Both Danny Alexander and Alistair Carmichael have tried their hand at taking on some of the pro-independnece supporters’ claims about the consequences of independence today with varying degrees of success.
Before I start, I usually try to refer to SNP and Yes supporters as pro-indy people or something like that but it’s a bit clumsy. I say the Yes Lot, too, as long as people know I’m doing it in good spirit. I don’t really like calling them Nationalists because the likes of Jim Murphy use that as a term of abuse, but it is an easy shorthand. What I don’t call them, because they’re not flippin’ ETA, is separatists. I wish Danny would just wipe that word from his lexicon. It’s not nice, it’s divisive and I just don’t like to see it. I wish he’d realise that he’d get more people to listen to him if he used more consensual, conciliatory language.
Danny can be very, very serious at times so it was good that he had some jokes in there, suggesting that the SNP were arguing that so much would stay the same after independence that they’d be arguing that they should share our automatic qualification for Eurovision. He also said that there was more evidence for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster than there was for many of the Nationalists’ claims. He also confirmed that he’s found out about the funny Adventures of a Lego Danny Alexander. You can’t say that the man doesn’t know how to laugh at himself.
So the main myths he wanted to bust were, fittingly for a Treasury Minister, financial. The independence plans are predicated heavily on oil revenues – and those are not nearly as plentiful, said Danny, as they would have you believe:
Yet over-optimism is not the Scottish Government’s worst offence in this particular example.
No, the fact is that the £1.5trillion figure doesn’t include any costs for getting the oil out of the ground…
And into the petrol pump.
He also deals with the claim that Scotland would be better off independent, with lower taxes, higher public spending and no austerity:
As part of the UK…Scotland will face a smaller deficit, lower taxes and higher levels of public spending, both in the short, and the long term.
Independent organisations like the IFS, the CPPR and others have all shown that an independent Scotland would face a deficit of more than 5 per cent of GDP in 2016-17.
And forecasts from the IMF suggest this would be the second highest deficit of any advanced economy in the world.
And he talked also about the claims that an independent Scotland need not fear another banking crisis:
Another financial crisis, for example, would pose no problem. Because according to Business for Scotland the banks that needed bailing out in 2008 received funds according to the location of their operations rather than the location of their headquarters.
A claim that ignores the reality that when the financial crisis hi it was the government of the United Kingdom that stepped in to recapitalise RBS and HBOS and the taxpayers of the United Kingdom that extended £275 billion of total support to RBS alone.
The pro-independence side’s weakest points are on pensions and the pound. Even Tony Greaves in his well thought out Liberator article acknowledges that the idea that the best currency arrangement is what we have now is “probably correct” yet rather than dwell on the positives of that, Danny chose simply to say:
But while I can respect that Alex Salmond is passionate in his desire to break up the UK…
… he has to face up to the fact that the rest of the UK does not have to – and would not want to – continue to share the credit card.
It plays into the hands of those who talk about Westminster bullying. We need to give people reasons to vote No, not drive them to vote Yes in a fit of pique. It’s too important for that.
It’s not as if there was anything wrong in what Danny said today, but I feel that there are more persuasive ways of making the argument. You can read his whole speech here.
Alistair Carmichael did an altogether better job in the Daily Record. On the pound, he is altogether more practical.
Let’s be clear. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has said that a shared currency needs political unity. That’s what we have right now – but it’s exactly what the SNP want to get rid of !
All three main political parties have been crystal clear there will be no currency union.
But never mind them, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the most senior civil servant at the Treasury, has advised that such a deal would not be in the interests of Scotland, never mind England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So in order for it to happen, Scotland would have to hand over some of its new-won sovereignty – and whatever political party is in power in the rest of the UK at the time would have to go back on its word, ignore the advice of the Treasury and then try to sell the deal to those voters in the rest of the UK we had just walked away from.
If Alex Salmond thinks that’s a bluff, I’ll play him at cards any time he likes.
He’s also a bit more down to earth on the SNP’s claim that we’d be like Norway and have their level of public services while paying lower taxes. Alistair nails that for the unlikely story it is:
Their much-vaunted public services aren’t paid for by oil money – they’re funded by much higher taxes than we have here. A pint costs about £7 in Oslo, for instance.
The highly-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies says, in broad terms, that an independent Scotland could only keep public spending at current levels – they say it’s £1,200-a-year per head higher than the UK average – by paying for it with oil revenues – which would mean no fund to spend when the oil runs out.
Apart from mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren, the only way to have Scandinavian-style public services is to have Scandinavian-style taxes.
The best bits of Danny’s speech were those that dealt with practical fact. We all need to keep it real and relevant and think about how our words come across.