Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon’s health tonic for Scotland is just a double dose of the Brexit disease – Alistair Carmichael

Modern medicine is full of surprising and seemingly contradictory treatments. Lifesaving vaccines are made from deactivated viruses. Cancer is beaten with painful but vital chemotherapy. Even the most helpful drugs do harm in excess.

To my knowledge, however, there is no disease in which the cure is to take whatever ailment you have and load you up with more of it. When you have a cold, doctors don’t recommend you seek out the flu. If you cut your finger, no physician is likely to plan amputation as the first solution. These are less the treatments of a health professional than of a snake-oil salesman.

Yet the “cure with disease” approach appears to be the preferred method of the First Minister for our economy. The treatment for disruption, trade barriers and red tape is to double down on disruption.

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Where we see the costs and lost trade for businesses caused by Brexit, we’re told we should repeat the harm three times over by separating from the UK economy. Where we see the market turmoil created by Conservative ministers who threw caution to the wind with irresponsible fiscal policies, we’re told to learn from that failure by adopting Panama’s currency policy.

Tory policies on the economy and Brexit have failed, so Nicola Sturgeon wants to embrace them to the extreme.

Set aside for a moment the cack-handed, indifferent approach taken by the SNP over the aspects of the economy they are already responsible for; the drip-drip of scandals around hundreds of millions spent on overdue ferries, the reckless gambling of our taxes in the Lochaber deal, or businesses’ struggles under their watch.

Even if we ignore those myriad failures, it takes some neck to concede, as the First Minister did in her conference speech, that dividing up the UK would not be a “miracle economic cure”. We are past understatement and into the world of Alice in Wonderland inverted fantasy.

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Nicola Sturgeon accepted that independence would not be a 'miracle' cure for Scotland's economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon accepted that independence would not be a 'miracle' cure for Scotland's economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon accepted that independence would not be a 'miracle' cure for Scotland's economy (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The accusation has never been that leaving the UK would be “too good” for our economy. The concern was that those advocating the nationalist cure-all were blithely or intentionally ignoring the harm to businesses and livelihoods.

In Brexit and the disruption of recent weeks, we have had an abject lesson in the harm caused by ignoring reality in favour of fervently held beliefs. The only surprise is the SNP think that these failures are an endorsement.

Between war in Ukraine and the pandemic in recent years, we have seen the dangers of unexpected shocks to the economic system and the need for strong institutions. The SNP policy of giving up access to a central bank through “informal” use of sterling after leaving the UK would leave us without the fiscal levers to respond to those crises.

Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon thinks she has a more innovative approach to economic cures than the rest of us – just like Truss and Kwarteng.

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Perhaps she knows better than professional economists, who will tell you that drawing hard barriers through your economy does fundamental harm.

Perhaps the indifference to business shown by the SNP over 15 years in government is pure coincidence.

Or, perhaps, as with modern medicine, we are better off ignoring the fervent believers and the snake-oil salesmen – and listening to the experts.

Alistair Carmichael is Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland



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