The Scottish Government’s white paper for independence is a “political manifesto” rather than a “business plan”, according to the executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland.
Atholl Duncan said accountants wanted to see more figures backing up the argument for independence and claimed that a lack of detail raised many questions about the prospectus.
Speaking at a Scotsman conference titled “The Independence White Paper: A business plan for Scotland?”, Mr Duncan said: “Accountants want to see the evidence. They want to see the numbers; it’s in their DNA.
“As a political document, the white paper may be deemed by some to be excellent. That’s for others to judge. But it’s not a business plan, it’s a political manifesto.”
Mr Duncan, whose ICAS organisation has pledged to remain politically neutral throughout the independence debate, also questioned central SNP proposals such as growing the economy by cutting corporation tax.
There is “political wriggle-room” in statements about a “timetable” to cutting the rate by up to 3p, he told an audience of business people gathered at the National Galleries at Edinburgh’s Mound.
“The white paper says this will create 27,000 jobs, but lower corporate taxes are not necessarily the main driver. There are many other factors which influence corporate decision making about where people will locate and create jobs.
“That’s why we see a corporate tax rate of 30 per cent in Germany and yet it’s one of the UK’s main competitors for inward investment.
“While lower corporate taxes are a good thing, they don’t on their own create thousands of jobs.”
It is not certain that the EU or rest of UK would “allow” such a cut in a currency union, he said.
“Our conclusion is that the white paper gives us more detail but perhaps, as you’d expect from a document of this size, it raises many, many new questions.”
Other contributors raised concern about the clarity of the white paper’s statements on tax policy.
David Glen, a tax expert at PwC Scotland, said the wording could be clearer in the 650-page document, launched last week.
“This is one of these points when you look at the white paper there’s a certain level of detail, but perhaps it doesn’t go to the level of detail that we all might want,” Mr Glen said.
“You can perhaps understand that; we’re three years away. Is anyone going to lay down hard and fast policies?”
But certain phrases, particularly on taxation, require further explanation, he said.
Mr Glen drew attention to a pledge that there will be no need for Scotland to raise the general rate of taxation to fund existing levels of spending.
“What does general rate of taxation mean? Is it basic rate? Is it average rate?” he asked.
“Don’t assume your tax is going to stay exactly the same. I think that insinuates that overall it might be the same but there might be some rebalancing throughout.”
The white paper sets out the SNP administration’s aims for negotiating terms after a Yes vote on 18 September next year.
It also indicates what an SNP government would do if elected as the first government of a newly independent country.
Critics say the paper is an uncosted wish-list which fails to answer the big questions on major change.
Finance secretary John Swinney was among the speakers at the Scotsman conference. He pressed the case for independence based on a sterling currency zone with the rest of the UK – an SNP proposal which has received much flak from those against independence.
“What we have set out is a proposition that enables us to establish a clear and firm sterling zone between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom that enables Scotland to exercise the type of economic and fiscal discretion of a greater extent than is able to be achieved at the present time,” he said.
On another contentious topic – an independent Scotland’s place in the EU – Mr Swinney rejected the views of those who believed that Scotland would not gain automatic membership.
No campaign under fire for ‘negativity and nothingness’
One of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs has criticised the Better Together campaign saying it is running a “horrific argument of negativity and nothingness”.
The Dundonian computer games businessman Chris van der Kuyl said he was prepared to listen to arguments for the Union, but was “really hating” the No campaign for failing to provide a positive vision. Speaking at the conference, Mr van der Kuyl, chairman of 4J Studios, indicated that he was exasperated by Better Together’s attitude.
“For goodness’ sake would Better Together show us how we can be Better Together and how we can move forward,” he said.
“I am really hating the Better Together campaign at the moment – not because I believe they are wrong, but because I believe they are running a horrific argument of negativity and nothingness. For goodness’ sake fill the void, don’t keep promising it.”
Mr van der Kuyl’s point was echoed by David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland.
Mr Watt said: “Let’s have a Better Together future plan for Scotland. There doesn’t seem to be one at all.”
Last night, a Better Together spokesman said: “In the last week we have had over 400 campaign events and delivered around one million newspapers setting out our positive case for Scotland remaining in the UK.”
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