Tom Peterkin: SNP betting on better childcare

Nicola Sturgeon’s bold promise that the Scottish Government’s white paper would “answer all your questions” on Scottish independence was perhaps not the cutest piece of expectation management the Deputy First Minster has ever indulged in.

The currency union issue has continued to dominate the independence debate. Picture: Getty
The currency union issue has continued to dominate the independence debate. Picture: Getty

Since her remark one lengthy press conference has been and gone and around 650 pages of Scottish Government document have been devoured, yet many of the same old questions remain.

The reality is that there was never any chance that the white paper – no matter how hefty – would even begin to reassure non-believers that the road to independence would be a smooth one.

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Independence requires a leap of faith – a concept that is well understood by the SNP administration, despite Sturgeon’s remark. Clearly, a Scottish Government white paper has little control over the UK government policy or the Bank of England’s position on forming a sterling-zone with an independent Scotland.

Given that the Scottish Government is unable to guarantee that its vision of a currency union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland would succeed, it was entirely unsurprising that this issue has continued to dominate the independence debate. Uncertainty over the currency will no doubt be damaging to the independence cause, but SNP ministers do not believe that the damage will be fatal.

Discussing this recently, one SNP minister dismissed concern over the currency as an “anorak issue” – suggesting that there are large swathes of the electorate who are not inclined to get bogged down in technical discussions over the future of the pound, the Bank of England or its Monetary Policy Committee.

“It doesn’t resonate with the punters,” the minister said. So faced with a difficult technical issue, Alex Salmond argues that it would not be in the rest of the UK’s interests to deny Scotland the use of the pound.

A similar tactic is being used to deal with the SNP’s equally difficult “anorak issue” – an independent Scotland’s membership or otherwise of the European Union.

Despite the very real difficulties raised by Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and others, Salmond’s strategy is to appeal to “reason” and “common sense” rather than the political reality. Given Scotland’s vast natural resources, Salmond asks why on earth would the other EU member states not welcome an independent Scotland as a member?

To steer away from this trickiness, the SNP has realised that trumpeting promises on childcare present a more compelling case for independence. It was an approach that served Sturgeon well when she got the better of the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael in an STV debate the other night.

As a tactic, it has the potential to make great inroads – provided the voters decide against donning their anoraks on 18 September next year.