Gordon Brown this weekend re-entered the debate over Scottish independence by accusing the nationalists of playing “Blankety Blank” with the nation’s future.
After a fortnight which has seen SNP’s dreams of independence hit the buffers as their policy over EU membership unravelled in front of their eyes, the former prime minister Gordon Brown this weekend re-entered the debate over Scottish independence by accusing the nationalists of playing “Blankety Blank” with the nation’s future.
Publishing a list of 20 unanswered questions for the SNP, Brown concentrated his fire on Alex Salmond’s economic and financial proposition that if Scotland left the UK it would keep the pound and continue to have its interest rates set by the Bank of England.
Addressing a gathering in his Kirkcaldy constituency on Saturday, the former PM explained:
“In their incoherent and ill thought out plans for a separate state that cannot answer first eight questions about the economy – why under their plans the rest of the UK and not Scotland will decide the interest rates we pay, the costs of the mortgages we hold, the rates at which business lends money, why under their proposals Scotland has no power over setting the inflation target, controlling the money supply, deciding crisis measures like quantitative easing.
“The SNP are so anxious not to fight the referendum on joining the unpopular euro, and they accept it is not now credible to talk of a Scottish pound, so they have now landed themselves with the most ridiculous proposals that an independent Scotland will have its monetary policy dictated by the rest of the United Kingdom.
“Under their plans all the decisions in an economic crisis would be made for Scotland by a separate government and bank from the rest of the UK , a form of self-imposed colonialism more reminiscent of the old Empire than of the modern world, setting Scotland back years. The incoherence of their policy is such that while they claim independence will give them more freedom, they now have to admit they might have to sign a fiscal pact with the English, Welsh and Irish under which the rest of the United Kingdom would limit the freedom of the Scottish state to spend or borrow.”
“It is not only their European policy that is a blank page – with them afraid even to commission the studies that tells the truth – but it is their entire economic and social policy of a separate state that is a blank page because they are hiding the truth. It is like being on the programme ‘Blankety Blank’ with the blanks still left to be filled in.
“But these are questions that we will force them to answer. Indeed they have unanswered questions about fundamental constitutional issues – about the future of the monarchy, about citizenship, about the future of the armed forces and defence obligations in a separate state – and we will force them to answer these fundamental questions.
“When Britain considered joining the euro we undertook to publish 19 studies over 2 years. When we are dealing with an even more important issue, we cannot leave today’s blank pages about the costs and risks empty and unfilled. I say from today onwards we have to say clearly: the SNP can run and they can even bluster but they cannot forever hide. The truth will come out and we will force it out.”
Whilst the SNP MSP for Kirkcaldy, David Torrance, responded by questioning why Labour in Scotland are prepared to continue having their country run by a Tory-led Westminster government “which is delivering inequality”, the question marks over the SNP’s proposals were depended further by Andrew Campbell, Professor of International Banking and Finance Law at Leeds University.
Asked whether the rest of the UK would agree to underwrite Scottish financial institutions after independence, guaranteeing them against a potential collapse, Campbell – who has spoken with the SNP and is preparing a paper on the subject – said:
“I haven’t seen the argument put in any way that I think would convince the rest of the UK that it would be in their best interests to be part of this, to provide liquidity or lender of last resort in appropriate circumstances.
“I have heard the SNP arguments and they put it very well, but I haven’t heard it put in a way that would convince the English, Welsh and Northern Irish voter that this would be in their best interests. They will have to be able to convince the average English, Welsh and Northern Irish voter that they would be in a better position with this arrangement than not.”
Explaining that an independent Scotland that used the pound would have no legal claim over the Treasury or the Bank of England’s lending facilities, he continued:
“There is no way the Scottish government post-independence could force London from a legal point of view to provide the service after Scotland becomes independent. It would have to be with London’s approval. I can’t see any other way.
“London approval would be needed. Scotland can’t say ‘we are independent now, this is the deal’. It would depend on the attitude of whichever government is in London.
“I suppose the government may want to keep Scotland on side but maybe the view of the electorate in England would be that, if Scotland wants to be independent, then it should be told to go.”
Meanwhile, as the Independent on Sunday this weekend revealed negotiations over the level of debt an independent Scotland would take on would happen only after the 2014 referendum, one of the country’s foremost constitutional experts has concluded Scots are being asked to vote for a “pig in a poke”.
“The Scots are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. The easiest analogy would be someone deciding to buy a house they liked the look of. But without knowing the exact price, and without ordering a survey, what have they let themselves in for?”
Referring to the division of the former Czechoslovakia, Hazell continued by telling the Independent on Sunday:
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“The establishment of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992 required 31 treaties and 12,000 legal agreements. One of the big issues was the division of national debt. Splitting up the UK would be far more difficult. Estimates and guesses by the Scottish government do not reflect the complexity ahead.”