Tom Peterkin: ‘Rebalancing power’ can work for SNP

OBSERVERS of the constitutional debate could be forgiven for wondering whether the City of London is regarded by independence supporters as a force for good or ill.

Some suggest a concentration of wealth in the South East at the expense of Scotland, Wales and English regions. Picture: PA

The latter view was in evidence in a blog published this week by that veteran and hero of the independence movement Ian Hamilton QC.

Hamilton said the city where he reclaimed the Stone of Destiny over 60 years ago had “sucked the wealth of these islands into its walls”.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

It is a common refrain among independence supporters that London drives an overheated economy, which has resulted in an iniquitous concentration of wealth in the South East at the expense of Scotland, Wales and the English regions.

Or as Hamilton blogged in slightly more colourful language: “The England of the shires and the village green has gone. England is now the walled city of London.

“The torrent of Better Together that daily disfigures our papers shows a frightened London.

“The real fight of the 21st century is not between Britain and the Common Market. It is between Scotland and London.”

How does one square this view of London with the one recently expressed by Alex Salmond when he addressed financial services leaders in Hong Kong?

Speaking at a FT International Financial Centres Forum, the First Minister cited the proximity of Scotland to London as a major selling point to investors.

Talking up Scotland’s skilled workforce and links to major markets, Salmond also pointed out that Scotland shared a “time zone, a language and a regulatory system with London”.

Scotland’s links with the city were among the reasons that firms like Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan came north of the Border, Salmond argued. The SNP’s opponents found it deeply ironic that Salmond was flagging up a shared regulatory system when the First Minster himself has said that independence will result in a new Scottish body to assume the responsibilities of the UK Financial Conduct Authority. Not to mention Salmond’s plans for a shared currency within a sterling-zone which has been picked apart by his critics.

Notwithstanding all that, SNP strategists believe that the two views of London are not as incompatible as one might think.

Where Mr Hamilton talks in terms of storming a walled citadel, SNP insiders talk of a “rebalancing” of powers. The best way for Scotland to take advantage of its closeness to London, the SNP argument goes, is for a transfer of economic powers from Westminster to Edinburgh.

In that way Scotland would be able use its own economic levers to extract the maximum benefit from London and not be at the behest of economic policy, which is geared towards generating a South Eastern economic powerhouse.