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Yes vote would’ve meant Scottish independence this week… but are we still better together?

24 March 2016 was the date Alex Salmond pinpointed for Scotland to sever political ties with the rest of the UK (PA Wire)
24 March 2016 was the date Alex Salmond pinpointed for Scotland to sever political ties with the rest of the UK (PA Wire)

The starkest illustration of the gap between SNP dreams and reality came last week when Nicola Sturgeon announced a new initiative to persuade Scots of the benefits of independence.

Had the last attempt been successful and Alex Salmond secured a Yes vote at the 2014 referendum, this week would have brought independence day.

24 March 2016 was the date he’d pinpointed for Scotland to sever political ties with the rest of the UK after what would’ve been 309 years of union.

Economic figures released earlier this month showed that Scotland would have been starting from a poor position.

The oil price collapse that kicked in almost as soon as the ballot boxes were put back in their cupboards would have had a huge impact.

The latest GERS figures, essentially the Scottish Government’s bank statement, show Scotland spent about £15 billion more than it raised in tax last year.

Scotland’s deficit – the difference between what comes in and what is paid out – is at 10% of GDP, the nation’s wealth, or nearly double the UK figure.

The Bank of England and UK Government would have been even less keen to share the pound with an economy so divergent from their own.

One expert has calculated that Scotland would’ve faced a 12% increase in tax or a 10% cut in spending or some combination of the two.

Salmond would’ve faced some tough questions about the predictions so confidently stated in his independence white paper, Scotland’s Future.

But by then the process would be irreversible.

Would a package have been agreed inside 18 months to let Scotland split from the rest of the UK?

Most commentators at the time thought it unlikely. However, others suggested that once the Scots had made their decision Whitehall would want a deal over and done with quickly.

And that may have proved not such a bad thing. For once Scotland was on the path to independence it’s possible, likely even, that all sides would have accepted the result, pooled their talents in negotiating the best deal with London in the shortest possible time and looked for the positives.

One big bargaining chip to offset economic setbacks would have been Trident. Nuclear submarines would have most likely remained on the Clyde because the 18-month timescale would be too tight to order them out safely. But a deal would have been done and they’d be on the move before long, with Wales and Devon scrapping it out for the right to host them and all the jobs they’d bring.

The cultural movement that brightened the referendum campaign would have surely blossomed rather than withered.

One of the most refreshing aspects of the independence campaign was the number of young people engaged and excited about politics.

From that has flowed the decision to lower the voting age in Scotland to 16. The Holyrood elections will be the first test of whether teen voters are still keen to contribute but most would agree political debate in Scotland’s schools has proved healthy and is largely carried on in a more respectful and impressive manner than the adults can manage.

One of the young people brought into politics by the campaign was Mhairi Black, carried to Westminster last May on the back of the SNP surge that
followed the independence No vote.

The party had given one of their receptionists a day off the morning after the poll. They ended up having to draft in volunteers from all over as phones rang off the hook with people keen to join the SNP.

But despite the SNP going from six to 56 MPs a Conservative government including just one Scottish MP was returned in Westminster.

If Yes had won the referendum it’s anyone’s guess if the 2015 election would even have gone ahead. It may have been postponed a year rather than have Scottish MPs elected for just 12 months.

And it’s unlikely David Cameron would have won. He’d almost certainly have had to resign on September 19, instead of appearing on the steps of Number 10 to declare it was time to pay some attention to the English.

Instead, he finds himself fighting another referendum he doesn’t want this time on the EU.

While Sturgeon’s announcement of her initiative suggests she’s preparing for the next one.


In my view

Yes vote: Gordon Wilson, Former leader of the SNP 1979-1990

Independence day dawned sunny and cold.

Half of Scotland had gathered in Edinburgh to see the Queen accompanied by Prime Minister Sturgeon and Deputy PM Dugdale drive down the Royal Mile to open the first independent Scottish Parliament in 300 years.

After a brief ceremony, Scotland got down to business.

It had been an exhausting 18 months with an election in which Scottish Labour had done better than expected after endorsing independence, the formation of an SNP/Labour government and hard-fought negotiations with London over Scotland’s share of UK assets and liabilities, leading to a fair settlement.

Yes, there had been snags along the way.

The drop in oil revenues could have caused a problem but the underlying asset value of oil had produced a strong credit rating to close the gap. No agreement was reached over a sterling zone but the pound was still in use. Better still, with the new Scottish currency set at a lower rate than the pound, dollar and euro, an export-led, job-creating economic boom was predicted.

As for Europe, Scotland had concluded a satisfactory trade deal by accepting the single market conditions which suited it.

Heaven, it was not.

But it was spring and a confident, new Scotland had a lift to its step.

 

No vote: Kevan McDonald, Retired senior partner at Dickson Minto

Approaching the date on which Scotland could have become an independent state we all have a better perspective on certain arguments advanced by the Yes camp.

The principal underpin of the Yes campaign was the revenues to be garnered from ‘Scotland’s Oil’.

Their future budgets were based on the oil price remaining at around $110 well into the future.

However, the price of a barrel today is below $35, some 300% less than the SNP’s projected figure.

The US and other Middle East states can produce oil at well below $50 a barrel and remain profitable. The North Sea is and will remain an expensive territory from which to extract oil and gas.

As a result of all of this, an independent Scotland would have increased the annual shortfall in its budget post-independence by more than £7 billion.

A sum of that scale could not have been met by taxing the few higher rate taxpayers so inevitably the burden would have fallen on the bulk of the population.

If Alex Salmond, an oil economist, knew about the prospect of these seismic shifts in the markets he was reckless to ignore them.

Either way he owes each of us an apology.

With the benefit of hindsight can we now all see that Alex Salmond was not Scotland’s messiah but the Pied Piper and how very close we all came to a lemming-like vertiginous plunge.

 


No date for Brexit

The groups campaigning to leave the European Union are calling June 23 – the date of the In /Out referendum – independence day because they can’t agree when the UK’s membership of the EU would actually end.

It’s emerged that neither the EU nor the UK Government has made any plans for how the process of unpicking 80,000 pages of agreements and decades of legislation would actually play out.

The three campaigns seeking to lead the Out cause take differing views.

Vote Leave have suggested “another path” out could be agreed rather than using current EU rules that set aside a minimum of two years for negotiations.

A spokesman for Leave.EU said: “We want a deal that is right rather than fast.”

Grassroots Out, the umbrella group set up by Tory backbenchers, on the other hand say they are hopeful negotiations could be concluded swiftly.

Experts have predicted it could take up to 10 years to reach agreement. Those in favour of staying in Europe have warned
of catastrophic consequences in that time for the economy due to the ongoing uncertainty.


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