So now we know – or at least those who are willing to wade through 670 pages of text will know – what the SNP Government believes the benefits of independence will be. There are promises of better childcare and education along with a reformed, fairer tax system.
In his presentation of this ‘blueprint’ for Scotland’s future, First Minister, Alex Salmond, claimed that each Scot would be £600 better off after a split from the UK. As he’s claimed elsewhere, he repeated that Scotland’s public finances were “healthier than those of the UK as a whole”. The paper insists there would be “no requirement for an independent Scotland to raise the general rate of taxation to fund existing levels of spending.” By contrast, the Treasury’s analysis suggests that independence could cost the average Scot £1,000 in tax.
The document identifies “three overriding reasons” for Scotland to leave the UK by creating a more democratic, prosperous and fair state. In Mr Salmond’s view, his vision is “of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations. However, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better. We know we have the people, the skills and resources to make Scotland a more successful country. What we need now are the economic tools and powers to build a more competitive, dynamic economy and create more jobs. This guide contains policies which offer nothing less than a revolution in employment and social policy for Scotland, with a transformational change in childcare at the heart of those plans.
“Our proposals,” he added, “will make it far easier for parents to balance work and family life, and will allow many more people, especially women, to move into the workforce, fostering economic growth and helping to boost revenues – which will in itself help pay for the policy. With these policies, we can begin the job of undoing the damage caused by the vast social disparities which have seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world.”
In a policy that has been widely discussed, the paper discusses plans to keep the pound in a currency union with the Bank of England. It states that the pound “is Scotland’s currency just as much as it is the rest of the UK’s” adding that an independent Scotland would also make a “substantial contribution” to a “sterling zone”. However, opponents have stated several times that there was no guarantee that the rest of the UK would accept such an arrangement.
Under the proposals, Scottish Independence Day would be March 24, 2016, assuming the people of Scotland vote for independence in a referendum next year. This date was chosen for historical reasons (as many of the dates in the recent past) because it was on March 24, 1707, that the Act of Union, which joined the parliaments of England and Scotland, was signed.
Blair Jenkins, chief executive of ‘Yes Scotland’ said that the White Paper addressed “the questions and concerns that matter to the people who live and work in Scotland, from childcare to how the country will be rid of Trident and the nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It is a very informative and easy-to-understand guide and it will open a new dimension in the debate about Scotland’s future and the choice we face next September over the opportunity to make our own decisions according to our own needs, priorities and aspirations or sticking with a Westminster system that is simply not working for Scotland.”
But the leader of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, the former chancellor, Alistair Darling, accused Mr Salmond of asking people to buy a “one-way ticket to a very uncertain destination”. He added that the SNP Government had “ducked the big questions like on currency: how can we guarantee to keep the pound and if we don’t what currency will we use, will we have our own or will we join the Euro? Debt, defence, welfare, pensions: they haven’t answered any of those questions and you would have thought that at this time we would get the answers we are entitled to.”
He asked what currency Scotland would use and who would set mortgage rates. He also asked who would pay pensions and benefits in future, adding that the paper provided no clear answers. “It is a fantasy,” he argued, “to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership. The White Paper is a work of fiction. It is thick with false promises and meaningless assertions. Instead of a credible and costed plan, we have a wish-list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them.”
In the view of Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, today’s White Paper contained no answers, only assertions, to key questions over currency, pensions or the cost of independence. “Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little,” he said. “This was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people will judge them on that.”
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said that the white paper “doesn’t really answer the big questions around currency, fiscal sustainability and Europe, just to take three of the major issues”.
However, Alex Salmond insisted that Scotland’s future was now in Scotland’s hands “It won’t be decided by me,” he said. “It won’t be decided by our opponents. It won’t be decided by the media. It will be decided by the people.”