Gerald Warner: The neverendum countdown

Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow
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JUST 305 days to Freedom – as the cerebrally challenged cybernats like to proclaim in their online messages.

It is still the professed conviction of those who demonstrate the alarming scale of the loopholes in the Mental Health (Scotland) Act that the plebiscite due to be held on 18 September, 2014, will result in a resounding repudiation of the United Kingdom. Recently, however, a note of angry pessimism has been detectable in the separatists’ outpourings: perhaps they have been reading opinion polls.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond is preparing a shot in the arm for his supporters on 26 November, with the publication of his white paper on independence. This will be the last in a sequence of re-launches of the independence campaign and, in many respects, it is even less likely than its predecessors to increase support for a Yes vote. What can it say that would negate the relentless discrediting of separatist claims since the pro-Union camp began to fight back? Salmond, with a gambler’s instinct to rely on “events, dear boy”, opted for a lengthy, “neverendum” campaign. That strategy has backfired since it has given his opponents the opportunity to demolish his claims, like the peeling of an onion, in detail and at leisure.

How will the white paper magic away the consistent deficit Scotland has been running – an average of £5.2 billion since devolution? In 2016-17, the first year of putative independence, the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) forecasts a deficit of £8.4bn (inclusive of oil revenues) or 5.1 per cent of GDP. The cuts in public spending or tax rises that would necessitate in a standalone Scotland would make the eyes water. Yet nationalist fantasists have been havering about creating not just one national oil fund, but two. As for the crucial question of pensions, a report by the accountancy body ICAS has cast doubts on the operation of a pensions system in an independent Scotland. The Scottish bill for state pensions is £8bn, a massive proportion of public expenditure.

There is one area in which the SNP is committed to very frugal public spending: defence and security. Alex Salmond proposes to allocate just £2.5bn to defence; even Norway spends £4.6bn. Yet that is regarded as too extravagant by five left-wing Nationalist MSPs who wrote to him, objecting to a defence budget measured in billions. Since Scottish soldiers would prefer to join the British Army rather than rusticate in a Scottish Defence Force, it has been calculated it would take up to ten years to recruit sufficient men to provide the 15,000 land, sea and air personnel envisaged by the SNP. For budgetary reasons they would have to lease their equipment from foreign countries.

Those would not be Nato member states. The SNP pledge to remove Trident from Faslane guarantees an independent Scotland’s expulsion from Nato, despite Salmond’s cosmetic reversal of his party’s policy on Nato membership. The SNP would not be making the decision but the Pentagon, hard-nosed towards a government that had caused major disruption and expense to the alliance. That might seem to leave Scotland rather naked of defences; certainly we could not rely on intelligence cooperation from GCHQ, MI5 and MI6. Yet there is diplomacy, estimated by Nicola Sturgeon to cost £200 million. Unfortunately, she forgot to include the expense of purchasing new embassies; replacing just 100 of the UK’s 270 diplomatic premises would cost £1bn.

Then there was the famous gaffe over EU membership, about which Salmond claimed to have consulted the law officers, even taking legal action to defend this imaginary advice from a FoI request. We now know Scotland would have to 
reapply for EU membership, which nowadays entails adopting the euro (seductive prospect), after first creating a national currency during the probationary period under ERM2 regulations. Under EU rules, the option of retaining sterling does not exist – not that it would be conceded by the UK Treasury in any case.

It might strike some people that these and many other small glitches that have appeared in the unravelling nationalist case over the past year discredit the separatist cause. Not in the eyes of True Believers: they are lies, all unionist lies. The testimony of economists and neutral experts of every kind is contradicted by the Gnostic wisdom inscribed on the back of the envelope on which Salmond has drawn up his plan for independence. In normal circumstances that delusion would be dispelled on 18 September, 2014, Salmond’s career ended and his party fragmented. That danger, however, has been neutralised by David Cameron, under the wise tutelage of master strategist George Osborne, hastening to the rescue with Devo Plus, the ultimate sell-out by the Vichy Tories that will hand Salmond de facto independence, minus anthem and flag. «

Twitter: @GeraldWarner1