Jim Sillars in call for Scotland to switch to ‘dollar’

Jim Sillars has been an outspoken figure throughout his long career in Scottish politics. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL
Jim Sillars has been an outspoken figure throughout his long career in Scottish politics. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL
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FORMER SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has claimed David Cameron was right to block controversial European Union treaty changes, and dismissed Alex Salmond’s high-profile attack on the Prime Minister over the issue.

Mr Sillars, a former key ally of the SNP leader, also said he favoured Scotland adopting its own currency, a “Scottish dollar”, under independence. It would be issued by a central bank and be separate from the pound sterling and the euro.

Allies Alex Salmond and Jim Sillars in Inverness in 1991

Allies Alex Salmond and Jim Sillars in Inverness in 1991

He said Scotland should have its own currency based on its oil revenues, and he insisted it should be called the dollar.

He said: “My view is that we should have our own currency, after a transition period from sterling. We wouldn’t have to necessarily wait that long after independence.

“We could build up a central bank that issued the Scottish currency, which could be called the dollar, so that we’re being modern, like Australia for example.

“We’ve got another 40, 50 or 60 years of oil left, so the currency would be based around oil. It’s tenable for countries like New Zealand and Norway to have their own currencies, so I don’t see why it can’t be for Scotland.”

He dismissed the SNP’s flagship policy of an independent Scotland automatically joining the EU, which he warned would be challenged by other member states, ensuring a “bumpy ride” for any application.

Mr Sillars – the architect of the party’s “independence in Europe policy” that saw the Nationalists move towards a more enthusiastically pro-EU position in the late 1980s – has written in The Scotsman today that the issue is a “striking area of SNP weakness”.

He attacked the SNP’s stance on Europe after the First Minister wrote to No 10, strongly criticising the Prime Minister for vetoing the treaty imposing strict budgetary rules on eurozone nations.

However, a spokesman for the First Minister dismissed the comments from Mr Sillars, who he said had “disagreed with the SNP on just about everything” for the past two decades.

Mr Sillars suggested an independent Scotland should join the European Free Trade Association (Efta), alongside nations such as Norway and Switzerland, rather than the “black hole” of the EU.

And he issued a stark warning that there was “not a cat’s chance in hell” of the SNP winning an independence referendum if the party continued with its “present policy of being a lap dog to the German-French-European Commission ruling triumvirate in Brussels”.

He claimed EU proposals for a “transfer” of “core sovereignty” from the treaty backed by the other 26 EU nations would weaken the position of an independent Scotland, an issue on which he said Mr Salmond was “blithely unaware”.

Mr Sillars, who served as Mr Salmond’s deputy in the early 1990s and is still a fully paid-up member of the SNP, accused the First Minister of being a “Euro- fanatic in full flight”, in what will widely be viewed as the strongest attack on him from within his own party’s ranks since his re-election in May.

The scathing criticism of the SNP by Mr Sillars over Europe is the latest in a series of attacks made by the former deputy leader on issues such as its opposition to keeping Trident on the Clyde and focusing on running the devolved government rather than promoting independence.

Hiss comments will be seen as a blow to party unity, as Mr Sillars had appeared to have become more sympathetic to the direction of Mr Salmond’s leadership since May’s landslide election victory.

The intervention by Mr Sillars were seized upon by Scottish Tory constitution spokesman David McLetchie, who said the former SNP deputy leader represented a strand of thinking on Europe within the party.

Mr McLetchie said: “The SNP policy on Europe is a shambles, and Jim Sillars is spot-on in his analysis. Alex Salmond’s policy of independence in Europe has been exposed as a sham by this criticism from Mr Sillars.

“Alex Salmond would sell out to Europe if Scotland became independent over powers for the currency and budgetary issues.

“How anyone can call Mr Salmond’s position ‘independence’ defeats me.

“Mr Sillars reflects what a number of Nationalists will be privately thinking and asking how can you be an independent nation if you hand over control of your currency and budget to Europe.

“That is a strand of opinion that has existed in the SNP for a long time and it must be very troubling for them that Alex Salmond has taken this line.”

Mr Sillars warned that the SNP needed an “intellectual jolt” on Europe ahead of the independence referendum, as he accused Mr Salmond of “still digging the party into a hole over the issue.”

Scotland Office minister David Mundell claimed the comments by Mr Sillars had exposed the First Minister’s attempt to “dupe” Scottish voters into backing independence without saying whether the government of an independent Scotland would have signed the controversial treaty.

He said: “Alex Salmond is out of step with what the people of Scotland think on Europe, and his attack on the Prime Minister was a case of grandstanding.

“There are thousands of jobs in the financial sector in Scotland that would have been affected if it hadn’t been for the stance of the Prime Minister during the recent negotiations in Europe.

“The SNP’s policy on Europe is ill-thought out and offers no vision of how an independent Scotland would have a voice at the top table in the EU. If Scotland voted for independence on that basis, the country would have a much diminished role in Europe.”

Mr Mundell went on: “Jim Sillars is prepared to tackle difficult issues like this, whereas Alex Salmond has only put forward soundbites over Europe.

“Alex Salmond has not answered any or the questions about whether an independent Scotland would join the euro or what he would have done about the recent treaty proposed by other EU members states.

“It’s a disgrace that the SNP is contemplating holding a referendum on that basis and that it is trying to dupe people into voting Yes by avoiding answering these crucial questions.”

A spokesman for the First Minister defended Mr Salmond’s criticisms of Mr Cameron’s European policy, which he said had been influenced by Tory Eurosceptics at Westminster.

He said: “Jim Sillars writes as a media columnist, not a politician, and is saying nothing new – indeed, Mr Sillars has disagreed with the SNP on just about everything over the past 20 years, a period which coincides with unparalleled growth in the party’s success.

“The only new aspect is the quixotic view that the Prime Minister gave a second’s thought to Scotland or to the City of London when he cast his non-veto, as opposed to his fear of the mayor of London and the anti-Europeans on his own back-benches.”

He added that Mr Salmond had yet to receive a reply from Mr Cameron to his letter.