Brian Monteith: Scotland could suffer a pounding

The pound could disappear. Picture: PA
The pound could disappear. Picture: PA
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PUT your hand in your pocket, or try your purse or your wallet, and take a good look at your pounds. Remember the feel of them, how they look. For you may not have them in a year or two’s time.

I kid you not: if the SNP gets its way we’ll be outside the United Kingdom and what currency we shall have – and all that that entails – will be beyond any Scottish government’s guarantee.

No doubt I’ll be accused of “scaremongering”, that word so many nationalists use when they have told a big whopper about the future and have been rumbled.

Like on membership of the EU – which we were told would be a racing certainty, but now know from the EU commission president José Manuel Baroso that membership will have to be renegotiated. In other words, we’ll have to give them concessions to get a deal only half as good as we have at the moment.

Or like on Nato – which we were told was an abominable organisation we should have nothing to do with, but now the SNP wants to join and cannot deny that US and UK nuclear subs would be in our waters and we couldn’t know if they are armed or not.

Or, more bizarrely still, when we were told by Alex Salmond that the pound was “a millstone around our necks” – and that we should join the euro instead. Well, that idea is so embarrassing that it has had to be dropped.

So what does the SNP tell us now, what is its latest U-turn? You could not make it up; the SNP argument is that we should form a sterling currency zone, so that Scotland still uses the pound, so that you can spend your money in London or Liverpool, Norwich or Newcastle and not have to change it when you cross the border.

There’s just one thing; the rest of the UK might not exactly like the idea and to allow it to happen is likely to demand that the UK Treasury gets to see the Scottish Government’s draft budget before it goes to Holyrood for consideration by our own MSPs.

Where’s the independence in that?

The SNP retorts that it would get representation on the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee that sets interest rates. If Salmond’s researchers had done their homework they would know that there are no “representatives” on the MPC, just independently-minded economists – the whole point is to be free of government direction.

Before the euro was launched in 1999 the SNP supported Scotland having its own currency – that makes three policies on which currency Scotland should use in the last fourteen years, and Mr Salmond asks us to trust him?

For most Scots, the currency we use will not immediately be important – only when people go to England, Wales or Northern Ireland will it become apparent that being independent has its downsides.

Even if we were in a sterling currency zone it is highly unlikely that the other countries would wish to accept Scottish notes. There is no way we can make them legal tender as the rest of the UK will be a foreign country. We can’t force other countries to do our bidding simply by saying it must be so or passing laws beyond Scotland’s jurisdiction.

The SNP should understand that the only way Scottish notes exist right now is because Scottish banks buy Bank of England notes and swap them – it’s a form of advertising. Why would they buy English notes if Scots started to return them because they became inconvenient to use?

Of course, if we were to have either the euro or our own currency there would be zero chance of Scots’ notes being accepted in the rest of the UK - without an appalling exchange rate that would penalise us.

The only honourable position is for Scotland to have its own currency and to take the risks that go with it. When small countries do that they normally have to tie the value to that of their biggest trading partner, usually a large neighbour. Denmark and Sweden shadow the euro. Canada shadows the US dollar. You’ve guessed it, we would still have to shadow the pound sterling – but without the advantages of having a currency that would be legal tender or any ability to set interest rates. Using a plastic card would incur a charge each time.

The only way to keep the pound the way it is now is to keep the political union the way it is now – that means staying in the United Kingdom.

Despite my arguments many will still say I’m “scaremongering” – so let me give you an example.

In 1992, Czechoslovakia split in two, into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The two countries agreed beforehand to have a single currency union. It lasted 19 days after independence and collapsed. They quickly had to introduce their own currencies for each country. In the end, Slovakia joined the euro.

That’s not scaremongering, that’s fact. The pound in your pocket will never be the same.