SNP’s white paper on independence – some first reaction and three initial questions from me

For months, years, even, whenever we’ve asked questions about independence, after we’ve been accused of scaremongering, we’ve been told to wait for the White Paper.

Well, that wait is over as the White Paper has now been published – or is it? Scotland’s Future, it’s called. That’s profound. We have a future? That’s kind of inevitable. It doesn’t promise a bright future, or a happy one.

On the big questions of the day, such as the three on pensions, currency and cost posed by Alistair Carmichael two weeks ago, we are really none the wiser. We know what the SNP wants to happen in a perfect world, but everyone who has ever done anything in life knows that you can’t, in fact, shouldn’t get everything you want.

Obviously I haven’t read all 670 pages, but I’ve had a good scan through and, frankly, I’m not hearing much I hadn’t heard before. I’m variously annoyed, frustrated and uninspired.  The idea that we have to wait until independence to get decent childcare in place is a cynical ploy to attract women’s votes. Why cynical? The SNP Government has all the powers it needs to put that in place now. And why doesn’t it? Because, as Nicola Sturgeon said this morning, they want women back at work to pay taxes to an independent Scotland and not to the UK Treasury. Ah, so it’s not about the kids and what’s good for them, then. They are letting down every child who’s two now or will become two before 2016.

Willie Rennie, who’s been at them for a long time to deliver similar childcare to that which Nick Clegg has introduced in England had this to say:

It’s difficult to believe the SNP wish list on childcare as the Scottish Government has the worst arrangements on the British Isles. In England thousands of two year olds have a nursery place today but the Scottish Government say children here will have to wait three more years.

Delaying better childcare until after the referendum won’t convince families that the Scottish Government fully understands the urgent need for early education.

The SNP have the power to deliver better childcare now but their message to our children is: you will not get what you need until we get what we want.

In any event, that sort of policy can’t be guaranteed as it will only stand a chance if the SNP are elected the government of an independent Scotland.

Alistair Carmichael was unimpressed, too:

This was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people will judge them on that.
For years we have been promised that all the answers on independence would be in the white paper. The big day has finally arrived and we have 670 pages that leaves us none the wiser on crucial questions such as currency, pensions and the cost of independence.

Rarely have so many words been used to answer so little.

People will draw their own conclusions that the Scottish Government have deliberately sought to ignore the uncertainties and difficulties of independence. We are simply expected to believe that everything will be perfect after we leave the UK.  We are asked to accept that ending a 300 year United Kingdom will be straightforward. We are told it will all be alright on the night.

We know that the terms of independence would  need to be negotiated with many countries including the rest of the UK and the EU. An honest assessment of the challenges and uncertainties of leaving the UK would have seriously helped the debate between now and September. Instead we have been given a wish with no price list. Today was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people in Scotland will judge them on that.

It is astonishing that the Scottish Government can sit in private discussing the costs of independence and then refuse to share those figure with the Scottish people. John Swinney’s leaked paper said it would cost £600m every year to run an independent tax system but today we saw nothing about that.

It looks more and more  like the Scottish Government will continue to keep these things private. If they had convincing answers then today really would have been the day to share them with everyone.

From now until September 18 we will keep making the positive case for the UK. It works well for Scotland. It gives us the best of both worlds. It offers us a better future. We will fight hard to preserve it against those who have been obsessed with independence for their entire political lives but now seek to disguise it.

My (first) three questions:

The White Paper mentions that “many” of the 30,000 UK Government civil servants will get jobs in Scotland’s civil servants. What exactly does that mean? Who will lose their jobs and in what departments?

My passport’s up for renewal. If I buy a new one from the UK Government for no small amount now, will I have to do the same for a new Scottish one in two years’ time. Similarly, what about my driver’s licence?

Apparently, an independent Scotland will share in the UK’s Green Investment Bank (delivered by Liberal Democrats), the Royal Mint, the Monarchy, NHS Blood and Transplant, and Research Councils among other things. How so? Have they asked?

A risky strategy

The White Paper talks about a new constitution for Scotland binding the powers of the state. This is very strange coming from a government which treats the Freedom of Information Act like it is an optional extra and whose reaction to being found wanting on the European Convention on Human Rights was to insult the people making that decision.

Alex Salmond knows that every economic and practical argument points to it being best for  Scotland to stay in the UK.  What he hopes to do is to make it a fight between his Governnent, which he’ll portray as fighting for Scotland against a nasty, unreasonable Westminster Government. It’s desperate and divisive. You can see that from one revealing comment he made when asked about the division of assets between Scotland and the UK. He made it sound like he’d pick and choose which assets of the UK he kept and which liabilities he’d ditch, as if the rest of the UK would have no say in the matter. And he expects to conclude negotiations in 18 months? Will Scots really want that sort of confrontational, uncertain post yes vote strategy?

 

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

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39 Comments

  • Tom Robinson 26th Nov '13 - 1:55pm

    Carmichael will be a millstone around the neck of the Better Together campaign-he is already showing himself to be completely out of his depth.

    He clearly produced the comments you quote without reading the White Paper-it was an off the stocks response and that can readily be seen.

  • gerry mcgregor 26th Nov '13 - 2:05pm

    If you want to find a white paper that gives you all the answers then please ask the westminster government to start dialog with the holyrood government. Without this there will be no definite answers. Holyrood have asked but Westminster have declined.

    On passport look at answer 387. Yes you can still use your UK passport until it expires. Next question was driving licence. Have you been abroad? Have you driven a car? To do that have you had to take a test in that country? No? Then question answered.

    Your 3rd question is actually more than one. Some answers need refering to my first point. On the Royal Mint, don’t other countries use the Mint? Do we not share blood with other countries?

    On a written constitution, surely that would help stopping a government not adhering to Freedom of Information Requests. Also has not Westminster made it harder to use FOI for the Royal Family & introduced secret courts, with LibDem help?

    Nothing can be 100% certain. Who will be in power in Scotland after 2016? Only certainty is that is Scotland votes Yes then the next government in Scotland will be one they voted for.

  • Tom Robinson 26th Nov '13 - 2:39pm

    Caron writes

    “Alex Salmond knows that every economic and practical argument points to it being best for Scotland to stay in the UK. ”

    Read that sentence you have written and see if it convinces even yourself

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Nov '13 - 2:50pm

    Tom, the facts and the evidence all point towards Scotland being best off in the UK, sharing the risks and rewards of that, not by being smaller.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Nov '13 - 2:54pm

    Gerry – re passport – does the UK Government agree that? White Paper asserting something he has no right to do. That would be the sensible way to proceed, I grant you, but it’s not guaranteed. It shows the complexity of the negotiations that would have to take place.

  • @Caron
    And what if you find yourselves exiting the EU in 2017 because of how England votes in Cameron’s referendum? Believing that Scotland’s future is best secured by largely English politicians in Westminster rather than people voted for by the Scottish people is an article of faith not evidence and fact.

  • So you’re saying that Westminster can’t be trusted to come up with a reasonable deal on things like passports? But they should be trusted with the governance of Scotland. Bizarre.

  • I think the people of the remaining parts of the UK will demand their Government negotiate only in their interests. If Scotland wishes to proceed as a separate nation that is absolutely their right, but the SNP should not expect an easy passage for any issue where there is benefit to be gained by either side. This document is therefore their opening gambit and not a done deal.

  • What about Scots who live in England ? Why are they not given a vote? What happens if Scotland becomes a separate nation – do they become automatically Scottish citizens? Or will they become English? Or will they have to apply for one or the other ? If they do become citizens of an independent Scotland as residents of England are they then required to register as aliens ? Were any of those issues dealt with? These are genuine concerns to which like pretty much anything in this situation there are never any concrete answers.

  • I’ll point out again that supporters of the coalition are in no position to criticise others for their attitude to Freedom of Information, considering that UK ministers have not only resisted releasing information, but have used the veto to nullify the Freedom of Information process completely.

  • Gail Bones raises a point that has had little airing. How would those living in Scotland lose their UK citizenship? Short of something akin to ethnic cleansing, this surely that could not happen. The likely outcome would surely be that a majority of Scots would end up with dual citizenship and in the longer term a grey distinction not so different to that in Northern and Southern Ireland.

    In the run up to a referendum the No campaigners are at pains to exaggerate the problems; however if the Yes vote succeeded the same people would be making every effort to minimise consequences.

    I remain agnostic on the question, but I do find the doom merchants on the No side singularly unpersuasive. Nonetheless ‘Better Together’ remains a good slogan and one that should serve even better in the event of any in/out EU referendum. On the possibility of an EU referendum however, I do ask myself what the consequences would be of an IN vote from Scotland while England votes OUT. Does this mean that Scots separatists effectively get two chances to secede?

  • If we stop sharing resources then we should stop sharing risks. And that should absolutely include currency. I would not want our currency put at risk due to the actions of a government I have no chance to elect. An independent Scotland need to get their own currency and indemnify their own economy or join the Euro.

    Dual citizenship is also surely not an option. For example, the two separate nations will be responsible for caring for their own citizens in old age. Who is required to provide consular assistance overseas ? According to the BBC there are approx 800,000 Scots living in the rest of the UK and 400,000 from the rest of the UK living in Scotland. Every person has a risk of needing expensive treatment or requiring benefits at some point in their life, It doesn’t seem like a fair share of risk to me, let each nation pay to look after its own.

    If there is to be a split then the remainder of the UK needs to be brutally protectionist, that is after all what the SNP will be doing. Sorry if that offends any Scots but if they’re certain we’re better apart then let’s actually be apart and manage our own risks. In exactly the same way that if we stay together we share risks.

    It’s like asking for a divorce but still wanting your washing and ironing done and the odd roast dinner. Personally I prefer to stay together, but if we split let’s do it properly and for that to happen I would need my Government to drive the best possible bargain.

  • Been listening to radio coverage and citizenship was discussed. From what I could gather by the end anyone can have whatever they want. Opt in opt out and yes,Steve Way dual citizenship too! Seriously not a concrete answer on anything, no grown-up awareness of NATO, Westminster,Europe, and their roles in currency/ membership/ nuclear discussions post vote or admission therefore that what they promise has no reality at all.

  • Gail and Martin make interesting points. It may transpire that my Father would be from a foreign nation without even being asked,

    Caron’s point about whether the UK government will agree is the most essential. Vast swathes of the white paper is based on the UK and EU agreeing to everything the SNP wants. Scots absolutely have the right to make the decision of independence for themselves, but how everyone else reacts to that decision is an entirely different matter. If you were to believe the White Paper the Bank of England would be open to a foreign country, withwhich it is not in a political union with, to sit around the monetary policy table without a moment of hesitation.

  • Apparently Salmond has called the white paper a “mission statement” for Scotland’s future.

    Given the lack of conclusive answers on key issues, it sounds like more of an omission statement.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Nov '13 - 7:35pm

    That’s clever, RC, very clever.

  • gerry mcgregor 26th Nov '13 - 8:59pm

    Caron

    How many countries allow dual nationality? Can you quote me the ones that don’t, that you would like to be associated with? As I said before Westminster refuse to talk about anything so they could not of discussed it. It is a natural assumption that as so many countries have no problem with dual nationality it would be OK.

  • gerry mcgregor 26th Nov '13 - 9:03pm

    It seems as if you can be British & a US citizen, so why not a UK & Scottish citizen ?

    http://www.immihelp.com/citizenship/dual-citizenship-recognize-countries.html

  • Fascinating set of assumptions in the Daleks wish list. Currency union (ok, I would expect Westminster to be able to examine any budget Scotland produces and to veto it). Like a lot, it is I want want want…but it is not Scotlands place to demand, it is the UK’s to grant. That seems to have passed the Dalek by.

  • What a lot of paper tigers have been pasted up he as arguments against self determination. Depressing to see how conservative a liberal audience is on this one. Plenty of states have been born in much worse circumstances than would face an independent Scotland, and arguments about possible lost UK passport renewal fees sum up for me the real paucity of imagination, and indeed arguments, on the unionist side.

  • @gerry mcgregor
    One difference is that if you hold Dual UK / US citizenship and live in the States, when you reach pensionable age, you will be paid whatever pension you accrued whilst working in the UK. How and when will the liability for those pension payments pass to Scotland. Is it for those living North of the Border on the day of independence, those who wish to take Scottish citizenship at a later date as they were born there, or those who retire there ? At some point the determination needs to be made who is liable for supporting the individuals. A messy dual nationality approach will not answer that. Especially as it is likely in my opinion that a Tory England would leave the EU meaning there would be less ability to transfer benefits.

    I feel the people of England, and to a lesser degree the people of Wales and Northern Ireland will want more separation in some ways then the SNP led Scotland. In the event of a yes vote, the 2015 election South of the border will include a sub contest for who is going to drive the hardest bargain, it will be whipped up by the Tory press and Labour, struggling for survival. will try to out nasty the Tories…

    It just seems more than a little ironic that the very people who have been telling us for years you can’t be both Scottish and British now want to retain that ability… Pee or get off the pot

  • gerry mcgregor 26th Nov '13 - 10:20pm

    Steve

    What is the situation with the people from the Republic who hold dual nationality, UK & Irish. How many problems there? It is not that all Scots want dual nationality but it is a option, just as the current UK government allow.

    Being British goes way before the union of the parliaments. I think it was the greeks who first describe inhabitants on this islands as British.

    BTW I am English, born in Sunderland, educated in Scotland, worked in London for 30 years and now living in Scotland. British/English by birth , British/Scottish by residency & by dint my dad was born in Leith.

  • @gerry mcgregor
    I have no idea how it works with others, but with the US and even Ireland there is no one alive who would have lived through the secession and therefore we have a different set of circumstances. Before we can talk about people applying for dual nationality they should chose their primary nationality to enable a true sharing of the liability, we are a nation in debt and there needs to be a sharing of that indebtedness and the future needs of th epopulation in terms of health and social care / pensions etc. The SNP wants that to be shared based upon population, I think it should be done on nationality and English people based in Scotland and vice versa need to decide to which Nation they belong. This is at heart about Nationality, people need to chose and live with their choice.

    What I do believe is that the people of England will not accept a situation where they feel Scotland has its cake and eats it. Irrespective of the Welsh and NI voters it will be the English voters who decide which PM in London negotiates the settlement. And it will likely be a Tory as I doubt Labour can win without Scottish MP’s. And just look at how Cameron negotiated with the EU, if he doesn’t get his way he takes his ball home. In Europe that made him the loser, in this game the ball he will take home will be the Bank of England and fiscal stability for Scotland.

    Independence is rightly a decision for Scottish residents, the terms of it though are a decision for the whole UK and the SNP have never accepted that fact. Whenever asked about the EU or NATO or Currency they just assume every other party will accept their demands.

  • From all the summaries I have yet seen, the White Paper is much more an SNP election manifesto than a true attempt to spell out the realities of independence. Surely it is quite ridiculous for any group of politicians to promise now what levels of tax and benefits are feasible after not only the trauma of separation from the rest of the UK (and at least temporarily from the EU) and the multi-level negotiations that will ensue, but also after the first general election to be held within the new country. Is it not eminently arguable that with the achievement of its raison d’etre of independence for Scotland the role and even existence of a “Scottish National Party” could logically be called into question? I would fully expect new party structures to emerge in such a situation. This makes it palpably dishonest for the goodies listed in the White Paper to be put before the Scottish people as virtually guaranteed blessings flowing from the breakup of the UK.

  • James Sandbach 27th Nov '13 - 12:51am

    A textual analysis of the white paper show it to be conflating the Scottish Nation, the Scottish Government and the SNP as if they were the same thing, so it reads less like a serious constitutional policy document of historic significance, and more like an SNP manifesto..(drafted and published by impartial civil servants at public expense). Yes there’s a lot in it about all the knotty legal nuts and bolts of achieving independence, but these are all presented in the context of the SNP holding power to 2020 and beyond… pretty much in perpetuity. I can’t help wondering whether Salmond has over-reached himself with this blatenly partisan political and hegemonic approach; hitherto he has always been quite skillful in presenting the independence option as above party politics and fulfilling national destiny etc.

  • Toby Fenwick 27th Nov '13 - 8:02am

    I have no doubt that Scotland could be a wholly effective independent country; I also believe that we would be better off together – not that living in England I have a vote in this matter. Having skimmed the economic sections of the White Paper last night, I agree with James Sandbach: this is much less a sober assessment of the costs and benefits of independence than an SNP wishlist.

    I am particularly concerned with the question of the currency; the SNP asserted yesterday that it is everyone’s interest that an independent Scotland be allowed into a sterling zone – a currency but not economic union, like the unreformed euro – with the Bank of England as lender-of-last-resort to the Scottish financial sector. It is certainly in the SNP’s interest, but it is hard to see that it is the UK’s interest post-secession. And this is where it gets sticky for the SNP: I would expect a post-secession London government to be concerned with the interests of the UK – and not of an independent country, Scotland – meaning that a currency union without a fiscal union should be a no-go.

    And for Alex Salmond to assert that Scotland can have what it wants because he says so… well, it’s obviously nonsense.

  • Tom Robinson 27th Nov '13 - 9:32am

    Alistair Carmichael, the current Lib Dem Secretary of State said :

    “Public international law is very clear on this, that if you remove yourself from the United Kingdom then you would remove yourself from all sorts of institutions and, yes, the pound would be one of them.”

    Can anyone tell me what or where I can find this apparently non-existent “Public International law”????????????

  • “Tom, the facts and the evidence all point towards Scotland being best off in the UK, sharing the risks and rewards of that, not by being smaller.”

    Care to summarize?

  • Chris Holman 27th Nov '13 - 4:10pm

    In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote next year the SNP want to keep the £ as their currency and on the ‘Today’ programme yesterday Nicola Sturgeon was adamant that if Scotland is NOT allowed to keep the £ then they will not accept liability for any portion of the current UK debt.
    If that situation arises, clearly Scotland cannot expect to benefit from any of the UK asset, so, North Sea oil is no longer ‘Scottish Oil ‘ and becomes ‘English Oil’.
    I can hear the squeals of protest already.

  • jedibeeftrix 27th Nov '13 - 5:13pm

    good piece from a Scottish historian on why better off together cannot just bang on about cost/benefit analysis:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/allanmassie/100072005/sing-a-song-for-the-union/

    are you my family?

  • I’m confused. I thought Lib Dems were in favour of the quaintly named “Home Rule” but most of these comments suggest that whatever it really means does not include fiscal autonomy in a sterling zone. I’m also amazed that people like Chris Holman and Steve Way basically say that it is the English and only the English who call the shots in the UK. Perhaps Home Rule and its historical connotations are not that far off the mark.

  • Steve Deller 27th Nov '13 - 10:24pm

    Why are English MP’s not standing up for England in this process. In the interestes of equality why can’t all the countries of the UK have a vote to opt out of the UK?

  • @hireton
    I absolutely did not say that only England should call the shots. What my comments do mean is that I believe Scotland cannot call the shots for the remainder of the UK should they decide to leave. Look at how badly aligned fiscal policies have wrecked the euro zone.

    Once we stop sharing resources we should stop sharing risks, it’s not unfair or bullying just a simple fact of going our own separate ways. If we stay together fine, I am then happy for the UK resources to be spent where they are most needed and for all to share in any risk.

  • @Stephen Way Sorry it must have been another Stephen Way who commented above that irrespective of Welsh and NI voters it will be the English voters who decide……

  • @hireton
    That was due to the electoral maths of the general election. If you include the whole quote (the bit about it being the voters of England who will decide the PM who negotiates) that is obvious.

    This is the current number of MP’s by Nation:

    England 533
    Wales 40
    Scotland 59
    NI 18

    So assuming the Scottish MP’s are no longer included, English voters will decide 82% of seats. Hence why the nationalist elements who may be pro SNP in Wales and NI will not be relevant to the negotiations. It’s a fact (and a sad one for any non Tory), English voters more than ever before will decide future PM’s if Scotland leave the Union. In the last Labour Government, whilst they had a majority more than the number of Scottish seats held, it was those seats that made it workable (when considering their internal splits).

    As for dictating, the Deputy First Minister stated that Scotland would not take their share of the vote unless the UK agreed to allow them to use the pound.

  • Debt not vote…. Sorry.

  • The fact that the campaign for Scottish independence has gained strength says more about the inability of the UK system to embrace change and reform than any real desire for Scotland to separate from a British state.
    Examples: The poll tax, Electoral reform and how it was handled, The central decision that there can only be one set method that local councils can raise revenue from its people: the council tax.
    Why so much centralisation ?
    What next? 5 year plans?
    Power must be devolved to regional governments and they should be allowed to raise money as central government does at present.
    Was the house rates, business rates, poll tax and now the council tax just a scheme to make localism and local councils fail? …It seems so…. That is why demands for independence is on the rise and soon it will not only be from Scotland.
    Lets get it right! We need a federal constitution.
    That may mean a separate governments for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of a devolved Great Britain and they may be sub-divided into regions or counties which will send delegates to the nations parliament and onto GB parliament. This must ensure that real decisions will be decided from the regions.
    Yes, those parliaments must be elected by Proportional representation STV.

    The campaign for these reforms are LD issues. If the LDs give in to Conservatism or Labour centralism and corporatism then the party will be lost for generations to come.

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