Alex Salmond’s preface to the Scottish Government’s White Paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ nominated March 24th as Independence Day.
The 649 page document attempted to predict the changes that independence would bring. There would be full fiscal autonomy. The Barnett formula – from which Scotland has benefitted enormously for almost 40 years– would be history.
Scottish passports would be available. Negotiations to join the EU might have been successful – although it was impossible to be precise about the process and what conditions would have to be met because of the total absence of precedent. Steps would have started to establish a diplomatic service with a significant number of embassies, to set up a Security and Intelligence Agency separate from MI5 and MI6, to join NATO and the UN, to establish a Scottish Broadcasting Service using BBC assets, and to develop the Scottish Army, Navy and Air Force, without Trident, and establish the main Scottish naval base at Faslane, as far from the north sea as one could get.
Whether VAT rates would have risen to Scandinavian levels to help pay for all these things is uncertain; VAT is not mention anywhere in the White Paper. But it is certain that Scottish MPs would have got their jotters on Independence Day.
The White Paper made a detailed case for Scotland keeping the pound as part of a formal monetary union. But the Treasury ruled it out. The White Paper had already ruled out the merk and the Euro. Sterlingisation –using the pound without any formal agreement with the central bank- was the only alternative that remained. This course was adopted by the Irish Free State in the 1920s, with its punt, scilling and pingin. It had no say in how the Bank of England comported itself; years later, when Britain decimalised, Ireland had to follow. Irish coins and notes were not accepted in Britain; as a schoolboy I remember checking my pockets for pingingi to avoid bus conductress vituperation.
The White Paper also hoped that a common research area would be established after independence to allow Scotland continued access to funding from the rUK science and medical research system. Scottish researchers currently punch above their weight and get a lot more than a population share of UK funding. As someone significantly involved in the fiercely competitive disbursement of research funds, I am certain that negotiations to set up such a common research area would have failed.
Nevertheless, lots of things would still be the same as on referendum day. Our legal system, education, and NHS have always been under full Holyrood control, as are road and rail. So no changes there. The Queen would be Head of State. Alex Salmond would still be First Minister. The Scottish Parliament would continue to be unicameral and its committees would still be bad at holding the government to account. There would be no minister for science. The current State Pension system would continue. We would have gone on using HMRC and the DVLA (for the time being), and the National Air Traffic Services, would buy our weather forecasts from the Met Office in Exeter, and would continue to use the honours system. The Scottish Football Association is already a full member of FIFA.
When Harold MacMillan was asked what was most likely to blow a government off course, he is said to have said “Events dear boy, events”. They have come thick and fast since the publication of the White Paper, and the big ones would have happened whatever the result of the referendum.
Vladimir Putin has changed the balance of power on Europe’s eastern borders. Islamic fundamentalist terror in Europe has taken on a new viciousness. It is a very bad time to be giving even the remotest consideration to fragmenting UK defence and security capabilities
And at home arguments rage even more about the deficit. But the White Paper was silent about how an independent Scotland would have managed the one that it would inherit, one that has got much larger since.
The Scottish farm subsidy payment system is in crisis because of IT failures. This bodes ill for the development of a collection system for personal taxes within five years, as promised in the White Paper.