WHEN blasted by a blizzard of economic statistics from two ideologically opposed sources it can be a challenging business to get to the truth. So it was yesterday when the UK and Scottish governments published their deeply conflicting verdicts on the economic prospects of an independent Scotland.
One thing that can be said with some certainty, however, is that the key points that both sides were attempting to make were partially obscured by angry rhetoric and clumsy presentation.
At the weekend, it was the UK government on the ropes as Alex Salmond took issue with its suggestion that establishing the 180 institutions required for an independent Scotland would cost £2.7 billion.
It was a calculation based on a London School of Economics (LSE) estimate that it would cost about £15 million to set up a new “government department”. Salmond was able to heap scorn on the idea that an independent Scotland would require anything like 180 government departments, pointing out that the independence white paper referred to 300 public bodies many of which already existed and would be able to take on new functions.
When Professor Patrick Dunleavy, the LSE academic behind the research quoted by the UK government, said that the Treasury’s analysis was “bizarrely inaccurate”, there was more SNP glee.
Amidst all this, the point which was obscured was that the otherwise impressively researched UK government paper actually indicates its preference for a far lower estimate of start-up costs – £1.5bn, a figure based on research done on the Quebec model. SNP glee did not last long, however. A toe-curling radio interview of John Swinney by Good Morning Scotland yesterday, saw the finance secretary dumbfounded when asked for the Scottish Government’s estimate of the cost of setting up a new state.
During an encounter with the BBC journalist Gary Robertson, which had echoes of the famous Jeremy Paxman/Michael Howard car crash, Swinney failed to answer the question on no fewer than 11 occasions.
As one droll political hack remarked: “It was like the Scottish Government was criticising the UK government for back of the fag-packet calculations when it hadn’t even bothered to produce a fag-packet of its own.”
Within about an hour of Swinney being on the radio, Salmond was able to enlighten journalists gathered at a hastily called press conference.
The fag packet appeared and the First Minister was able to come up with a figure of £250m for establishing a separate Scottish state. The accompanying sound and fury does little to help those seeking the truth in the blizzard.