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Scottish independence: Economic vision questioned

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The SNP government’s economic vision for independence is being “made up on the hoof” and contains “wish lists” with no firm costs, a leading business figure has told Alex Salmond.

The First Minister insisted the further details of the costs would be set out, as he addressed a question and answer session with business, trade union and civic leaders.

The entire Scottish cabinet was taking part in the event at Edinburgh’s International Conference centre yesterday which followed last month’s launch of the Scotland’s Future white paper – the SNP’s blueprint for an independent state.

The SNP has set out ambitious plans to renationalise the Royal Mail and provide free childcare from the age of one, getting a generation of women back into the workplace.

But Ian McKay of the Institute of Directors said there was “increasing frustration” among business leaders trying to be “non-partisan” about the lack of numbers on many key issues.

“It seems to us that increasingly there are some answers being made on the hoof to make policies up – or wishlists which are appearing,” he said. Any awkward questions about costs, said Mr McKay, were met with the response: “It will be OK once we have independence.”

He added: “I think we are keen to have answers to some of the very welcome new detail in this document [the white paper] and some of the reassurances given there. But really, what I think we need to see are some of the costings which back up some of the reassurances offered.”

The commitment to renationalising the Royal Mail was highlighted by Mr McKay –a former Royal Mail director – who questioned how this could be done with a firm established on the stock exchange of another jurisdiction. “I suspect there will be one or two other companies -– all multi-nationals here in Scotland – who would be interested in the answer to that,” he added.

The coalition at Westminster announced plans to privatise the service earlier this year. Labour has said it would renationalise if it wins the next election, with the SNP pledging the same in Scotland after independence.

The white paper contains assurances over the mail system, Post Office network and cost of parcels which smaller firms would welcome, Mr McKay said.

He added: “What’s missing is any kind of number there which tells us how much that will cost to the Scottish Exchequer.”

But Mr Salmond insisted Scotland would have a stake in the Royal Mail as independence brought the split of UK assets.

He said: “Not only will we be publishing further detail, we will be enunciating the reasons for having key public services in public ownership, not least of which is because of the supporting infrastructure they give to the business community.”

This was particularly the case in more remote areas, he added.

Finance secretary John Swinney said: “The white paper sets out specific reductions in public expenditure that we would make to support initial commitments in the white paper.

“There’s then the obligation on any government to put forward a sustainable approach to the public finances which, given the record of this administration over the last six-and-a-half years, stands us in good stead.”

The First Minister said yesterday’s event was the first of a series around the country at which the public could quiz ministers on the independence blueprint.

“We want people to continue to talk about Scotland’s future, and we want to take this conversation out to communities across Scotland,” he said.

“We want people to know the ways in which the powers of independence can be used to build a wealthier and fairer Scotland and ensure that everyone benefits from our natural wealth and talent.”

3% spending cut needed in solo Scotland, says think tank

AN independent Scotland would have to cut spending by 3 per cent to pay for an aging population even if an immigrant worker population more than twice the size of Glasgow arrives in the next 50 years, the UK’s top economic thinktank has warned.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the highest estimate of immigration to Scotland of 26,000 people per year for the next five decades would still mean that an independent Scotland would need to reduce its spending by 3 per cent.

Gemma Tetlow, programme director with the IFS, said projections showed Scotland’s working population was reducing and retired population increasing at greater rates than the rest of the UK, which would cause a problem for finances.

A Better Together spokesman said: “This is the true cost of leaving the UK. While Alex Salmond is telling us that money will fall from the skies if we go it alone, all the impartial independent experts tell us the exact opposite.”

Talks look at economy after independence vote

UK Government ministers are to be called before Holyrood to give their view on the future of the Scottish economy after next year’s independence poll.

Business people and representatives of the Yes and No campaigns will also be questioned by MSPs on Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.

The four-month inquiry will start in February and look at the economic impact of both a Yes scenario and a No vote.

Committee convener Murdo Fraser, Tory MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said it was hoped businesses would give their views on independence. He acknowledged that many business people “for understandable reasons” were reluctant to make their views known for fear of alienating customers.

“The impact of the Scottish economy in the event of a Yes or No vote has dominated the headlines,” Mr Fraser said. “And rightly so. The issues that are raised in the White Paper are the foundation of our economy – from our currency to taxation to social security.”

The deputy convener Dennis Robertson, SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire West, said: “We want to hear from businesses up and down the country – from our microbusinesses to global corporations. This is about hearing a range of views and opinions.”

Sturgeon’s Yes to better human rights

DEPUTY First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said human rights would be strengthened in an independent Scotland, as a major nationwide campaign was launched on the issue.

An action plan published yesterday sets out “key commitments” from organisations covering different aspects of Scottish life, all aimed at improving human rights protection.

Scotland’s first National Action Plan for Human Rights highlights areas of concern such as care, disability rights, health, criminal justice and business.

Launched by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, it calls for better human rights in key public services such as the NHS and care,

as well as in the criminal justice system.

Ms Sturgeon, speaking at the launch in Edinburgh, said Holyrood could deliver improvements, but added: “A Yes vote for independence can solidify and embed that approach further. An independent Scotland would have the ability to develop a written constitution that would strengthen human rights and that would be embedded in this.”

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