The long-awaited and weighty White Paper on Scottish Independence was published on Tuesday, pitching a highly detailed political vision of life after a Yes vote.
“Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”, launched by First Minister Alex Salmond on November 26th, describes the process that would follow the referendum on September 18th, 2014, when Scots will be asked: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The White Paper makes the Scottish government’s case for independence by answering 650 detailed questions.
Salmond described the paper as the most comprehensive guide for a prospective independent country ever published. He described it as a positive vision for a fairer, more equal society that promises self-determination and transformational reform of social policy.
“Our 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,” he said at the launch in the Glasgow Science Centre.
The paper also sets out the policies that the Scottish National Party (SNP) would pursue if it governs in an independent Scotland, and specifies that if the Yes Scotland campaign wins, then Independence Day would be March 24th, 2016 – some 18 months after the referendum.
Policy pledges include: reducing corporation tax by up to 3 per cent; retaining the sterling currency; increasing state pensions by inflation or 2.5 per cent; no increase to income tax after independence; retaining the Queen as Head of State; abolishing the Housing Benefit “bedroom tax”; halting the roll out of the contentious single Universal Credit for the unemployed; removing Trident nuclear weapons from Faslane by 2020; setting up a Scottish broadcasting service linked to the BBC; and extending support for early learning and childcare provision to match the best in Europe.
One of the most contentious issues relating to independence is currency. With the declining fortunes of the eurozone, the SNP’s previous preference for the euro has now evaporated in favour of a sterling currency zone, which it argues is in the best interests of both Scotland and the UK. However, critics argue that this would not result in proper independence as the bank of another country, England, would control Scottish interest rates on which mortgages and business borrowing is based.
Although the Scottish government has said that the pound belongs to Scotland as much as it does to the rest of the UK, doubts about whether the UK would agree to an independent Scotland retaining sterling have recently been raised by the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, Chancellor George Osborne, and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones.
Former Chancellor Alistair Darling, who heads up the Better Together campaign (against independence), has said that in the event of a Yes vote, disputed areas of the White Paper, such as currency and defence, wouldn’t automatically just be accepted by the rest of the UK. He criticised the White Paper for having no plan B if Scotland was not allowed to retain sterling.
In a statement after the White Paper launch, Darling said: “It is a fantasy 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.”
Commenting on the financial viability of the plan, he said, “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.”
A Panelbase Sunday Times poll, conducted between November 12th and 20th, gives the No campaign a 9 per cent lead, which is less of a margin than earlier polls. The SNP believe this is an indication of momentum building in their favour and that their positive vision for Scotland will have more appeal than what they have described as the unrelenting negativity of the No lobby.