Unsurprisingly this week has been dominated by the question of “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
On Tuesday, in front of the World’s media, the Scottish Government unveiled its blue print for independence – Scotland’s Future. The weighty tome of 670 pages and 170,000 words seeks to set out in a reader friendly manner the case for independence, including answers to 650 questions submitted by individuals and organisations.
The Paper is designed with two objectives in mind. Firstly to outline the aspects that would require to be negotiated in the transition period between a Yes vote in 2014 and the first independent Scottish elections in 2016; and secondly the policy choices a SNP-led government would progress in the event of independence.
The Paper asserts that Scotland would keep the Pound; that Scotland would retain the Bank of England as the lender of last resort; that Scotland would automatically join the EU; that pensions would be protected; and that Scots would continue to be able to tune into Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing. However, as pointed out by Nick Robinson of the BBC at the unveiling, these are assertions, subject to negotiation, nothing more. For example, on the issue of a currency union, the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor have both spoken against such an agreement. As the Better Together campaign has repeatedly pointed out, there appears to be no currency Plan B.
The Paper is also heavily seasoned with policy incentives aimed squarely at the Centre-Left and female vote. Headlining the incentives is a commitment to massively expand Child Care provision, which the Scottish Government claims would see families save up to £4,600 per child each year. The expansion, which would see children being entitled to 30 hours of childcare each week, would be funded through an independent Scotland not supporting nuclear weapons. However, like other incentives contained within the document, these are subject to the electorate re-electing the SNP and are repealable by future governments.
Though the paper undoubtedly represents the commencement of the next stage of the debate, the paper itself contains no great leap forward in information. Rather it collates previous papers and assertions into one document, which the Scottish Government hopes will persuade voters that a Yes vote next year is the natural progression rather than a blind leap of faith.
The Scottish Government’s EU membership claim was brought to the fore on Wednesday, after the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claimed that an independent Scotland would have to apply from scratch for EU membership, a process that could take years. The Scottish Government has repeatedly stated that on independence, Scotland would automatically enter the EU and would be able to negotiate the retention of the UK’s current opt outs (i.e. not having to join the Eurozone or Schenegen) within an 18 month timeframe. However, Rajoy’s comments, which are undoubtedly made with one eye on Catalonia, follows similar statements from the EU Commission and UK Government’s that Scotland’s EU membership is not a given.
Ahead of the White Papers publication, Panelbase published its latest poll, which suggests that the Yes vote current rests at 38%, with those backing a No vote at 47%, with 15% undecided. The poll shows that the Yes camp only require a swing of 5% to obtain their objective.