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Key questions on independence white paper answered

The front page of today's Scotsman

The front page of today's Scotsman

  • by EDDIE BARNES
 

Opponents and experts on the white paper’s details

Scotsman conference: The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?

• When will Scotland become independent?

White paper

The Scottish Government’s intention is that Scotland will become independent on 24 March 2016. Eighteen months is a realistic timetable for the necessary preparations.

Opponents

Pro-UK campaigners warn that the timetable for dividing up the UK’s assets and liabilities is incredibly tight, given the bones of contention likely to be faced from both sides. Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael also warned that the 2015 general election would be a further complicating factor. “I have no doubt that the terms of the negotiation between Scotland and the rest of the UK would be a substantial, if not dominant, issue in the general election of 2015,” he said.

The expert view

The SNP government has quoted the UK government’s own expert legal adviser, Professor James Crawford, who said the timescale for achieving independence was “realistic”. Asked if signing or renegotiating thousands of treaties that applied to the UK would be a major headache for a new country, he said: “The Scottish estimate is about 18 months and that seems realistic.” But he said that while United Nations membership would be “straightforward”, European Union membership would be more difficult. “There are things to negotiate, such as the British opt-out and financial contributions. Those aren’t automatic.”

• Will Scotland have security posts at the land border with England?

White paper

No. Erecting border controls with Scotland would be inconvenient for all Common Travel Area partners, including Scotland and the rest of the UK and would not be in the interests of any party. Our shared history, culture and borders make the Common Travel Area of benefit to all of the territories within it.

Opponents

They argue that if Scotland decided to have a more liberal immigration policy, England could demand border posts in order to keep its own border intact. Scottish Tory infrastructure spokesman Alex Johnstone said: “The rest of the UK would see Scotland as a soft point of entry. As a result, that would obviously require some form of border patrol.” Labour shadow immigration minister David Hanson said: “If the SNP wants an independent Scotland to have a radically different immigration policy from the UK, it raises the frightening prospect of border posts.”

The expert view

Dr Scott Blinder, acting director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “Scotland and the rest of the UK share a border, so any policies that are introduced by an independent Scotland have the potential to affect other parts of the UK, which may have ramifications for Scotland.” He added: “There are ways to move away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ immigration policy, and Canada provides one example of that, but these policies bring their own challenges with implementation and enforcement. Whether this sort of approach would be feasible in the UK, or palatable to governments on either side of the border is, as yet, impossible to say.”

• Can I have both Scottish and British citizenship?

White paper

We will not place obstacles in the way of individuals holding Scottish citizenship alongside British or any other citizenship. The UK allows dual or multiple citizenship. It will be for the rest of the UK to decide whether it allows dual UK/Scottish citizenship.

Opponents

Home Secretary Theresa May said that Westminster may not allow Scottish dual citizenship, saying it would depend on the future policies of an independent Scottish government. “Any decision on retention of UK citizenship by Scottish citizens after independence would be affected by future Scottish Government policy decisions,” she said.

The expert view

Professor Bernard Ryan of Leicester University wrote recently that it is “to be presumed” that a post-referendum UK would accept dual nationality. He added: “It does not follow, however, that dual nationality would be available to all persons who were British citizens prior to independence and who then became Scottish citizens. The British government might want to remove British citizenship from Scottish citizens who had no personal connection to the rest of the UK. Equally, the Scottish Government might object to a situation where too many Scottish citizens remained British citizens.”

• How long will it take to remove Trident from Scotland and who will bear the cost?

White paper

Following a vote for independence, we would make early agreement on removal of nuclear weapons a priority. This would be with a view to the removal of Trident within the first term of the Scottish Parliament following independence. The SNP government does not believe it should bear the costs.

The opponents

UK Defence Minister Andrew Murrison has warned that if there was a Yes vote, negotiations about the future removal of Trident would include the issue of Scotland, something he described as “murderously expensive”. To ensure Scotland is not unilaterally disarmed, Labour MP Iain Davidson, the chair of the Scottish affairs committee, has said an alternative would keep Trident operating out of Scotland for 20 years until an alternative base is developed.

The expert view

Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the think-tank the Royal United Services Institute, has argued that the “most likely scenario” after independence is a deal between the UK and Scotland which would involve a “long-term basing arrangement for Trident”. This would see nuclear weapons remaining in an independent Scotland for as long as 20 years. However, the SNP government insists that it will not delay Trident’s departure, and will insist they are removed by the end of the first parliament, in 2020.

• Will the Queen be head of state in an independent Scotland?

White Paper

Yes. Scotland will remain a constitutional monarchy with Her Majesty the Queen as head of state. She will be succeeded by her heirs and successors according to law. As is the case in the UK, if a party in favour of changing this position was to gain enough support to form a government, it would be open to it to propose a change. The current Scottish Government does not support such a change.

Opposition

Opposition here is not from the pro-UK side, but from the radical wing of the pro-independence movement. Denis Canavan, the chair of the YesScotland campaign, said recently: “True democracy is based on the sovereignty of the people, rather than the sovereignty of any monarch, and so in an independent Scotland the people should be given an early opportunity to decide whether they want a hereditary head of state or an elected head of state.”

The expert view

The Union of Crowns, signed in 1603, pre-dates the 1707 Act of Union. The Queen is already head of state in 16 Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and Canada, and Scotland would follow their example.

• Would all Scottish athletes have to compete for Scotland or would they be free to represent the likes of ‘Team GB’?

White paper

Athletes are currently free to choose which country they represent, providing they meet the country’s relevant qualifying criteria. While the Scottish Government hopes that all athletes who are qualified to represent Scotland will do so, this is a personal decision. Scottish sport minister Shona Robison has added: “If Scotland votes for independence we will be an independent country by the time of Rio 2016.”

Opposition

Gordon Brown declared recently that the Olympics had shown that “when we pool and share resources for the common good, it’s often the case that the benefit is far greater than would have occurred if we had just summed up and added up the parts.” He added: “The Olympics is pretty clear to us that by the pooling of resources in, say, cycling we managed to do what, if you just divided the money and put a tenth to Scotland and a tenth to Yorkshire and so on, you could not have achieved the same results.”

Expert view

Sir Chris Hoy has said he is not getting involved in the referendum but has talked up the benefits of Team GB. “You look at the results of the Scottish athletes over the years and we have had some fantastic athletes and some fantastic results. But it would not be quite as simple as just saying, ‘there is a Scottish athlete, they have won a gold medal, therefore that’s a medal for Scotland’. Most of the athletes have had to move to facilities which are often outwith Scotland.”

• Will my private pension benefits be protected?

White Paper

Yes. Your occupational or personal pension sets out your retirement benefits. The payment of the benefits you have built up in your existing pension will not be affected by the move to independence.

The opposition

Opponents have seized on warnings that cross-border pension schemes will blow a hole in the funding of many occupational schemes after independence. Better Together said: “The nationalists want us to believe that everything will be fine, but can’t tell us how pensions would be paid for and even admit that they need the agreement of the European Commission and 28 foreign governments to protect the pensions of hardworking Scots.”

The expert view

Christine Scott, pensions adviser with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland, said: “Any solution to the potential cross-border underfunding issue will likely need the agreement of every EU state. Should there be a Yes vote, schemes operating on one jurisdiction would still need authorisation from their home regulator to do so, and the cross-border funding requirements would still apply.”

• What are the options on the currency, and can we keep the pound?

White paper

A shared currency is in the economic interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK, as key trading partners. It will make it easier for people and companies to go about their business across the two countries. Independent countries around the world share currencies. Countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands do not have their own currency but are independent and control their own resources. This approach makes sense for Scotland and the rest of the UK because it will make it easier for us to trade with each other and it will also mean that things like our mortgages and pensions will continue to be paid in pounds and pence.

The opposition

Better Together said: “The fact is: if we leave the UK, we leave the UK pound. No nationalist can guarantee that Scotland would keep the pound if we leave the UK. Why? Because creating the new complex eurozone-style arrangements the nationalists propose isn’t just a decision for an independent Scotland. The rest of the UK, a country we would just have walked away from, would have to agree to create a complicated new eurozone system just so that we could use a currency they already had.”

The expert view

A report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research declared recently: “Assessing currency options is complicated because an independent Scotland would, in economic terms, be a very different country to today. First, Scotland would be an exporter of hydrocarbons while the UK would be an importer. A one-size-fits-all monetary policy may no longer be as appropriate. Second, the Scottish Government would almost immediately have to issue a large amount of bonds to repay its share of existing UK public debt. Third, the Bank of England would continue as a UK institution, but without legal responsibility to Scotland.”

• What will the cost of borrowing be after independence?

White Paper

The cost of borrowing will reflect the underlying fundamentals of the economy. In order to keep borrowing costs low, a government must have a clear and credible commitment to maintain sustainable levels of public sector debt. Scotland is well placed, therefore, to have a top credit rating and government borrowing will be undertaken in an affordable and sustainable manner.

Opposition

Scottish mortgage payers and small businesses could have to fork out an additional £1 billion in interest payments if Scotland gains independence, according to Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Inverness. He argues that if Scotland was rated lower than the UK’s AAA, it would have to borrow from the international finance markets at higher interest rates, and a 1 per cent increase would translate to an annual hit of £1bn on Scottish mortgage payments and small business loan repayments.

The expert view

A paper by the National institute of Economic and Social Research concluded that “an independent Scotland would face additional interest rate costs of between 0.72 per cent to 1.65 per cent above the UK borrowing costs for ten-year debt”.

SEE ALSO:

Scottish independence white paper: key facts

The White Paper is now online - click this link to read it in full

Scottish independence: white paper political reaction

Scottish independence: white paper live coverage

Scottish independence: timeline to referendum

What date will the Scottish independence referendum be held on?

What will be the Scottish independence referendum question?

Will Scots living in England be able to vote in the referendum?

 

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