Scottish independence date set for March 2016

The SNP are set to announce that Scotland's independence day will be 24 March, 2016. Picture: TSPL
The SNP are set to announce that Scotland's independence day will be 24 March, 2016. Picture: TSPL
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ALEX Salmond will this week announce that Scotland’s independence day will be 24 March, 2016, when he unveils his blueprint for breaking up the UK amid growing disagreement in the Yes campaign over plans to keep the pound.

In the event of a Yes vote in next September’s referendum, Salmond proposes that Scotland will become a sovereign nation state some 18 months after the poll, on a day that marks the 309th anniversary of the 1707 Act of Union.

The independence day plans are contained in the Scottish Government’s long-awaited 670-page independence White Paper, which will be published in a blaze of publicity on Tuesday at Glasgow’s Science Centre. Writing in Scotland on Sunday today, Salmond’s deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, says the White Paper will be the “most comprehensive and detailed” document of its kind ever produced.

But just 48 hours before its publication, divisions within the Yes Scotland campaign have again opened up over Salmond’s key economic strategy – his intention for an independent Scotland to enter a sterling-zone with the rest of the UK after independence.

Last week SNP finance secretary John Swinney said he expected the UK Government to “respect” the White Paper’s proposition that sterling will remain Scotland’s currency if the people vote for independence.

Yesterday, it emerged that leading figures within Yes Scotland are questioning whether Scotland could demand such a ready-made deal on the currency with Westminster ministers.

Independent MSP and former SNP deputy leader Margo MacDonald said: 
“Even if it [the UK Government] did [agree], I would not expect the state that is going to be left by us to say, ‘Aye, anything you say’.

“I would vote Yes knowing that not everything that had been expected by the government will necessarily come into being. Following a Yes vote, it will be negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.”

Scottish Socialist party leader Colin Fox, who is an advisory board member of Yes Scotland, said the plan for a sterling-zone was “untenable”.

Fox, who favours a separate Scottish currency, said: “This isn’t a left-wing position. I think the idea of a sterling zone renders ridiculous the idea that you have an independent country.

“They’ll say that Ireland had those arrangements for a while but that wasn’t an independent economy either.”

He accused the SNP of promoting the idea purely because the retention of the pound was a more popular ­option than joining the euro.

“I wonder whether the SNP is saying this to placate ­conservative with a small “c” opinion which is frightened of independence.

“That makes political sense rather than economic sense.”

He added: “After a Yes vote, those of us who disagree [with the sterling-zone] will continue to press our case. The idea that the independent Scotland will get everything they want in the negotiations isn’t right.

“Something will have to be given up in order to get other things. I would be strongly of the view that the wider independence movement will put the case in those negotiations.”

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown added his voice to the debate, saying the SNP’s plan for a currency union has all the problems of the Eurozone and that an independent Scotland “could not force the UK into a currency union against its will”.

At yesterday’s Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow, Yes campaigners were urged to set aside any differences they had with the policies, which will be set out in the White Paper.

The Yes Scotland chairman Dennis Canavan said the overall prize of winning independence was more important than disagreements.

“The Scottish Government has not only a right but a duty to lay out what it hopes an independent Scotland will be,” Canavan said.

“Now you may not all agree about every single detail in that plan. You may disagree with the Scottish Government on things like who should be head of state, whether we should have our own currency, whether we should have sterling as our currency or whether we should be members of Nato.

“But I say to you in all honesty do not be sidetracked. Keep your eye on the ball. Concentrate on winning the prize because that prize is within our grasp.

“The prize is an independent Scotland and what unites us in pursuit of that prize is far more important than any points of disagreement.

“No one is being asked to surrender any matter of basic principle. Because the over-riding principle is once an independent Scotland is achieved then it will be the people of Scotland who will be empowered to shape their own future.”

The 170,000 words that make up the White Paper will be divided into five sections and ten chapters. It will have an initial print run of 20,000, and the Scottish Government believes everyone who requests a copy will get one. It will also be available in digital form. The policies contained in the document will fall into two categories.

The first will consist of the policy choices that the Scottish Government would negotiate in the transition period which will provide the starting point for an independent state. More controversially, the second category will consist of the policies that an SNP Government would pursue if Salmond’s party wins the first Holyrood election in an independent Scotland in May 2016.

Last night members of the pro-Union Better Together campaign were concerned that impartial civil servants had effectively been used to write the SNP’s 2016 election manifesto.

The Tory MSP Gavin Brown said: “It think people will be disappointed if this turns out to be taxpayers’ money going towards writing the SNP’s manifesto.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the Fiscal Commission Working Group – which includes two Nobel Prize winners – has made clear it is in the best interests of the rest of the UK for Scotland to retain sterling, in a currency union.”

Analysis: Yes camp’s big tome gives No a weighty challenge

IF nothing else, Scotland should have no shortage of things to stop doors with over the next few months.

At 670 pages long, Tuesday’s White Paper on independence is – the SNP Government claims today – “the most detailed and comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published”. Critics of the SNP’s preparations for independence have argued that Alex Salmond has been largely making things up on the back a fag packet since his landslide victory in 2011. This sheer bulk of this week’s document, thumping down on peoples’ doorsteps, provides a blunt political riposte: bloody big fag packet.

The decision by ministers to press ahead with this Biblical tome was made in the summer when a “skinny” version was formally dumped in favour of this “fat” one. It reflects the overriding effort by the SNP hierarchy to quell the nerves of undecided voters who may fear that the country is ill-prepared to go it alone. And it is also an attempt to inject some much-needed ambition into the Yes campaign which has found itself wrapped up in the debate’s small print.

The hopes for the White Paper are encapsulated in comments by Alex Salmond’s former chief strategist Alex Bell this weekend who declares that it will be “the most important document in our recent history”. It will be flawed, he agrees “but it will also be astonishing.” And so, with copies likely to be made available for every home in Scotland, the aspiration is that it will trigger a fireside revolution (so long as people have strong enough arms to

hold it).

The No camp knows therefore it has a job to do this week. It is determined to try and prevent what it argues are the assertions of the Yes case elide into received wisdom. Despite the risk of being seen to be nit-pickers and nay-sayers, sources say they will therefore step up questions on the detail and the practicalities of Salmond’s plan. And with the White Paper out and published, it can now capitalise on areas where the answers from the SNP Government don’t – or can’t – provide 100 per cent certainty.

The biggest issue by far is over the currency of an independent Scotland. And with civil servants having already said that the delivery of a pound-sharing “currency zone” depends on negotiations with the rest of the UK and cannot be guaranteed, Salmond has a tricky hand to play.

The SNP will also be wary of the fact that, with their prospectus now out there, they suddenly present a much bigger target, with many interest groups, firms, and professional bodies now likely to start having their say. But this week, the stage is set for the SNP to put on a show, giving people a glimpse of the kind of positive patriotic pizazz which it is planning for next year. For Salmond this week marks a chance to try and show Scotland the city on the hill. But he needs also to show how the country can get there, and prove the city is built to last.

• Analysis by Eddie Barnes

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