Andrew Wilson: We all want currency union to work

'The minute we vote Yes, the shouting and acrimony will stop'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
'The minute we vote Yes, the shouting and acrimony will stop'. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Share this article
10
Have your say

SUCCESS, like life itself, is a “marathon not a sprint”. Or to put it another way, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

Or as former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies once coined, with respect to devolution, it is a “process not an event”. The same philosophical roots to the one core thought: in the business of doing great things? Patience and purpose will carry the day.

We should think of this story in eras not years. Whatever happens on 18 September, much work will need to be done to keep Scotland on its “journey without end”.

Every so often in a long race, moments come that shake out the pack, clarify the prospects and demystify the future we are jogging towards. This happened last week in one remarkable speech, eagerly anticipated, which transformed understanding. When the 8th Duke of Montrose rose to address the House of Lords on Thursday he spoke with all the authority of one of the grandest titles of Scotland. Created originally in 1488, it was restored in 1707 in what I am sure is a coincidental piece of timing.

The stand-out point of the duke’s speech was that if Scotland votes Yes the rules of golf will be suspended in England as only national bodies can affiliate to the Royal & Ancient.

It was probably the pinnacle of the British Empire spirit of administrative blocking. But it also pipped “phone roaming charges” to the post as the nadir of invented worries about the problems of giving the people of Scotland the self and shared governance enjoyed by a couple of hundred other normal countries.

You have to admire the creativity, but really question the use of human time, spirit and energy. I think a long weekend back at the Loch Lomond family seat is now in order. He should invite the civil servants dreaming up similar tosh to join him.

More serious, however, was the speech by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney on what would have to happen to make the continued use of the pound by an independent Scotland work.

By now his comments are well rehearsed. The pragmatic sense of them was obvious. Can it work? Yes of course. Will it mean less “sovereignty” or policy power for an independent Scotland than if we had our own currency? Yes. Is that balance worth it? Definitely.

Good people can disagree of course. Those who want a Scottish currency will be free to put that in their election manifestos for future elections. Right now Scotland has no ability to make that future choice.

To cut through the intemperate noise of last week it is best to assume we have voted Yes. Then all those who see a bun-fight on currency as a nice campaign tactic will be forced to answer truthfully whether they would want keeping the pound to work.

The answer from every UK business trading both sides of the Border would be an emphatic “yes”. The answer of No chief Alistair Darling would be the same. If the Scottish Government policy was to have an independent currency the same voices criticising the sterling policy would be shouting much louder and with greater fury.

What does that tell us? It is a clue to the greater truth in this debate. The minute we vote Yes, the shouting and acrimony will stop and serious adults will get on with the job of ­making it work. As Carney indicated, it can.

To make it coherent will take shared institutions and a financial framework on debt and deficits that will calm both debt and currency markets. This will take adult agreement between both governments. This will mean both governments pledging to tackle the inherited and ballooning UK fiscal crisis and setting a course for public finances on both sides of the Border that doesn’t beggar future generations or threaten government debt costs. Is this a bad thing?

Does it mean London setting Scottish tax rates or spending choices? No. Does it mean agreement on prudent standards of financial planning and management? Yes.

As a new country they would be a good thing in any event; a currency union requires us to formalise it. Good.

So to get the best outcome sovereignty is shared. But we still get much greater autonomy than we have now. Interestingly, if we ignore foreign policy, representation and defence, the difference between many reformers’ hopes for maximum devolution within the UK and the economic vision of the independence we will vote on in September is minimal. So why all the shouting? If it is “not independence”, as many No campaigners hollered, then surely many unionists will feel able to vote for it.

So the real service Carney has done is to wake the London establishment up to the reality that the hollering from the extremes is “the crackle of thorns beneath an empty pot”.

This vote will be about a modern pragmatic next step on Scotland’s Home Rule journey that is much closer to “devo-max” than any of the grudging proposals for minor changes the No parties have suggested to date.

The fog of war is lifting and the continent of common ground that can unify a majority for Yes is becoming clear. Maybe that’s why the shouting was so loud. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW