Two things happened today which signal that the Scottish Government is throwing open the vaults in a desperate attempt to shore up the independence vote at all costs.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that, after long denials of the operational feasibility of such an action, MV Coruisk is to be deployed over the winter on the Gourock-Dunoon route, when she is not on her primary duty as relief boat for the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay service.
MV Argyll Flyer is also to become lead boat of the two current Argyll Ferries vessels. Her greater reliability compared to her fleet sister, MV Ali Cat, will see her deliver the service connections with the express trains from Gourock railhead to Glasgow.
These arrangements, with this route operating through three available boats, not two, will see the cost of this ferry service rise heavily. As a vehicle and passenger ferry, usable only as a passenger service on this route, Coruisk’s greater weight will incur greater fuel costs – and therefore greater environmental costs.
Moreover, with one of either the Ali Cat or the Coruisk lying idle at any given time, the financial accounting of the true cost of the enhanced service will be interesting.
It would also be intrigjuing to see how this is handled in relation to the original contract which Argyll Ferries won in the tender process; and the subsidies outside that contract now to be made available to the company, retrospectively.
Were there any competing bidders for the original tender who submitted a bid that would have delivered a better service from the outset; and that would now have cost less than the Argyll Ferries bid with this added mid-term mash up?
Then, in the Scottish Parliament earlier today, in response to a question from Gavin Brown, Conservative Finance Spokesperson, First Minister, Alex Salmond, made an unequivocal commitment that an independent Scotland would renationalise the Royal Mail. Just like that. Challenged about it later, he qualified this in a curious way, saying:’Well, any government led by me will certainly do this.’
This unexpected – reckless – commitment came the morning after his Finance Secretary, John Swinney, repeatedly avoided answering that very question on renationalisation, put to him several times in the Scotland Decides ‘debate’ on television last night [18th September].
It comes too on the day new polls are showing those in favour of Scottish independence consistently 2-1 behind those in favour of maintaining the Union. Desperate times bring desperate measures.
Me Salmond’s commitment also comes on the day that the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies published a report on the financial balance sheet of an independent Scotland, showing serious difficulties in meeting spending requirements – difficulties that could only be resolved by cutting services or raising taxes by 15%.
The cost of ‘renationalising the Royal Mail’ – were it to be done in these exact terms to which the First Minister has now committed – would be a massive additional cost to be added to what is an already impossible balance sheet.
There would be Royal Mail shares relating to the Scottish end of the newly privatised business to be bought out. There would be pensions commitments to be adopted. There would be investments to be made…
It could be done, not by ‘renationalising the Royal Mail’ but by setting up a replica of it for Scotland, within state control. But that too would be expensive and time consuming. It would involve complex discussions with the Trade Unions on terms and conditions where the intent was to employ experienced staff from the previous Royal Mail set up.
And as we have already asked, how could 10% of the population of the UK with 60% of its landmass – much of which is rural and remote rural, all covered by a universal service obligation – hope to pay for such a service? The initial debt and the accumulating losses would be unthinkable.
In response to accusations that the First Minsiter, as he appears to be doing and not for the first time, is making policy on the hood, Mr Salmond’s spin doctors have insisted that it as a preplanned strategy ‘to wrong-foot his opponents’. The fact that it also wrong foots’ Scotland would seem to be of no account.
We are prepared, on detailed evidence we have been working on for six months and on which we have regularly published serious analyses, to say with certainty that Scotland could not afford the independence scenario that is being proposed.
That is not the same thing as saying that Scotland could not be an independent country. Of course it could. But it could not deliver on the promises made without seriously cutting services and welfare costs or hiking taxes. Either way, one sector of the population of this country would be a substantial loser.
We say this, having hoped to have been given a vision and told the truth about the cost of it, from the outset – and having been prepared to buy into that truth.
What we have been given instead is no vision at all, little more than a reheated casserole of the current UK, still dependent but rebranded and flying a different flag; and alongside the absence of a robust or any balance sheet.
Yes Scotland has wealth – but it is far more limited and circumscribed than has been admitted. We don’t own the oil. That ownership is on lease to the oil companies. We own the right to tax their profits – when they are producing – but we have had to agree to give them tax relief to offset the huge costs of decommissioning the over-age infrastructure in the North Sea. We will earn little if anything from oil for a considerable time. And when we do, it will not even be enough to pay to service the level our national debt will be from the start – and rising.
Our renewables resources are in the same frame and our hugely generous subsidies to developers in this sector are seeing household, business and public services’ energy prices rise continually.
Then there are our welfare costs and our public services. The IFS report shows that Scotland spent £7,932 per head on public services in 2011-12. The UK as a whole spent 17% less than that, £6,803 per head. Scotland’s higher spend was largely down to our higher social costs.
This is simply a reality check. It really does not begin to add up. We began as supporters of independence and continue to contribute positive ideas on how Scotland might develop as a nation, independently or as a federal state. We are no scaremongers. Nor were we afraid to pay for the sort of Scotland we might have been offered.
Supposing the SNP Government had said:
‘Independence is about nation-building, about a new start, about strong foundations for the long term, about bringing into being a new way of managing our society, our business and our government, about responsibility and about work.
‘It will mean that for around 15 years we will have to accept a lower standard of living and we will have to work harder – but at the end of that we will together have engineered a new, forward looking society, on the way to being better educated, more capable, more self confident and with a sense of purpose, working together to grow this country’s economic success, to secure its enduring prosperity and to look after – well – those who will always need our care’.
We would have bought into that without hesitation. You get nothing for nothing. This would have been worth the commitment and worth judiciously managed retrenchment for a period of refocusing.
What we have got is no vision, only the juvenile myth that all Scotland needs to be wealthy, thriving and seeing every one of its citizens £500 better off each year from Independence Day in May 2016 – is to be free of England.
We have seen no balance sheet.
Not only would we have a debt that, even yet, has not been adequately estimated. We would now have an even bigger debt in renationalising or replicating the Royal Mail. And the Scottish Government is pressing bullion on everyone who throws sustained tantrums to get what they want, not what they need.
You’ve got 12 months folks. Go for it. Your lucky day may be one of the next 365.