The First Minister stepped lightly into a shed in Nigg in Cromarty today to relaunch the failing case for Scottish Independence.
He appears to believe that the best way to sell it is to make it as unindependent as possible.
The spin – in the First Minister’s own words, is that all he wants to do is ‘break the political and economic union, not the social ties’. That’s all right then?
He said that ‘five unions would remain’, naming them, in this order, as:
- The Union of the Crowns with the Queen still as Head of State
- and what he called ‘the social union’ – whatever that is, beyond a warm thought.
The simultaneous appearance of items two and four suggests that Mr Salmond still refuses to admit that the EU would have no choice but to require Scotland to join the eurozone as a condition of membership, whether membership came sooner or later.
During his Nigg gig, Mr Salmond fished out of his pocket all the sweeties he could find to swop for the massive cost of establishing an independent Scotland.
Against the weight of the costs – which he sensitively refrained from mentioning – he conjured our future ability to save our Post Offices and get rid of nuclear weapons.
Well now, that certainly does balance the scales.
Saving our post offices does not get away from the fact that our postal service will cost us significantly more if we lose the smoothing effect of the cheaper-to-serve heavily populated conurbations south of the border. They make possible the current universal service obligation. And if we scrap that obligation we ourselves are compounding the discrimination that already exists against remote rural communities.
Getting rid of nuclear weapons in the context of hoping to maintain the ‘five unions’ named by the First Minister? Does he really think that the continuing United Kingdom would not insist upon concessions from Scotland in exchange for any and every one of these unions he wants to retain?
At the top of that list of concessions would be Faslane. The UK admits the decommissioning costs would be ‘eye watering’. For physical reasons, there is no viable alternative to Faslane for the UK submarine fleet base.
With NATO first on Mr Salmond’s wish list of the unions he would, at the end of a long day, like to hang on to after all; and with the pressure of NATO’s need to see the UK retain the nuclear deterrent, it would be a very naive person who would believe that Mr Salmond would not make that concession.
He has already chosen to lose lifelong SNP-supporting MSP’s rather than even drop the planned application for NATO membership. If he were to have independence already in his pocket, this concession would certainly be made.
Independent or not, Faslane and the deterrent are going nowhere.
Another sleight of hand in this afternoon’s attempt to calm anxieties was the notion that Mr Salmond could somehow reconcile the retention of the Sterling currency union with his vaunted wish to sever ‘the economic union’.
The Sterling union and effective economic union are inseparable. If we have Sterling, the ‘economic union’ remains in place. We could have only a very limited economic independence.
Think about it.
Why would a country with a stable currency and a recovering economy – with the continuing slomo-failure of the eurozone in the background - allow a newly independent country to share its currency while managing its own economy within that currency and without constraint, borrowing at will and potentially affecting the credit rating of the currency’s principal?
The SNP has shown disappointingly little awareness of the magnitude of the issues independence would involve – and even less ability to produce any defensible detail on how the country would scale those cliff faces.
This lack of competence is no testimonial to persuade Westminster to give Scotland carte blanche to impact upon its fiscal policy.
The reality of the economic situation of an independent Scotland within a Sterling union is a fiscal straight jacket, necessarily imposed by the Bank of England as our lender of last resort.
This is little more than devolution; and the differences are largely negative.
We would have sole responsibility for all of our own costs and little means to pay them other than by squandering the tax take from the oil industry on our annual spending requirements, just to get by. No one can imagine that we could carry on living like this.
By the time we’d funded our burgeoning social costs and serviced our debt burden by using oil revenues – what would fuel the investment without which we would have no future? We could not regenerate.
The fact that oil revenues fluctuate widely and beyond the control of government would be likely to see us thrown into unplanned borrowing at intervals not of our dictating and just to cover spending.
Membership of the necessary sterling union would inevitably involve compliance with strict borrowing limits.
Mr Salmond’s simplistic relaunch formula this afternoon boils down to a very simple picture.
We would in fact pay the massive cost of independence for the single ‘reward’ of cutting the ‘political union’ between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
It has not even been adequately explained just what the supreme value of that particular severance would be.
More panjandrums and pomp and ceremony at Holyrood? Independence Lite, anyone?