Brian Wilson: Salmond loses round of call my bluff

A crucial plank in the pro-independence case has collapsed amid acrimony concerning a future currency, writes Brian Wilson

Chancellor George Osborne ruled out a formal currency union should voters choose independence. Picture: PA

Bluff, bluster and bullying – nobody is better qualified to recognise these commodities than Alex Salmond and if he wants to see them personified he need only look in the political mirror.

On the two biggest issues affecting jobs, savings and pensions – EU membership and the currency – Salmond has cynically sought to mislead the people of Scotland, using exactly the tactics of which he now complains. Bluff, bluster and bullying. Heaven help the dissenter who questioned his groundless assertions.

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The “legal advice” on which he based his claims about an entitlement to remain in the EU never existed – a prolonged deception which should not be forgiven or forgotten. By the same token, there has never been a shred of evidence to support his central contention that a currency union would be acceptable to the state from which he wants to separate.

Now he takes refuge in victimhood. The big boys from London have ganged up on him. It is not he who is guilty of misleading the people of Scotland but they who have had the impertinence to expose the bluff – or, as Jim Sillars put it, “the fairytale” – that Scotland would be able “dictate” to what was left of the UK about a currency union, regardless of their own best interests.

As usual, Salmond hopes to prosper by reducing the currency issue to a big row about process rather than substance. What right do they have. Who are they to come up here, etc? It is a tactic which has served him well for years but this time, surely, the matters of substance at stake are too serious and too personal to be obfuscated with an appeal to chips on our collective shoulder.

Never one to play the ball when a man is available, Salmond cheerfully berates Sir Nicholas MacPherson, author of the Treasury critique, for acting on the instructions of his “political masters”. How much easier to attack an individual than to confront the case that he puts and with which, at it happens, a high proportion of the Nationalists’ own team agree. It was Sillars, not MacPherson, who described Salmond’s case for currency union as “stupidity on stilts”.

There is further irony in the fact that, for seven years, Salmond has presided over a single-minded effort to reduce the Scottish civil service to precisely the role of “doing was they are told by their political masters”, with much greater success than has ever been aspired to or achieved in Whitehall. No counterpart of MacPherson would tell the First Minister what he didn’t want to hear and survive for long in St Andrew’s House.

Judging by the interviews and soundbites, the case for insisting that a currency union would happen following a vote for independence now rests entirely on the assertion that no government in London could afford to mean what was said this week because it is in the interests of their businesses not to. The SNP, according to its own script, has suddenly become the high arbiters of what is best for English business.

They shed crocodile tears for the poor English exporters to Scotland who would be inconvenienced by transaction charges to the extent of “hundreds of millions of pounds” and assert that no government in Whitehall could allow this. I’m sure businesses in the rest of the UK value trade with Scotland and would prefer not to have such impediments inflicted upon them. But it is scarcely a killer argument when weighed against other vastly greater risks for what was left of the UK if a currency union was agreed.

However, it does raise the question of why the Scottish Government is not guided by the same concerns for the wellbeing of Scottish exporters who are far more reliant on the “rest of the UK” market than it is on us. Scotland exports twice as much in goods and services to the rest of the UK as it does to the rest of the world. We sell more to Worcestershire than to China. Yet the Nationalist masterplan is to turn our biggest market into our biggest competitor while inflicting these same “hundreds of millions of pounds” of costs upon our own companies, if there is no shared currency.

It is not Osborne, Balls or Alexander who is propagating the idea that there should be no currency union. We have one already. As the MacPherson letter states: “The great thing about the sterling union between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England” is that it has all the necessary ingredients – political union, economic integration and consent”. The effort to destroy that relatively happy state of affairs comes only from one source.

It is only a few years since Salmond was deriding sterling as “a millstone round our necks” and declaring the euro as the currency of Scotland’s dreams. That went out of fashion and the millstone became the cornerstone of his economic prospectus. Within 24 hours of Osborne’s speech we are told that Scotland has “a range of currency options” which are apparently to be dusted down as stand-bys. The words pig and poke spring to mind – yet people’s jobs, pensions and security rest on the outcome.

In purely pragmatic political terms, no party which aspired to win votes in what was left of the UK, if Scotland seceded, could deviate from the line which was taken this week on behalf of the three major parties. Advocating a currency union with Scotland in a post-independence environment would be about as politically popular as advocating membership of the euro already is. That is another, practical reason why the clarification that was offered this week would not be reversed post-referendum.

There are plenty of people in Scotland who will vote for independence while not giving a toss what currency would be used thereafter or indeed for the consequences. That is an honest position which puts belief in Scottish independence ahead of all other considerations. But it is very different from the web of baseless assertion spun by Salmond in order to pretend that outcomes are available which would underpin the security and continuity which most Scots would expect and require.

Once again, a crucial plank in the pro-independence case has collapsed under the weight of that basic dishonesty. That will not worry the true believers but it should encourage the rest of us to examine the whole independence edifice and the foundations on which it is supposedly to be built.