This week in Scotland: TV debates, Cameron at the CBI and currency (again)

TV Debate

On Monday night the second TV debate between Darling and Salmond aired on the BBC. The debate was split into four sections; audience questions, Scotland at home, Scotland abroad, and a cross-examination. Given this wider focus, the debate touched on issues as diverse as North Sea oil revenues and the currency to NHS privatisation, child poverty and Trident.

With postal votes being issued the following day, it was of no surprise that both Darling and Salmond focused their respective messaging towards their core vote. Salmond was combative, aggressive and mocking towards Darling – the complete opposite to the subdued and at times passive Salmond of the first debate. Darling on the other hand was nervous from the outset, unable to assert himself on the debate and found himself being framed as a defender of unpopular Coalition policies.

Darling again focused on the currency. However, his success this time was limited as Salmond rode rough shot over the format and once again refused to outline his Plan B. Darling also dodged the important question of naming “three job creating powers” that would be guaranteed to be devolved in the event of a No vote. To make the point, Salmond has subsequently named six such powers that would be guaranteed with a Yes vote. These are control over the business tax system; finances, Air Passenger Duty; and employment, trade and immigration policy.

Salmond, meanwhile, focused on wider social justice issues putting Darling in the uncomfortable position of seeing the blame for unpopular policies such as the Bedroom Tax being placed at his door by extension of his cooperation with the Tories under the Better Together banner. However, he was again vague on what exactly would be Scotland’s currency Plan B.

In summary, Salmond won the debate comfortably. However, the at times, unedifying sight of two, white, middle-aged men shouting at each other for 90 minutes, coupled with a snap poll that suggested no movement in the polls, raises the question of the value of such debates.

Your currency, your debt.
During another BBC referendum debt, Finance Secretary John Swinney confirmed that Scotland would refuse to take its share of the UK debt if rUK rejected a currency union post-independence. Swinney claimed that if the UK seized all the UK’s assets in relation to the currency, then it must take all of the liabilities. This would mean Scotland refusing to take its share of the UK debt, which is estimated to be around £100bn.

The statement was heavily criticised by former Lib Dem Leader Charles Kennedy MP during the debate, who claimed that the international financial markets would have Scotland for “breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Two letters, two opinions
130 business leaders have signed an open letter, published in the Scotsman newspaper, which claims that the “business case for independence has not been made.” The letter highlights continuing uncertainties surrounding a number of vital issues including the currency, regulation, tax, pensions, EU membership and export support.

Signatories included Douglas Fling, chairman of HSBC; Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of mining giant, BHP Billiton; Ian Curle CEO of Edrington, which owns the whisky brands Macallan and the Famous Grouse; and Simon Thomson, CEO of Cairn Energy,

However, 200 pro-independence business leaders including, the chairman of Stagecoach, Sir Brian Souter and Clyde Blowers boss Jim McColl, have hit back by publishing a letter in the Herald newspaper stating that independence is in Scotland’s economic interest.

The letter specifically highlights the risk of a possible Britexit from the EU and that independence, in their opinion, would “encourage a culture in which innovation, endeavour and enterprise are nurtured.”

Cameron’s last stand….
In a speech at the CBI’s annual dinner in Glasgow last night, David Cameron made a last ditch appeal to the Scottish business community to stay in the Union. Cameron’s commentary was the tried and tested – keep the Pound, stronger economy together and increased costs of cross-border trade – and centred on the message that the UK enables Scotland to “punch above its weight”. To this end he urged voters to choose the “openness” of the Union over the “narrowness” of independence.

In a brief question and answer session that followed his speech, Cameron directed his guns directly on the First Minister. He rejected the idea of a currency union, that Scotland could walk away from its share of the UK’s liabilities and a claim by the CBI president Sir Mike Rake that the proposed EU referendum in 2017 was a cause of concern for businesses future investment plans.

Unsurprisingly, Yes Scotland rejected the PM’s analysis and pointed towards the abovementioned pro-independence letter as evidence of Scottish businesses support.

A thawing of Ice
Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown put their fractious past behind them as they appeared together at a Better Together rally in Dundee for the first time. In a combative mood, and despite an interruption from a protestor, Brown claimed that independence would see inequality and poverty reign until “doomsday” with only the shareholders of Scotland’s most profitable private companies possibly benefiting.

Brown went on to claim that the Scottish Government “have no way of raising the money to pay for all the expensive promises they have made.” He pointed out that in the White Paper and following publications and speeches from the Yes camp, have included no suggestion of a higher rate of income tax for those at the top, or a mansion tax, or even a banker’s bonus tax that is being proposed for the UK. By extension, Brown questioned the Yes Camps commitment to reducing poverty and inequality across Scotland.

Voter registration
As the postal votes have hit the door mats of home across Scotland, a wee reminder from that if you are eligible and want to vote on September 18th, the deadline for registration is Tuesday, 2nd September.

Further information is available via the website which is accessible here.

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