Rennie: SNP’s assertions blown apart by fact

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?

Salmond replied:

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 Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • There is a lot of hot air here. As Paul R wrote on Michael Moore’s blog, in theory partition of the UK would produce two new states, both of whom (if we accept the argument in the above article) would have to rejoin the EU.

    In practice, this would be the least likely scenario. It would be up to the EU to recognise the partition. If it did so then existing arrangements would be recognised so as to minimise disruption. In theory, it would then be possible for Scotland to adopt the Euro, but there would be big difficulties setting an entry rate, because what happens to the pound is more influenced by England and Wales. Even so if it could be made possible it is likely to be a smart move and could produce a more attractive economy for businesses, that predominantly have markets in the EU.

    I asked on Michael Moore’s article: is there currently a settled Lib Dem position on Scottish succession?

  • paul barker 24th Oct '12 - 8:09pm

    Martin rather misses the point. This is a grey are legally but most interpretations assume the EU can basically do what it wants, as long as individual states allow it. Thats the problem, while the rational approach for Europe as a whole would be to allow both states continuing membership there are 4 or 5 Countries that are likely to veto that because of their own fears about breakaway regions.
    Spain, France, Italy & Belgium all face potential breakaways & punishing Scotland for its Independence might be seen as a good way to discourage others.

  • Paul: what could other countries veto? The partition of the UK? Membership of the EU for Scotland, England, Wales and NI or both? Citizenship of the EU for all the Scots? Or simply recognition of Scotland as a separate entity to England, Wales and NI?

    Be realistic! The EU will take the smoothest path and certainly the path that promotes peace. Vetoing or punishing any region would be inflammatory to some of regions you mention. In any case the citizenship issue would be the crunch point.

    Besides, England, the dominant part of the UK, is far from anyone’s favourite in the EU, so there will be a strong natural sympathy for the Scots.

    I am interested in the Lib Dem position in Scotland. Some years ago I dismissed as implausible that the UK might leave the EU; however the Tories and their friends in the press have been playing with fire over the issue for too long. Despite getting singed a few times, they are still at it and a referendum looks increasingly likely.

    For a Scot who wants to remain in the EU, it is arguable that partition before an EU referendum in the rest of the UK would better assure continued EU membership. Scotland would be quite powerless if a rejection of independence is followed by an England dominated vote to leave the EU.

  • John Richardson 24th Oct '12 - 8:35pm

    I don’t see the argument for there being two new states rather than one. The UK would continue with the same government, institutions and substantially the same population as it did before the independence of Scotland. If Scotland chose to go their own way that would be no excuse for other countries to renege on their treaty obligations with us or vice-versa.

  • paul barker 24th Oct '12 - 8:53pm

    The point is precisely that the legal position was left unclear. Is it The UK as it presently exists that joined the EU ? If that UK no longer exists does our membership simply cease automatically ? No-one knows & no, we cant assume that politicians will always behave sensibly. In the case of Spain there are real worries that breakup could lead to Military Goverment & possibly civil war. In that context why would Spanish politicians worry about the UKs problems ?

  • Al McIntosh 24th Oct '12 - 9:02pm

    I think we can see from these early exchanges what pattern the debate is going to take.

    The yes campaign will point out the positive advantages of independence such as the ability to scrap trident and control of the oil revenues, producing an independence dividend added to the fact that Scotland can take advantage of the fact that its economy is financially stronger than the average for the UK to the tune of £1000 per household.

    The no campaign, in contrast, are going to rely on scaremongering and less than accurate ad-hominem attacks on various personalities in the yes campaign. This case illustrates it well as does the outrageous claim in Willie Rennie’s federal conference speech of links to the English Democrats that have been since shown to be groundless.

    The legal position has changed. The status of the referendum is no longer one of providing justification for a unilateral declaration of independence but is now one where it is part of a process agreed by all parties that could lead to independence. Whether both successor states retain EU membership or both have to reapply, the realpolitik is that there is too much for the other EU countries to lose by blocking them. While some Castilians may rattle sabres because of their difficulties in Catalonia, when it comes down to it they have too much to lose in terms of access to fisheries and other markets to block either application when their own economy is so fragile.

    On the other hand, remaining part of the UK puts Scotland’s membership of the EU in doubt. The tories are promising an in-out referendum on the EU. If Scotland remains in the UK and every Scot votes to stay in, the sheer number of English votes in comparison could see Scotland forced to withdraw from the EU against its will. In the UK, Scottish votes only matter if the English result is very close. Independence, in contrast, puts Scotland’s place in the EU firmly in the hands of the Scottish people. The no campaign have failed to produce any argument why Scots are not the best people to determine what is best for Scotland. No wonder a recent poll gave a 52%-40% lead for the yes campaign if Scots believe that the tories will win the next UK election outright or that the Westminster coalition could continue past 2015!

  • John Richardson 24th Oct '12 - 9:15pm

    If there’s any doubt about the status of the UK without Scotland then surely independence can not go ahead without a referendum of the entire population? Scotland alone can not make that decision for the rest of us.

  • “If there’s any doubt …” Doubts about the status of the UK and Scotland are totally unrealistic. The only serious legal comment I have heard is that if Scotland and the rest of the UK separate, then both inherit the legacy, which includes the national debt. The scaremongering I have seen would only occur in a situation in which Scotland tried to renounce its treaty and international obligations. Alex Salmond has been clear that this will not happen: Scotland will abide by UK agreed international treaties and be responsible for its pro rata share of the national debt.

    Just imagine, for a moment in fantasy land, if Scotland could completely start from scratch with no national debt, no treaty obligations, just its huge coastline and large natural resources. Of course it would not happen.

    p.s. Excellent post Al McIntosh, you make make the points more strongly than I managed.

  • Reading the above it struck me that the UK will no longer be the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    Without Scotland it’s not Great Britain anymore, or even Britain.

    I expect this will be ignored, but it’s a curious thought.

    Also I agree with Al. It’s very sad to see such negative arguments, it makes me want to move up there and vote yes. But I’d only do that if the currency issue were settled in a more sensible manner. I suppose as long as the UK remains in Europe I can always move up there, I wonder if I’d then be kicked out if/when the UK left the EU.

  • This is not really a question that will be decided in relation to Scottish independence. The people will decide that. The issue is that Spain will take a viewpoint, and possibly cause problems for Scotland based purely on their internal issues. The sensible approach would be for a joint MSP / MP cross party delegation to demand a meeting with the EU to clarify the situation prior to the campaigns starting in earnest. People deserve to know what they are voting for even the bits outside of UK or Scottish politicians control.

  • Malcolm Baines 25th Oct '12 - 12:31pm

    m – I agree the UK (united kingdoms of England and Scotland) would no longer exist. Perhaps the entity remaining if Scotland votes “yes” could be renamed South Britain, which has a neat symmetry with the term “North Britain” once used to refer to Scotland. Also the Union Flag would need to be changed to remove the cross of St Andrew.

    Steve – that kind of sensible joint approach to the EU would be the best way forwards and helpful for other countries that might separate in the future. I am rather doubtful though that it will actually happen.

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