SNP’s independence plans would leave £100 billion bill, says Richard Leonard

SNP plans for independence would leave the country with a £100 billion bill to prop up the country’s fledgling currency and usher in another decade of hardline austerity, Labour leader Richard Leonard has said.

He warned of a “once in a generation” choice in Thursday’s election as he issued a last ditch plea to people “driven” to consider independence as an alternative to austerity.

“The answer to the experience of the past decade is to challenge and change what’s happened,” he said in a exclusive interview with The Scotsman.

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But the claims were dismissed by the SNP last night which branded Labour the “architects of austerity” and insisted Westminster has failed Scotland.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard outside the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh as he told voters Thursday's vote "isn't just about Brexit". Picture: Tom Eden/PA Wire

The Scots party leader remains confident that his party can confound the polls in just two days which point to all but one of Labour’s six seats in Scotland falling to the SNP.

Instead, he pointed to a “litany of failure” in the Nationalists’ handling of Scotland’s frontline services amid recent concerns surrounding the NHS, education and policing which have been in the spotlight recently.

Mr Leonard launched a uncompromising attack on the foundations of the case for independence.

“There has been a fermenting of support for the case for the creation of a separate Scottish state because we’ve had ten years of austerity and ten years of a Tory and Liberal Government which has been a attacking the most vulnerable in society,” Mr Leonard said.

“What we’re saying is the election of a transformative Labour government on Thursday would take the wind out of the sails of that argument.

“That would be a government committed to ending the austerity experiment and investing £100 billion over ten years of additional support for Scotland in the provision of public services, infrastructure, the provision of free broadband by 2030.”

The SNP’s spring conference this year agreed to the creation of a stand-alone Scottish currency as soon as practicable after independence day, with the UK pound being used in the interim.

But Mr Leonard said: “The reserves that you would need to back up the creation of a separate Scottish currency are in the region of a £100 billion because you’re then in line for a potential run on that currency. You need to have substantial reserves in order to back it up. I would rather spend £100bn on investing in the NHS, on building houses, in transforming the economy, on investing in businesses in Scotland than I would creating a new currency.

“And we know that the Growth Commission as well has talked about austerity, about the need to drive down the gap between taxation rates in Scotland and expenditure.”

The SNP insists that growing the economy after independence would see tax revenues rise which would offset the need for fresh austerity.

But the Labour leader added: “There is no evidence apart from saying other small countries do it to back up their argument. The truth of the matter is that this election on Thursday then takes on an even greater importance because there has got to be a decade before us not of more austerity which would come of the SNP’s “clear-sighted perspective” as it says in the introduction to their Growth Commission report. There’s got to be a better future which is based on a decade of investment in democracy.”

The polls have made grim reading for Labour in Scotland with the party in a distant third place behind the SNP and Tories and facing losses this week. The only survivor could be Ian Murray, a trenchant critic of Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn has faced widespread criticism over his decision to stay “neutral” in a future Brexit referendum which he plans to stage if he becomes Prime Minister.

But Mr Leonard said Mr Corbyn’s position will win over the “trust of the people”.

He said: “The fact that Jeremy Corbyn has said he will take a step back then take a step forward when the result is known and implemented I think is a decision which he has made because he can see that by coming out avowedly for one position or another would potentially compromise him in implementing the decision that the people took.”

The prospect of £100bn of planned investment under Labour over the next decade is held by Leonard against recent flak Nicola Sturgeon has faced over her record in handling Scotland’s devolved services.

The contamination scandal at the flagship Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, the indefinite delay to Edinburgh’s Sick Children’s hospital, falling in schooling standards, along with the shock departure of the head of the Scotland’s police watchdog last week have all seen the criticism build.

“There are a whole range of areas for which the SNP is responsible and has been responsible for the last 12 years and which are simply letting people down,” Mr Leonard added.