IT WAS short on surprises and lacked a big idea that might have captured the public’s imagination. But more to the point, the White Paper on Independence is more of an election manifesto for the Scottish National Party rather than a blueprint for a new state.
There is a big difference between outlining the powers and resources that would be available to an independent government – of whatever hue – and the making of party political pledges. A future Scottish administration, for instance, may not want to be part of the European Union, or to reduce airport passenger duty, as promised in this document.
There is a disappointing sense that the incumbent administration has produced a 670-page “wish list” of intended policies that may come to pass if third parties agree to allow them and the sums add up in the way stated.
Nor does the White Paper, in spite of its size, provide answers in sufficient detail required for properly informed choices to be made.
The absence of a silver bullet – a visionary goal – was a big miss. Just one gem that would have got tongues wagging in anticipation of changes to come would have done the trick.
Instead, the public has to wade through a tome that takes the form of revision notes of proposals we have largely heard before. Credit to the government for making the information accessible and easily understood, but it doesn’t make the material any more exciting or revealing.
“We plan to prioritise job creation through measures to encourage growth,” is one bland declaration. “Boost and diversify business,” is another, along with “grow our export base”. Doh! The unionists must be kicking themselves for not coming up with such a plan.
No wonder business groups were struggling to find anything interesting about it. Statements issued by each of them were memorable only for conceding there was not much they could say. They will doubtless be poring over the detail in the coming days, hoping for something to further the case one way or the other, though that looks like a stiff task.
The paper confirms that many of the existing links and relationships with UK institutions will be maintained. There is no plan to create a separate stock exchange, though it is proposed that Scotland gets its own financial regulator to replace the Financial Conduct Authority. Scotland would have freedom to raise and alter various taxes, but the pound, the role of the Bank of England, membership of the EU, remain the same. But each of these is controversial and far from certain to happen.
There was much expectation ahead of the White Paper’s publication; much hope that some of the key answers would be provided. It should have laid down the foundations of a new constitution, a brief but succinct list of the powers that a Scottish free state would have at its disposal.
But the overwhelming view seems to be that we are not much further forward.