The long-awaited report from the SNP’s Growth Commission is due to be published on Friday. What it says is likely to inform the constitutional debate for the next 12 months and beyond, writes Chris McCall
What is the report?
Nicola Sturgeon established the Growth Commission in 2016 following the Brexit vote as part of a “new conversation” on independence. It was in part a recognition the arguments made by the Yes campaign ahead of the 2014 referendum were out of date. Fresh ideas were needed. The proposed currency union with the rest of the UK was viewed as an Achilles’ heel four years ago. There was also a desire to move the economic debate away from North Sea oil, a core SNP strategy for more than 40 years.
Why does this report matter?
The SNP leadership is unlikely to make definite plans for a second referendum unless it sees an upsurge in support for independence. Since 2014, support for the Union has consistently remained above 50 per cent in polls. Nationalists must find a way to connect with those that voted No. The number one factor cited by No voters was concerns over the economy in an independent Scotland. It is economic matters - rather than EU membership - the SNP must work on. As polling expert Sir John Curtice observed: “Nicola Sturgeon has discovered in the last two years that, on its own at least, Brexit has so far not changed many minds in Scotland about the merits of independence, contrary to her initial expectations. However, a reinvigorated debate about the economics of independence would seem to have the potential to do so. Much therefore rests on tomorrow’s report – for both unionists and nationalists.”
Who wrote the report?
The commission was headed by economist and former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson. He led a team which studied the economies of a dozen small and medium sized countries including Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Singapore. Mr Wilson, a former Scotsman columnist, has set out a dozen “key lessons” which an independent Scotland could learn from these countries.
What subjects will the report cover?
Taxation, potential for economic growth, immigration, and the currency of an independent Scotland. The report will underline that an independent Scotland should not become involved in a ‘race for the bottom’ on tax, which marks a shift from the pre-banking crash SNP policy which advocated following the model favoured by the Republic of Ireland.
Will this act as a manifesto for any potential IndyRef2?
Unlikely. The document provides an insight into current SNP thinking on how best to sell the idea of independence to voters. But with no fixed date for a second referendum - an event many opponents insist will never happen - the report is intended to prompt debate, not act as a manifesto. As former SNP minister Kenny MacAskill put it: “By the time there is another vote, whether that is sooner or later, it’ll be out of date in so many aspects that either significant updating or a rewrite will be needed.”
How will pro-Union parties react?
The Scottish Conservatives have already poured scorn on the need for a commission in the first place. “The SNP can pluck out any number of fanciful examples, but it won’t change the fact Scotland is far more prosperous and secure as part of the UK,” said deputy leader Jackson Carlaw. “People are still asking the question why the SNP is putting so much effort into a question that was settled decisively just a few years ago.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “The people of Scotland will rightly be wary of fantasy numbers plucked from thin air by the SNP and promised to every man, woman and child in the country in the event of Scotland leaving the UK.”