Scotland has had its share of political drama these past ten days. First there was the Edinburgh Agreement which saw Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore given an honourable mention by CentreForum. Then the Scottish Liberal Democrats unveiled their vision for Home Rule and a federal UK. Then last Friday, the SNP abandoned their opposition to NATO membership ahead of the Independence Referendum, a decision led to the resignation of two of their MSPs. This leaves Alex Salmond’s Government with a tiny single vote majority in Holyrood. In practice, though, the two MSPs will mostly vote with the Government.
Then yesterday got significantly worse for Alex Salmond. There has been an ongoing row over whether an independent Scotland would have to join the EU as a new member. This would compel them to join the Euro and join the Schengen Agreement. The SNP say that this is not the case as Scotland would be a continuing member with all the UK’s current perks. They have actively tried to create an impression that there was some legal basis to their arguments. In March, Alex Salmond, was asked a straight question by Andrew Neil:
Have you sought advice from your Scottish Law Officers in this matter?
We have, yes, in terms of the debate…
In fact, as Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood yesterday, no such advice has ever been sought.
What makes this all the more bizarre is that Labour MEP Catherine Stihler put in a Freedom of Information request earlier this year to find out if the Government had sought legal advice. The Information Commissioner ruled that they had to tell us. The Government’s response was to blow a six figure sum in legal fees to appeal that decision. I can’t imagine Scots will consider that value for money, particularly at a time when the same Government is slashing financial support for the poorest students.
Salmond’s comments to Neil put me in mind of Bill Clinton’s assertion that he did not “have sexual relations with that woman.” Dancing on the head of a pin about definitions does not constitute the sort of openness and transparencies citizens are entitled to expect. It actually had never occurred to me that the Government had not taken legal advice. I wonder what will happen if Scotland’s law officers advise that Scotland will not automatically be granted all the privileges of EU membership. Will the SNP tell us this before we vote or will they try to hide behind the Ministerial Code?
The SNP had a fairly good reputation for credibility and competence which is now in tatters. The opposition parties have taken different approaches in dealing with this. Labour have been bullishly denouncing Salmond as a bare faced liar. I think they’ve put a few too many eggs in that particular pudding. Compare and contrast the quieter but, as Alan Cochrane described it in today’s Telegraph “much better” approach of Willie Rennie. By using a parliamentary Point of Order, he forensically exposed the inconsistencies in Salmond’s comments without using emotive language.
Later, Willie Rennie said:
For months the First Minister has asserted that an independent Scotland would be a continuing member of the European Union rather than a new member. But the Deputy First Minister has now embarrassingly admitted she had no advice. Everything that the SNP has asserted has been blown apart by fact today.
The SNP Government began legal proceedings over a document that didn’t even exist. The public will rightly be infuriated that thousands of pounds of their money was spent funding an SNP orchestrated farce.
He now says that the SNP is duty bound to plan to join the Euro in the event of a “Yes” vote, a process which would require severe budget cuts:
Every country that has joined the EU since the Euro was introduced is using the currency or taking steps to do so.
If the same is true for Scotland then implications for our economy could be severe.
Scotland would be bound by the European Fiscal Stability Treaty to reduce the Scottish deficit to 3% of GDP. Using the Scottish Government’s own figures, the present Scottish fiscal deficit is currently 7.4%.
Taking the steps necessary for Euro entry would involve cutting the Scottish budget by £5 billion annually.
This is a possibility that the First Minister is duty bound to confront if he is to be open with the Scottish people
The SNP Government is not in a good position two years out from the Referendum. There is no cause for complacency in the Better Together camp but the First Minister’s personal and political credibility has taken a huge dent. His glib assertions that everything would be fine in an independent Scotland have been shown not to be nothing more than hot air.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings