THE 651st question and answer in the doorstopper of a white paper on independence, is charmingly disarming: “How can I ask more questions?”
After two years of being assailed daily by the No campaign with demands – some sensible, some spurious – for more detail about how an independent Scotland would operate, the Yes boys and girls have replied in full measure. “Ask away,” seemed to be message yesterday, “because we’ve got all the answers”.
Politically, Tuesday was a minefield for the SNP. The pre-publication hype before the public launch was worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, meaning anti-climax was all too possible. And with hundreds of the world’s press out in force to ask awkward questions Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon were entering the lion’s den.
But Salmond and Sturgeon have been running an administration for six years – one that even with the limited powers conferred under devolution is showing higher growth and lower unemployment than the rest of the UK. Their performance on stage exuded confidence and a masterful understanding of the massive white paper. What that paper has achieved, beyond its flawless launch, is to present the SNP government as knowing what it is doing – and where it is going as regards independence. In other words, there is a safe pair of hands in charge after a Yes vote. Obviously many questions of detail remain prior to any post-referendum negotiations that would necessarily have to take place with the UK government. But if democratic politics is about perception as much as substance, yesterday the SNP carried the day.
It can be argued, as did a rather nonplussed Alistair Darling, that there is little new in Scotland’s Future. But by putting together the various economic and social arguments for independence in such a clear and robust fashion, Scotland’s Future has emerged as the first fully comprehensive manifesto for political change seen in the UK since, arguably, the Beveridge Report which laid the basis for the welfare state.
Contrary to Mr Darling, Future Scotland reveals a significant shift in SNP thinking. Social reform – eg better child support and a rethink on raising the pension age too quickly – is now accorded as much importance as economic growth, the traditional raison d’etre for independence. Clearly the aim is to win over female voters. But it also makes for a more rounded vision of a new Scotland.
The white paper also contains a few choice economic hand grenades that Mr Darling could find heading his way. It neatly turns the tables on those who used selective quotes from last week’s Institute of Fiscal Studies report. This argued Scotland must raise more revenue if it wants to retain high levels of public spending. But most of the IFS document was devoted to explaining how only an independent Scotland would have the clean sheet needed to redesign the UK’s ramshackle taxation system, to boost economic growth and revenues. And the white paper promises to do just that. Future Scotland is a political game-changer.
• George Kerevan is a former SNP parliamentary candidate