Leader: ‘Velvet divorce’ contested by interested parties

IGNORE the evidence of the polls for a moment, and imagine that Scotland votes for some form of independence in 2014.

IGNORE the evidence of the polls for a moment, and imagine that Scotland votes for some form of independence in 2014.

After the Nationalists have led the celebrations and the Unionists have come to terms with the shock, what would the prevailing mood be as this ancient European nation tackles the practical problems of reclaiming sovereignty?

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In so far as it has explained the process that would follow a referendum victory, the SNP has maintained that there would be a smooth, rational process of separating Scotland from the United Kingdom mirroring, it has been suggested, the “velvet divorce” between the Czechs and the Slovaks after they put an end to Czechoslovakia.

However, that is not the view taken by Professor John Kay, a former member of First Minister Alex Salmond’s panel of distinguished economic advisers, who told a conference on independence organised by this newspaper yesterday there would be a five-year period of “considerable uncertainty” following a Yes vote.

Professor Kay said the negotiations alone would take three years to complete. A further two-year “transitional period” would then follow, before the new country began to get used to fully running its own affairs. For those who are not so good at what Americans call “the math”, that would take us close to 2020 before Scotland settled down to independence.

Responding to the views, a spokesman for finance secretary John Swinney stated none too diplomatically that their former adviser was simply “wrong” and maintained independence would be “an entirely known and clear proposition” by the time of the vote, with the details outlined in a White Paper planned to be published in the autumn of 2013.

The problem with such an abrupt dismissal is that it does not answer the questions asked by Prof Kay, and which were echoed by Scotland’s foremost oil economist, Professor Alex Kemp, of Aberdeen University, who also spoke at the conference and argued independence would entail the transfer of major responsibilities from UK departments to Scotland which would involve “negotiations extending over a considerable time” after a Yes vote.

Despite Mr Swinney yesterday making the case for independence by arguing that outside the UK Scotland would use greater powers to grow her economy more quickly as a means to tackle inequality, the overwhelming impression from our conference was that if the SNP is to convince the business community and academic experts in particular – something it has to do as well as persuading the general public – it will have to put a lot more flesh on the bones of its independence plans before 2014.

There is time to do so, of course, but the sooner the Nationalist government does this the better. Scots have a right to know the full facts about independence and its aftermath before they make their historic choice.

Good health to English whisky plan

It will be whisky, but not as we know it. A company south of the Border is embarking on a project to create what it calls a London single malt which it claims is the first to be produced in the old imperial capital for a century or so.

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The London Distillery Company, which is behind the plan, is described in a flowery press release as “a boutique artisan spirits manufacturer” and also plans to produce an “organic” gin, no less.

According to the firm, it will take advantage of the growing market overseas for whisky and there is no doubt business is booming. Yet hold on a minute. Where does the whisky come from which is leading this boom?

An outstanding performance by the whisky industry helped Scottish – note the word – exports to a recent record high. Official figures show £5.4 billion worth of food and drink products were exported in 2011. Whisky exports broke new records, increasing in value by 23 per cent to £4.23bn.

So what should we do about these young pretenders south of the Border? First, they will not be able to call their product, however traditionally and organically it is produced, “Scotch whisky”, and we are sure they would not try to pass it off as such.

One option might be to launch a whisky war against them – and others being made south of Hadrian’s Wall – embarking on a publicity blitz to protect the heritage of, and the market for, our national drink. Fun though this might be, we feel it is unnecessary.

Wise consumers know Scotland is the home of whisky. We should content ourselves with welcoming this upstart to the market and reflect on imitation being the most sincere form of flattery. Slainte.