AN INDEPENDENT Scotland could start life with a black hole in its finances of more than £10 billion, former chancellor Alistair Darling warned yesterday.
This is twice the level set out by the SNP government this week in its white paper, which was branded a “fag packet calculation” and “not worth the paper it’s written on” by the Labour MP who heads the official pro-Union Better Together campaign.
But his comments were dismissed by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who insisted that the former chancellor’s own sums do not add up and the No campaign is “running out of ideas”.
Mr Darling said he was “very angry” about the approach to Scotland’s finances in the white paper, Scotland’s Future – with just one page devoted to setting out the country’s balance sheet in 2016-17, the first year after independence.
The paper does warn of a deficit of £4.3bn to £5.5bn, which is the shortfall between public spending on services such as schools and hospitals and the amount raised in taxes to fund them.
But Better Together insisted this does not account for a potential “premium” on the interest that Scotland must pay on the national debt it will inherit from the UK, which could be about £90bn. This could add another £2.2bn to the annual deficit.
The SNP has also selected the most optimistic estimates of oil revenues of up to £7.9bn, according to Mr Darling, who warned this could be £3.6bn lower.
“The Scottish Government is misleading people into believing that frankly you can get whatever you want and there would be no cost to it,” he said at a press conference in Edinburgh yesterday.
“They’re also being highly misleading in saying on a single sheet of paper that this is the financial basis on which you can plan for the next 50 years.
“You would not get away with it if you were launching a manifesto for a five-year parliament, let alone a manifesto for the next two or three hundred years.
“I’m always careful about what language I use because I think it’s important that we conduct this debate in a civilised manner and I do not use inflammatory language.
“But I am very, very angry they’re using figures that don’t stand ten minutes’ examination. Normally it takes several days for a budget to disintegrate. This didn’t last a night.”
He added: “This page setting out the basis on which we should take this fundamental decision in just ten months’ time is hardly worth the paper it’s written on.
“It’s inaccurate, it’s flawed, it’s incomplete and it’s not a basis on which to take a decision on the future of our country.”
But a spokesman for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the former chancellor of a “rattled and feeble” response to the white paper.
“The No campaign are rapidly running out of ideas and have nothing positive to say,” he said.
“Mr Darling needs to take a look at his own grasp of figures before he questions the Scottish Government’s. He claimed the childcare promise we have made could be implemented under devolution, suggesting additional taxes raised would come back to Scotland, when the reality is any additional tax raised would go straight into the Treasury’s coffers.
“He also said that it would take five or six years for us to abolish the bedroom tax. No, it won’t – we will abolish it immediately post-independence.
“And he even denied he had said that an independent Scotland using the pound would be ‘logical’ and ‘desirable’. Yet we all heard him say it.
“All of this shows that Mr Darling’s own sums don’t stack up and we can’t believe a word the No campaign say.”
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