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Scottish independence: white paper blue print due

The white paper will be launched today at the Glasgow Science Centre. Picture: PA

The white paper will be launched today at the Glasgow Science Centre. Picture: PA

  • by EDDIE BARNES
 

THE comprehensive blueprint for an independent Scottish state will be set out before voters today, amid fresh warnings from UK government ministers over its price tag.

First Minister Alex Salmond will publish a 670-page document, Scotland’s Future – Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, which the SNP said last night would “clearly and simply” set out the difference independence could make to people’s lives.

Ministers revealed last night the paper will include no fewer than 650 questions and answers, running to 200 pages, as the pro-independence camp aims to convince voters who remain unsure of the arguments set out by the SNP so far.

The launch, at Glasgow’s Science Centre, is likely to attract worldwide interest. More than 200 journalists are expected at the unveiling, providing Mr Salmond with his best chance to date during the Yes campaign to set out his party’s clear vision for the creation of a new country.

But the pressure to provide detailed answers was stepped up by the UK government last night, as the Treasury issued fresh analysis claiming that a shift to independence could cost every taxpayer in Scotland £1,000 extra a year.

The figures are based on a paper by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) last week which concluded Scotland may be required to find cuts or tax rises of £6 billion a year to bring debt down to sustainable levels, higher than those required by the UK.

To avoid such cuts or tax rises, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander yesterday claimed Scotland would need to grow at nearly 2 per cent more than the UK over the next 50 years, something “no European country has managed since 1970”, he warned.

However, the First Minister is likely to brush aside the warnings as “scaremongering”, as he prepares to accuse the “nay-sayers” in the pro-UK camp of talking the country down.

The document itself is expected to set out both the SNP government’s proposals for a new state ahead of negotiations with the UK and the EU, as well as the policies it would then like to implement if elected in 2016.

The white paper will say that, under the SNP’s plans, Scotland would become a new, independent nation on 26 March, 2016, should the country vote Yes.

The paper will also aim to provide answers on the commonest questions put by members of the public, from pensions, to currency, to the question of what TV programmes will be available after secession.

Last night, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This guide to an independent Scotland will set out a vision for Scotland’s future, the ways in which we can use the powers of independence to build a wealthier and fairer Scotland and ensure that everyone benefits from our natural wealth and talent.”

She added: “As part of the guide, we will be providing the answers to people’s questions on how we become an independent country, what the opportunities are of independence, how our institutions of government will work and what the benefits can be of a vote for independence.”

However, it is certain the answers will be disputed by the pro-UK campaign today, with doubts being raised specifically about the viability of a formal currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK after independence.

And in a letter to Mr Salmond last night, Mr Alexander claimed that last week’s IFS report illustrated the fiscal difficulties.

He wrote that the report had shown bringing debt down to sustainable levels would require an 8 per cent increase in income tax. He added: “I asked Treasury officials to look at this. They calculate that an eight percentage point rise in the basic rate of income tax would mean an average increase for basic-rate taxpayers in Scotland of around £1,000 per year.”

On SNP claims the financial difficulties could be erased by economic growth, he said: “Treasury officials calculate that, all else equal, an independent Scotland would need to grow at almost 2 per cent per year more than the UK for the next 50 years to get back to the IFS’s projection for the UK’s debt position. No European country has managed the required average growth rate over the last 50 years.”

The claims were disputed by Mr Salmond’s aides last night.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said today was an opportunity to open “a new phase in this debate” where the questions being asked by the people of Scotland were answered.

She added: “Unless the white paper does this, the SNP will have failed the credibility test.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP said the SNP wanted Scots to “swap” the membership of “one of the world’s strongest economies” and a devolved Scottish Parliament “for an independence prospectus that has so far failed to answer key questions on currency, pensions, welfare and defence and whether taxes would go up”.

There are more than 2.4 million basic rate taxpayers in Scotland, who contribute some £6.1 billion in income tax, according to Treasury figures. UK government analysis shows they pay an average of £2,517 a year.

But the Treasury research suggested that if the basic rate of tax was increased from 20 per cent to 28 per cent, this would rise to £3,523 a year – leading to the increase of just over £1,000.

In his letter to Mr Salmond, Mr Alexander demanded the white paper “address the tax rises or spending cuts required to balance the books”.

A spokesman for Scotland’s finance secretary John Swinney said Mr Alexander’s letter was “rushed and panicky” and showed “just how rattled the No campaign are”.

“Danny Alexander’s sums are all over the place, but the reality is, the policies of his government have cost many Scots far more than £1,000 each,” he said.

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The Scotsman Conferences is holding ‘The Independence White Paper: A business plan for Scotland?’ on 3 Dec. Expert speakers will offer objective analysis on the forthcoming white paper in six key business areas.

The full agenda featuring keynote speaker John Swinney MSP has just been published. For more details on this conference and other great events please visit www.scotsmanconferences.com

 

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