IT IS a remarkable feature of the SNP leadership that, including the recent partly-botched Nato reversal, it never sees it necessary to reconsider or even review its various policy positions ever, or in timely fashion.
For example, there is the so-called budget’s effects upon growth. As some 90 per cent is pre-committed due to inescapable payments to the NHS, education, local government etc, it was and remains a ludicrous claim that it can have any significant effect upon Scottish growth rates when every major economic lever and influence lies with the government in Westminster.
As it is with the economy, so, too, with two core economic issues that will decide the referendum vote – the currency and Europe.
The idea, propounded by Alex Salmond, that Westminster will be glad to have us in a currency union, with a seat on the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, because our share of North Sea oil will bolster sterling, is a theory thin on reality.
Whereas North Sea oil is a big factor in the calculation of Scottish GDP, it, along with fisheries, represents a small item in England’s economy. Finance secretary John Swinney’s claim to the Lords committee on Tuesday that the Bank is as much ours as England’s hardly squares with past SNP criticism of it. By the same token, so is Trident as much ours as England’s.
A sterling currency union takes two, something overlooked at Bute House. Why would Westminster enter into a treaty creating a currency union, in which the interests of its 60 million people would be subject to sniping by a foreign five million? The SNP leadership is oblivious to the fact that if England says No, there can be no union. It is an astonishing reverse coup when you hand to your opponents the initiative, because they have the decision, on such a crucial issue.
Salmond has said Osborne does not own sterling. It’s true that he cannot stop Scots or anyone else using it, just as Obama cannot stop the world using the US dollar for trading purposes. But a Westminster government does “own” sterling, in that it has sovereign control, if need be, of its monetary policy and its printing presses.
When I hear SNP ministers talk of the independence of Bank of England, as though that meant economic freedom from Westminster, I reel back in a mixture of astonishment and despair. Any idea that the Bank of England stands in splendid independent isolation from the UK government is for the birds, as anyone who delves into the policy of quantitative easing will find out.
No-one needs to be an economist to understand who determines if, and upon what conditions, a currency union will come into being; and that in a relationship between five million Scots and 60 millions south of the Border, the whip hand lies down there.
The currency nonsense is a back-of-a-fag-packet policy. But even worse is how the SNP leadership’s incompetence laid itself wide open to the torpedo into the EU policy, by the commission.
Ewan Crawford, writing in The Scotsman this week, tells us that when he worked for the SNP ”we were fairly relaxed about conducting the debate by fielding our favourable legal opinions against our opponents’ hostile opinions.” Get that.
Fairly relaxed, while the EU widened, deepened, the euro emerged, majority voting replaced the national veto in key areas. And with the Lisbon Treaty, the commission, German leaders and others boasted about their intention to create a single EU state.
Those developments called for a rethink, but there was none. The question has not been asked, but should be: is the Merkel and Barroso model of the future EU, of a tsar ruling over the budgets of the member states’ parliaments, one the Scots should buy into? Where is the sovereignty, and independence in that? While the EU has evolved, in many ways contrary to a democratic spirit, the SNP has been “fairly relaxed”, with its policy seemingly dipped in aspic in the 1990s.
The recent Barroso broadsides should have been anticipated. In September 2009, a commission official stated: “The notion that Scotland becoming a member state is seamless is highly optimistic.” It is a bit late in the day for Nicola Sturgeon to be talking to the commission. Does she think a chat with Barroso will change the commission’s position, once announced, as it has been? Fat chance.
Of course, if we are to believe the SNP response to Barroso, the “seamless” case is now abandoned, replaced by negotiations on Scottish membership. Like Ewan Crawford, I cannot see the EU member states expelling Scotland for having voted for independence. The self-destruction of the Common Fisheries policy that would follow our exit, the loss of its major oil producer, not to mention its repudiation of the democracy it preaches worldwide, points to our continued involvement.
It is the terms of those negotiations that beg the question above, of the kind of EU we shall be staying with, and what price will be demanded of the new Scotland. As in the currency union situation, the Scottish-EU balance of power will not be in our favour as we five million face a commission representing some 500 million, armed as it will be with the power to tell us to push off, believing that we have nowhere else to go.
This is where the charge of incompetence fits. What would our negotiators do if one of the basic conditions set before them is membership of the euro by 2016? Acceptance of the tsar over our budgets? Or required to sign up to an energy policy with commission control of our oil? Or surrender of foreign and defence policy to the growing EU superstate? Join Schengen with all that would mean for border control between us and England?
I doubt, on present evidence of the pallid response to Barroso, if there has been any work done on these potentially explosive issues.
Ewan Crawford states that “the key to winning the independence referendum will be to convince people to vote Yes even if they accept some of the No campaign’s scare stories”.
On the EU, the No side does not need to invent any, the SNP leadership, by its abject failure to engage in the most fundamental responsibility of all – to think – is providing them with plenty of real ammunition.
The charge of incompetence doesn’t rest there. There is an alternative to the EU. It is Efta, the European Free Trade Association, and through it the one thing Scotland needs from the EU, access to its markets. In 1994, Efta and the EU, in response to the latter’s creation of the single market, set up the European Economic Area in which there is free movement of capital, labour, goods and services. Why the SNP has not considered this organisation, of small countries, as an alternative to the kind of EU now developing is a mystery.
Given the growing hostility to the EU, in Scotland as much as in England, I would suggest Nicola would be better employed in visiting Efta in Geneva than the commission in Brussels.
There might even be more Yes votes in that move.
• Jim Sillars is a former deputy leader of the SNP