PRO-UK parties have accused Alex Salmond of misleading MSPs over his assurances that Scotland could avoid a pension fund crisis after independence with no need to opt out of Europena Union rules.
Labour launched the attack yesterday after the First Minister declared at the weekend that the country could seek a “derogation” from strict EU regulations which govern the funding of cross-border “defined benefit” pension funds.
A report by the Institute of Charterered Accountants of Scotland (Icas) earlier this year warned that many currently underfunded UK-wide schemes would be redefined by the EU as cross-border if Scotland joined as a separate member state.
They would, as part of those regulations, be required immediately to be fully funded, forcing many schemes to find hundreds of millions of pounds.
Icas suggested either an exemption for UK-wide schemes, or a “lengthy grace period” for the industry, or that such schemes be split.
Pressed again over how Scotland could solve the potential crisis, Mr Salmond said: “The way to deal with it is to get a derogation so nobody is forced into a more accelerated settlement of the pension deficit and secondly, an option of splitting the schemes [between Scotland and what is left of the UK] and we’ll outline that in our pension paper.”
However, the specific reference to a derogation last night prompted Labour figures to claim Mr Salmond was contradicting himself.
In May, he told Labour MSP Ken Macintosh the Scottish Government “would not seek an opt-out from European pensions regulations in an independent Scotland because one is not required or necessary”. He repeated the answer to Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
Labour’s pension spokesman Gregg McClymont MP said last night: “Alex Salmond needs to be honest about what the future holds for pensions in Scotland with hard facts backed up by evidence.
“He appears to have misled the Scottish Parliament twice earlier this year and should apologise for this.”
He also claimed: “Twenty-eight other countries would be asked to allow Scotland a get-out clause on funding rules that every member of the EU is required to follow. This is the stuff of fantasy.”
A derogation is defined by the EU as a provision in European law which allows for that law to be applied differently within member states to give it “greater flexibility”.
SNP figures have argued that this flexibility will be overwhelmingly in the wider EU’s interests after a Yes vote, in order to prevent big pension firms which operate right across the UK from having to face a major crisis.