Plenty to ponder as SNP puts its cards on table

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IT will run to hundreds of pages, might or might not have a foreword by a leading figure of Scottish literature and, according to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, it will answer all our questions.

The Scottish Government’s long-awaited White Paper on independence will be published amid great fanfare next Tuesday.

For the Scottish Nationalists, it is a landmark moment. After more than 70 years of campaigning and six years in power, this is it – the SNP’s vision of independence being presented to the people for their decision.

The referendum may still be nearly ten months away, but the publication of the White Paper will put the cards on the table. One insider says: “This is when the referendum becomes real. It will spell out what independence is about.”

In her speech to last month’s SNP conference, Ms Sturgeon described the White Paper as “Scotland’s detailed guide to independence”.

She said: “It will make the positive case. It will explain the process by which we will become independent and describe how our newly independent country will work.

“It will set out the gains of independence for you, your family and for your community – and it will answer all your questions.”

That may have been a rather rash promise. But insiders say the document will address the big issues which look likely to deter people from voting Yes, such as the currency arrangements for an independent Scotland and how pensions would operate. The SNP insists Scotland will be able to secure a sterling currency union with the rest of the UK, despite both Chancellor George Osborne and Labour’s Ed Balls pouring cold water on the idea.

And Finance Secretary John Swinney has promised the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions will remain intact, with the basic state pension increased by the rate of earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent, whichever is higher.

The White Paper also gives the Scottish Government the chance to detail its policies for establishing an oil fund, taking Royal Mail back into public ownership and ending child poverty, as well as setting out the tax regime it would propose for an independent Scotland.

Mr Swinney said earlier this year he does not envisage a rise in personal taxation or oil taxes if there is a Yes vote and there is a long-standing pledge to cut corporation tax – all of which will prompt plenty questions from the opposition about where the administration expects to get the money to finance such policies. That could become the real test of the White Paper – voters need to feel what they are being told is credible.

But the anti-independence parties will no doubt be ready and waiting to pounce on all sorts of issues from the White Paper. Unfortunately that could mean we are in for another round of scaremongering and gratuitous point-scoring from both sides. But with more details available, it may be possible to focus on some serious debate.

Despite the historic nature of the White Paper launch on Tuesday, Alex Salmond has decided to forego the splendour of Edinburgh Castle – where he launched the referendum consultation paper last year, surrounded by swords, pikes and battle-axes – or the romance of Arbroath Abbey – scene of the famous 1320 Declaration – in favour of the rather more prosaic surroundings of Glasgow Science Centre.

But no-one is in any doubt about the scale of what is at stake in the decision next year.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com