Times newspaper published on Saturday found 48 per cent of voters would want to continue use of the UK pound after independence, with just 5 per cent supporting the immediate launch of a new currency. 

But YouGov found only 14 per cent backed the new SNP policy of using sterlingisation for a transition period followed by creation of a new currency and party critics say the policy would be a difficult sell to voters. 

Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader, this month called for Scotland to be ready to hold a second referendum by 2021 if the UK leaves the EU.

However the call was heavily caveated and the refusal of the UK government to approve another plebiscite mean most analysts say an early vote is highly unlikely.

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