Comment: Currency still the big independence issue

Salmond's inability to provide a plan B on currency has allowed  Darling to capitalise and push the issue further. Picture: PA Wire
Salmond's inability to provide a plan B on currency has allowed Darling to capitalise and push the issue further. Picture: PA Wire
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ALEX SALMOND’S performance against Alistair Darling in the recent STV debate is casting a long shadow over political discourse in the run-up to next month’s referendum.

The First Minister’s handling of the currency issue and his failure to give in to demands to outline his Plan B is beginning to colour every aspect of the independence issue.

The focus on currency will only intensify following the comments by Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, who yesterday suggested that uncertainty over the currency could cause financial instability.

The day before Carney made his remarks, there were some interesting exchanges in the Scottish Parliament which gave some insight into how SNP MSPs are dealing with the issue.

Currency may have leapt to the forefront of the debate, but it seems that one answer for at least some SNP MSPs is to banish it to the back of their minds.

In a debate on the economy yesterday, Kenny Gibson, the SNP finance committee convener, said he had “no intention” of talking about the currency, preferring to concentrate on the economic opportunities of independence.

In fairness to Gibson, he then went on to quote academics in support of the SNP’s wish for a currency union. He deigned to mention the currency, because “many of the unionists are obsessed with it and think that it is going to be the deal breaker”.

Others sought to play down the currency issue. The former transport minister Stewart Stevenson acknowledged that currency was important, but argued that it was “secondary” to the economy, while SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn claimed that “currency is not an issue that comes up that often when I knock the doors”.

However, his suggestion that Scotland’s relationship with the pound was not a big issue with the public, led to some laughs on the opposition benches. It also led to a sharp retort from the veteran Labour MP Malcolm Chisholm.

“Jamie Hepburn should get out a bit more if he thinks that people are not talking about the currency,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, politicians arguing for a No vote were desperate to make political capital out of the issue. Labour MSP Hugh Henry said he understood why Gibson did not want to talk about the currency. According to Henry, the SNP’s reluctance to discuss the subject where Salmond had shown weakness was because it affected “every single thing we do”.

The currency affected paying mortgages and rent, buying goods and services, going on holiday, said Henry. The SNP may be reluctant to tackle the issue head on, but No campaigners will ensure that it remains in the front line.