IT WAS inevitable that the independence debate would end up being about the pound in your pocket. Constitutional issues are now playing second fiddle to how much better off we will be either on our own or by remaining in the UK. It is the wrong argument at the wrong time.
The contrasting statistics produced by both sides last week served only to cast doubt on the reliability of the research and the motives behind it. Never has the old adage “lies, damned lies and statistics” been more apt.
For the remainder of the campaign we can expect more of the same as the two sides delve ever more into taxation and discover “evidence” to prove or disprove everything from economic growth forecasts to welfare payments.
Yet, as we know from just about all the forecasters, the only thing predictable about predictions is that they’re usually wrong. Look at the number of times the economic growth figures are revised. If the statisticians keep on revising them, then eventually one of them might just get it right.
On that basis, who can say what an independent Scotland’s growth forecast might be? Such a state doesn’t exist, so how on earth could anyone say how it would perform? If we don’t know how it will perform then how can we predict what levels of taxation will be required, and how much better, or worse off any of us will be?
Those casting their vote on 18 September must avoid being duped by promises of tax cuts. That is not to say there will be no tax cuts, whoever wins. But those arguing that, for instance, an independent Scotland would have a lower corporation tax, are making a dangerous assumption, particularly as the SNP is struggling with its costing of an independent state. Given the dubious record of civil servants to accurately estimate the cost of everything from the trams to the Edinburgh parliament, it is best to treat whatever figures we are given with scepticism.
The Yes campaign ridicules businesses that express their concerns, generally accusing them of spreading unnecessary fear and alarm. What they are rightly doing is assessing the risks involved, just as they would assess the risks in any investment decision. This will consider the benefits as well as the downside implications of independence. Some may come to the conclusion that an independent Scotland would actually be preferable, a better place in which to do business or, at the very least, unlikely to damage their business.
I have argued that it would be foolish for any independent Scottish government to introduce policies that would harm business and the economy and, as happened with the onset of devolution, it is a safe bet that many of the “fears” will quickly disappear because only a stupid government would cause anyone to run away. Until then, it is incumbent on the Yes campaign to prove that these concerns really are unfounded. That means setting out a workable and convincing framework for the economy and how it will function.
The White Paper published last October was little more than an SNP manifesto. It should have declared, for instance, that an independent government would have the power to scrap the bedroom tax, not that it would scrap it. And so it went on, with election pledges disguised as new sovereign powers.
At this stage of the debate it is not important whether taxes may be cut or raised. It is whether an independent country would have the infrastructure in place for an orderly and stable management of the economy.