Brian Monteith: Supermarket weep for Yes Scotland

MSP Brian Monteith. Pic: Justin Spittle
MSP Brian Monteith. Pic: Justin Spittle
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The Yes Scotland campaign ran into serious trouble this week – and it came from a most unlikely quarter: supermarkets.

The SNP’s White Paper becomes more irrelevant with every 24 hours that passes as the cold light of each day reminds us that what’s on offer is a nothing other than a fantastical wish list thought up by politicians that repeatedly fail to deliver on their promises.

It’s the longest letter to Santa ever written, but somebody forgot to tell Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon he’s a figure of make-believe. In real life if you want to get that train set, extra pocket money and doctor and nurses’ outfits you have to earn them. It’s called hard work.

Just this week we heard how the SNP’s pledge on smaller class sizes has still not been delivered – six years on. Remember, this is a pledge that the Scottish Government has complete control over; it cannot blame David Cameron, climate change or the wrong type of snow.

There is an honourable case for independence and it’s a very simple one. It does not take 670 expensive pages, a direct mail campaign to every elector in the land and a roadshow in town halls (with curries all round afterwards) to communicate it.

The case is that Scotland should decide everything for itself, that it should not share its sovereignty with other nations. It will not be a land of milk and honey, but it will be a place where we have taken responsibility for our choices, can look in the mirror and live with ourselves – not blaming the Americans (for warmongering), Europeans (for depleting our fish) or the English (for practically everything else).

Scots will not stop moaning, for we will have to learn to moan at ourselves and stop blaming others.

It is because too many politicians like to pass the buck that the SNP offers independence without independence; I mean not being in the UK but still using its currency, saying we will take 100,000 more immigrants (it’s in the White Paper) but pretending the English won’t put border posts up as a result, or having different taxes and regulations but expecting businesses to behave as if we are still one British 
market.

So it was refreshing that the top four British supermarkets let it be known this week, through the Financial Times, that Scotland could face higher grocery prices if we become a foreign country.

The obvious question is why has it taken them so long to speak up? The answer, of course, was provided in the response of the SNP, Yes Campaign and their followers. The story was rubbished as “scaremongering”, some Nationalists called for a boycott of the stores and the director of communities at Yes Scotland tweeted that it would be good if Tesco was to leave Scotland. This is not an isolated view, there are many who would love to turn an independent Scotland into a Socialist nirvana where you will be lucky if there’s anything other than cabbages on the shelves. I visited East Germany and the Soviet Union and that was the reality for housewives doing the shopping.

Of course supermarkets might have to charge more, they already carry the extra costs that devolution has brought of over £30 million, but currently take that on the chin as the economics of operating a separate pricing regime would not recoup the extra income.

But if Scotland were to be independent, with separate food and employment regulations, different taxation to process (would VAT remain the same? It’s 25 per cent in Denmark) then the point could come when it suddenly makes sense to pass extra costs on to Scottish customers – especially if it allowed the supermarkets to cut their prices in the united English and Welsh single market that would be ten times the size.

The SNP tried to argue that lower corporation tax and lower fuel duty would encourage Scottish food prices to go down, but lower business taxes would not operate in isolation but carry their own regulatory burden that would have to far outweigh the separate bureaucracy costs.

More problematic still is that during the SNP’s six years of power, large companies such as supermarkets have seen the burden of taxation go up – and the regulations blossom – while in England they have fallen in both respects.

What this little skirmish tells us is that there are examples where we can share the costs and risks across the whole of Britain – to our benefit. Warnings that we might not like the change have to be put before we decide. This is not scaremongering, it is pointing out the positives that already exist and the negatives of taking them away.

The problem for the No campaign is that people don’t always know what they have until they lose it – and by then it can be too late. With a referendum from which there will be no going back it is vital that businesses tell us what the implications are on our lives, their products and services, the jobs they provide and the investment they make.

Whether they support a Yes or a No, businesses need to be heard without fear of intimidation.