Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders yesterday said SNP ministers had failed to detail the start-up costs after the UK and Scottish administrations delivered competing predictions about how the result of the vote could affect household finances.
The UK Treasury faced accusations that its £2.7 billion suggested start-up costs were inaccurate – including from London School of Economics professor Patrick Dunleavy, whose work informed the analysis.
Mr Salmond said this week that a cost of £250 million for new government departments and public bodies was more “reasonable” after the figure was cited by Prof Dunleavy.
However, Mr Salmond was challenged to state the SNP government’s own financial workings on the likely cost of setting up the functions of a newly independent Scottish state by opposition leaders at Holyrood’s First Minister’s questions yesterday.
In a leaked memo in 2012, Mr Swinney wrote: “Work is currently under way in finance and OCEA (Office of the Chief Economic Adviser) to build a comprehensive overview of the institutions, costs and staff numbers which I will draw together and provide and update to cabinet in June.”
Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Mr Swinney had already failed to answer the question, despite being asked about a dozen times during a radio interview. Ms Davidson said: “The First Minister would be on much stronger territory challenging the Treasury’s figures if he could come up with his own.
“I find it worrying the First Minister has no intention of telling the people of Scotland how his paperclip economics add up, because the fact is he should have the numbers, because two years ago the finance secretary said he’d set out detailed costs.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie also called for details, asking: “The Scottish Government’s transition-costs document that Ruth Davidson rightly referred to – that he refused to answer – was written two years ago. Will the First Minister tell us where it is?”
Mr Rennie kept up the pressure, telling parliament: “If there is work, why won’t he show it? If there isn’t, why hasn’t it been done?
“We know he’s an expert on everyone else’s figures so he now has the chance to put them right.
“It’s simple – he can publish the document that was produced two years ago and sets out the costs for the transition to an independent Scotland.”
However, Mr Salmond did not set out his own figures, agreeing instead with the lower suggestion from Prof Dunleavy.
Mr Salmond said the Scottish Government’s documents, published at the same time as the Treasury’s calculations on Wednesday, contained comprehensive information.
He failed to answer the direct question, saying instead: “The difference between the document that his lot published yesterday and the document published by the Scottish Government is that his lot’s document has been destroyed by the very experts who were cited to support it.”
An SNP government spokesman said the work Mr Swinney highlighted had been “taken forward and informed the work of the white paper” even though the Nationalist blueprint for leaving the UK contains no costings for setting up a new state.
The government spokesman later said that “there is no document” containing the financial workings for a new state and insisted it was not possible to “come up with a final cost” until after negotiations on a division of assets between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK.
However, the Tory and Lib Dem leaders accused Mr Salmond of misleading Scots over the likely cost of setting up a new Scottish state.
Ms Davidson, speaking after First Minister’s questions, said: “By John Swinney’s own hand, we know civil servants were working on preparing start-up costs for an independent Scotland. It is astonishing the Scottish Government now claims this work never existed.”
Mr Rennie said: “The information that John Swinney said exists must be published. To deliberately withhold such critical information could only be seen as a serious attempt to mislead people before the referendum.
“People will be flummoxed as to why the Scottish Government would wish to deny access to this important information on the set-up costs for an independent Scotland.”