Money spent on independence referendum “could be put to better use”

It will cost the Scottish Government £12 million to carry out their independence referendum - money it can ill afford in the present economic circumstances.

As anticipated, the Scottish Government used St Andrew’s Day to publish its White Paper, spelling out options aimed at achieving the Scottish National Party’s goal of a referendum on Scotland becoming a fully-fledged independent nation.

The 198-page document considers four separate options to be put to the Scottish people in a vote this time next year:

No change at all to the existing devolution settlement;

• Further powers for Scotland, based in large part on the recommendations of the Calman Commission;

• So-called “devolution max” which would see Scotland gain full fiscal autonomy, with Westminster responsible for Foreign Affairs and Defence issues;

• Full-scale independence, with Scotland a member of the EU, but retaining the Queen as head of state.

Publishing the document, First Minister Alex Salmond said:

“This White Paper charts the route to progress for Scotland – and we are calling on people of all parties and none who want real substantive additions to the powers of the Parliament to rally to the referendum campaign.

“That is why we are open to including the option of such powers on the referendum ballot paper, alongside independence. It is time for the people to have their say on Scotland’s future.”

Despite such rhetoric, however, Mr Salmond’s referendum proposals have been met with near-universal condemnation from Scotland’s main opposition parties.

Labour’s Leader at Holyrood Iain Gray dubbed the White Paper a “multimillion-pound white elephant”, going on to say:

“We should not be distracting ourselves with a referendum, with a question which we don’t even know what it is, with options we don’t even know what they are.

“It could cost anything up to £12m – that’s public resources which could be put to far better use protecting and creating jobs here in Scotland and I think that’s what Scots want us to be doing.”

And the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party Annabel Goldie branded the plans “a complete waste of money”, whilst for the Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott concluded that the SNP were “trying to impose independence on Scotland when it is neither what Scotland wants nor needs”.

Given the extent of opposition, the SNP leader looks like he will have to answer several fundamental questions about his plans.

Recent days have seen news that the number of teachers across Scotland is falling and warnings that Scotland’s economy is trailing that of the UK. Given such serious and important issues, people are bound to wonder whether the estimated £12 million it will cost to hold an independence referendum is a wise use of public funds.

The BBC explains the reality the Scottish Government will face when they bring a bill forward – they simply do not have the votes to get such legislation through. Together with polls that make clear that show a majority of Scots neither favour independence nor see a referendum as a priority, it leaves many puzzled by Mr Salmond’s decision to continue to persist with his plans.

7 Responses to “Money spent on independence referendum “could be put to better use””

  1. Roger

    After a string of excellent posts this one is scraping the bottom of the partisan barrel.

    Not a huge admirer of the SNP but the simple fact is that they promised a referendum in their last election manifesto – and they won that election.

    If they reneged on that promise you’d be calling them on that as well…

    The fact that they are willing to offer real intermediate choices between the status quo and full independence is also rather admirable.

    And why should a referendum on a matter that is of the most fundamental possible importance to Scots be a waste of money – particularly given that Labour is highly likely to commit to a referendum on PR in its own manifesto.

    Every one of your arguments applies equally or more to a PR referendum as it does to a independence one.

    And on the votes issue I very much suspect that Labour and Lib-Dem MSPs will be markedly more amenable when Call Me Dave and his Etonian Cabal is in Number Ten and we’re staring down the barrel of ten or twenty years of cuts and privatisations.

  2. Ed Jacobs

    Interesting thoughts – thank you Roger.

    Just a couple of points to consider though perhaps.

    Firstly, it is difficult to say that the SNP “won” the election in 2007. They are in power as a minority government, and hence they cannot claim to speak for the majority of people who did vote for pro-union parties.

    On the point about keeping promises, Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have as their stated policy an objection to a vote, and are perfectly entitled to express and pursue their views. Also, I’m not sure I would criticise the SNP for backing down on this one.

    If we look at Wales, when Labour and Plaid Cymru went into power together, it involved compromise to reach an agreement that satisifed both parties, and hence a majority of AMs. Perhaps Alex Salmond should consider the same thing, and understand that certain policies, realtically are unlikely to see the light of the day as the Parliament is made up at the moment.

    If, as seems likely Alex Salmond looses a vote in the Parliament for a vote on indepndance, such a defeat would go to the heart of the SNP and all they stand for. In these circumstances, I would think Salmond would have to go for an election.

    The SNP are not the majority party, and they cannot claim to represent the views of the majority. It would seem sensible therefore for them to rassess wheateher it is worth the political and financial expense of pursing an agenda which stands virtually no chance of getting through.

    Just some thoughts.

  3. Guido Fawkes

    Pathetic. It was a manifesto commitment.

  4. Ed Jacobs

    Is it not the case that a majority of MSPs are not signed up to the SNP manifesto? Given this, why do the SNP behave as though they have a conventional majority?

    It seems to be quite simple – Salmond will not get his bill through the Socttish Parliament. In these circumstances, I would hope he reccomends that Parliament votes by the neccessary two thirds needed to dissolve itself, and for a snap election to be called. The opposition parties would, I suggest relish it, and if Alex Salmond believes that the issue is as important as he makes out, he can make it a campaign on wheather people back his plans for indepndance.

    If he doesn’t take this route, it would quite clearly suggest that he is not conviced he would win such a vote, and as such, you have to question why bother with this charade?

  5. Anon E Mouse

    Guido Fawkes – Didn’t Labour put something very similar in their manifesto in the UK as well… Lisbon anyone? Why are Labour so frightened of referendums?

    No wonder people are disillusioned with politics when the government treat us like fools. Roll on next year.

  6. Roger

    Ed,

    You are being deliberately disingenuous.

    The SNP is a minority govt because Holyrood has a PR system.

    If the UK had the same PR system (and I think it should have) Labour would be a minority govt at Westminster.

    The SNPs constituency vote in 2007 was just under 33%, Labour’s UK vote in 2005 was just over 35%.

    In both cases the convention is that the party that wins most seats has ‘won’ the election and is given the opportunity to form a govt and try and implement its manifesto.

    If the SNP were in fact going to insist on a independence or status quo only referendum then I would agree with you that it would be a useless waste of money and that Labour and the LDs should vote it down.

    If however they are willing to offer up Calman and Devo Max options it seems entirely proper that MSPs should vote on the proposals based on their actual merits and not for the sort of short-term partisan advantage that you seem to be advocating.

    Salmond has been playing this game for a very long time and I am pretty sure that if Labour and the LDs are stupid enough to give him an election on this issue he and not they will end up in the stronger position after it.

  7. Shamik Das

    Gentlemen, set aside an hour of your time and watch this:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00p304w/A_History_of_Scotland_Series_2_Lets_Pretend/

    A must-see programme for all with an interest in Scottish politics.

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