A better nation…?

Scotland's FutureWhen I published Leaning Towards No, I expected reaction from Yes voters who’d been hoping I would come down on their side of the fence.

I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so supportive of the SNP. From the reactions, [hardly anyone]* who plans to vote Yes intends to challenge the SNP’s plans to install devomax “currency union” in place of our present devolved system, and while some actively support the plan, many simply don’t see changing the SNP’s policy as possible.

*Not quite “no one”, as I initially wrote.

It therefore seems likely that – much to my annoyance and disappointment – I really don’t have any choice but to vote No. I don’t support devomax. I never did. I won’t vote Yes to have devomax replace status-quo devolution, and that’s what the Scottish Government’s White Paper says is going to happen.

Let me go through the various objections I’ve received to this, beginning with the silliest. (None of these are direct quotes from anyone, so if you recognise yourself in them, it’s purely coincidental.)

1. You’re just saying this because you hate the SNP/Alex Salmond/get all of your information from mainstream media!

Never voted for the SNP for my MP or my MSPs, but I don’t hate them. Can’t say I like Alex Salmond all that much, but I’ve never planned on basing my vote in the referendum on my feelings about Salmond, any more than people are voting Yes because they “hate the English”.

I got all of my information about the Scottish Government’s plans to install devomax if Yes wins from the Scottish Government White Paper Scotland’s Future and from the Fiscal Commission Working Group‘s report.

You may obviously disagree with the conclusions I’ve drawn from the facts available, but the facts are there in the policy documents provided by the Scottish Government.

2. It doesn’t matter what SNP party policy is, the SNP are just one party and may become irrelevant in Scotland after independence!

The SNP are the Scottish Government (and the majority party in the Scottish Parliament. They have declared that independence day (if Yes wins) will be in March 2016. The next Scottish Parliament elections will be May 2016. The Scottish Government have published a White Paper setting out their plans for Scotland if Yes wins. The Scottish Government – no one else* – is empowered to negotiate with the UK government the terms of devomax set out in the White Paper, which will have to be in place by March 2016. Aside from the “you hate the SNP!” this is easily the silliest argument I’ve heard, and yet I hear it all the time. What the SNP/the Scottish Government say they intend to do if Yes wins, matters.

*Yes, the SNP say they’ll include other parties in the negotiations. They’ll still be the majority party and they are the Scottish Government.

3. This is just one point! Why refuse independence just because you don’t agree with this one thing?

I’m not refusing independence. This is not independence: it’s devomax. And the notion that the Scottish economy is “just one point” is – well, shortsighted to say the least. All the best and finest aspirations for an independent Scotland depend on our getting away from the London/Westminster control of our economy.

4. The next government after 2016 can just change anything we don’t like!

First of all: institutional structures set up early on tend to endure.

Secondly: there is nothing in the Scottish Government’s White Paper (chapter 3) to indicate that they intend their “currency union” to be a temporary arrangement readily changed by the next elected government.

Thirdly, to the people who handwave “oh well, we can change this after 2016″ – what exactly do you intend to vote for in order to get this changed?

The parties standing for election in 2016 with a hope of getting representation in Parliament will be the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Greens. (If Yes wins, new parties may well come into existence, but as early as 2016, they won’t win any significant number of seats.) Devomax is the SNP’s own policy; they will hardly stand on a platform to just reverse it. Labour, the Tories, and the LibDems, will all have been campaigning up until September 2014 to stay in the UK: if Yes wins, the SNP’s policy of devomax is effectively for Scotland to stay with rUK as a subsidiary state. The manifestos they will have to prepare for 2016 can hardly include a sudden reversal on such a major campaigning policy within the past five years.

The Scottish Greens have two MSPs. Supposing that they do as well in 2016 as they did in 2003 – they might! – they could go from having two MSPs to having six. That won’t give them enough political power to make the Scottish Government after 2016 change the devomax setup.

If you don’t want devomax for Scotland, the time to tell the SNP that is before they set it up. The longer that institutional structures stay in place, the less “realistic” it becomes to think of changing them. (This is why the fearmongering talk among Yes voters that voting No would mean the next UK government would abolish the Scottish Parliament or diminish its powers is unrealistic and should be ignored, just as all scaremongering campaign tactics should be ignored.)

5. But if it turns out not to be good for Scotland, obviously we’ll get it changed!

Long-term – and voting Yes or No on 18th September is a vote for the long term – devomax will be disastrously bad for Scotland.

The White Paper calls this a “currency union”, and I frankly think it was devised from the campaigning idea of promising voters that they can safely vote Yes because nothing will really change. Same pound in your pocket, same Queen on the throne, same newspapers in the shops, etc, etc.

Bank of Scotland on Bank Street, EdinburghBut the plan in the White Paper isn’t directly about currency. It’s about setting up a system whereby Scotland doesn’t have it’s own central bank: only two other countries in Europe are in that position, the microstates Monaco and Andorra. Instead, the UK’s central bank – the Bank of England – would become the lender-of-last-resort and set monetary policy in Scotland. No Scottish voter would have any democratic control whatsoever at any point over monetary policy in this plan, and never could.

The Bank of England is not independent of the Westminster government. No central bank ever is. The Bank of England is granted by 1998 Act of Parliament the power to set the interest rates independently (though the UK government can, if deemed necessary in extreme circumstances, instruct the Bank of England to set interest rates as directed for a limited period – a power as yet unused). The Chancellor of the Exchequer directly appoints the four external members of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (the four who don’t work for the Bank of England), has a high level of influence over appointing the BoE’s Governor and the deputy governors – who also sit on the MPC – and is also consulted over the appointment of the final two Monetary Policy Committee members from within the Bank. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also sets the inflation targets that the Bank of England must meet.

To grant any of this authority away to a foreign government would require legislation at Westminster and cooperation from the Bank of England. It would not be trivial. It would certainly not be agreed to if there was any thought that a new government in Scotland could be allowed to unilaterally tear it up and institute a new system. In the eurozone, each country still has its own central bank, but cedes some of the authority to the European Central Bank. That is an entirely different setup from the one envisaged in the Scottish Government’s White Paper, where the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and Westminster’s Chancellor of the Exchequer continue to set fiscal and monetary policy for Scotland and Scotland does not even have a central bank of its own. (And the international agreements that set up the eurozone allow that new countries may join but no country may leave: Greece is still in the eurozone though it has been clear for some years that it is disastrous for them.)

In the vaults of the Bank of England, there is sterling which underwrites the bank notes issued by the Clydesdale, Bank of Scotland, and Royal Bank of Scotland. This sterling is what – I believe – Scotland’s Future refers to when it describes Scotland as a “shareholder” in the Bank of England. Were Scotland to become independent, this would be Scotland’s share. Retaining that “share” in the Bank of England would not give Scotland or Scottish voters any rights to appoint any member of the Monetary Policy Committee or to influence the decisions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So if Yes wins in September, and the SNP institute their plan as set out in the White Paper, after March 2016, the Scottish economy will be controlled by decisions made in the Bank of England and by the Westminster Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would not matter, ever, how Scotland voted: the Scottish economy would always be what London wanted it to be. Assuming no malice or illwill towards an independent Scotland at the Bank of England or at Westminster, the decisions made by the rUK government and by the Bank of England would be to ensure financial stability in rUK. That’s what a central bank does. If Scottish governments remained content to skate along in partnership with rUK, always following the London lead and never trying to do anything too differently from rUK, then this could probably continue without disaster for some years.

But eventually, something would go wrong. National economies are complex. A central bank and a national government work in partnership to ensure financial stability. Independent Scotland wouldn’t have a central bank according to this plan: it would be dependent on the decisions of a Chancellor and the MPC of the Bank of England, whose primary responsibility would be to ensure the financial stability of rUK.

At this point – or whenever it became clear to ordinary voters that the setup instituted before March 2016 had become a disaster – yes, I’m sure there would be political will to end the devomax agreement and for Scotland to set up its own central bank and have its own currency – at a point of financial disaster when a new Scottish currency would have no value internationally and a central bank of Scotland would have the most unsteady start possible.

6. But you don’t know that would ever happen!

Yes, I do. No national economy larger than a microstate was so stable it just didn’t need to have control of its own monetary and fiscal policy but could give that job to a larger neighbour.

To be clear: I have every confidence that Scotland could be an independent country with a stable and flourishing economy. I don’t have any confidence at all in a plan which makes Scotland “independent” but declines responsibility for running its own economy.

7. But Scotland will be independent! We’ll have a seat at the UN, control over foreign policy and defence!

If that’s what’s important to you about independence, fair enough.

I find that what attracts me to independence is not the thought that there’d be a seat at the UN labelled “Scotland”, or Scottish ambassadors in capital cities around the world, nor that Scotland would have its own army. It is a plus point that countries the size Scotland would be don’t tend to get involved in bigscale illegal wars, but it’s not a given: as George W. Bush was fond of reminding people, Poland was part of the “coalition of the willing” when they invaded Iraq.

What attracts me about the ideal of independence is the thought that we could – perhaps – create a better nation. And for that, we’d need control over our own economy.

We also wouldn’t be able to join the EU – except as a subsidiary partner of rUK. This I base on the Articles of Enlargement as well as the White Paper. Six of the Articles require the joining nation to have the kind of control over their economy that Scotland wouldn’t have. The Bank of England and the rUK government would have to stand guarantors to Scotland: making it even more difficult for Scotland to ever exit the devomax relationship, since leaving devomax would mean leaving the EU and having to re-apply.

8. Yes, I want Scotland to be properly independent too. But at least this is a step in the right direction.

No. Devomax is a step in the wrong direction. Scottish voters (and 59 Scottish MPs) don’t have much democratic input over the Chancellor of the Exchequer – not even, really, when the Chancellor is a Scottish MP – but the setup as described in Scotland’s Future removes entirely what little democratic input we have. Forever.

(Also, see point 3 about ease-of-change.)

9. Changing the currency is too big a change to happen immediately. People will worry about their jobs and their pensions.

Yes. This isn’t a silly argument at all, by the way: it’s a very sensible point. Independence is necessarily a huge change. It may be the right thing to do – before I realised the SNP planned devomax instead, I was genuinely undecided, and in many ways still am – but it’s a big, big change. People living in Scotland will have pensions with English firms and savings in English banks, and the same for people in England. An honest White Paper would have dealt with the plans to ensure that no one lost out because they had pensions and savings across the border. But changing a nation’s currency is something that has to be planned and worked out carefully. If you don’t want that to happen, the honest thing to do is to vote No.

Sorry, but there it is. Campaigning for “Yes” and promising people nothing much will change, is thoroughly dishonest politics.

10. Majority vote for “No” will be taken to send a message to Labour and the Conservatives that we are happy with their policies.

Quite possibly, and very annoying that is. I won’t deny that the thought of the expression on David Cameron’s face if Yes wins is a genuine joy. Still less can I deny that Labour’s capitulation to the right-wing is appalling and their refusal to campaign for “Better Together” with plans to roll back the Conservative/LibDem disastrous “reforms” of the NHS, the welfare state, and the austerity cuts, is just … well, stupid is the kindest word for it.

But if I’m making my vote in the referendum for the long-term future of Scotland, I have to vote No because I can’t in good conscience vote Yes for devomax: if I want to “send a message” to David Cameron and Ed Miliband, I’ll have to use email.

11. If you’re not a member of the SNP you have no right to campaign to change their policies.

Two responses to that: Firstly: yes, I do. I’m a voter. The SNP wants my vote. I have every right to tell them how to set their policies to get my vote. (They have no reason to pay attention to one uninfluential blogger, I admit, but the notion that I don’t have a right to campaign to change their policies, that it’s “not my place”, is just… wrong.)

Secondly: Unless we’re imagining that the SNP as a party does not care either way whether Yes or No wins indyref, which I do not think is true, this referendum is actually a situation where a party wants my vote: the SNP wants me to vote Yes. But their plan to institute “currency union” is why I won’t be voting Yes. Why argue that I should be silent about this? Why shouldn’t the SNP know that their devomax plan is my reason for deciding on No? (They may not care: I can’t see any reason why they should: but neither can I see any reason for not telling them.)

Actually, a third reason.

The White Paper is not – officially – an SNP policy document. It’s a document produced by the Scottish Government, paid for by the Scottish taxpayer. It sets out the Scottish Government’s plans for what they will do if Yes wins. The notion that it’s not our place to object to that, that we mustn’t rock the boat or object to what the government decides to do – an argument I have heard consistently and repeatedly from self-identified Yes voters – is to my mind as thoroughly wrong or wronger than devomax. It’s every citizen’s responsibility and obligation to tell the government when what they plan is wrong.

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35 Comments

Filed under Currency, Indyref White Paper, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics

35 responses to “A better nation…?

  1. Very well though out. You state some of my worries. You are not alone!

    • Thank you: appreciated.

    • Stan Dundas

      I have to take issue with your conclusion that what is proposed in the white paper and including a currency union is Devo Max.
      For a start, sovereignty remains at Westminster with Devo Max.
      With independence and Currency Union, agreement would be reached through treaty with RUK. Scotland would cede most monetary control but retain most fiscal control. Soverienty would thoughy shift 100% politically to Edinburgh.
      Hypothetically Scotland would attain a degree of monetary contol, something that demographics preclude at present.
      Crucially if Scotlands voters were unhappy with CU,they would have the ability to vote in a government who may negotiate a different treaty or choose any other other currency option. That is because sovereignty would have shifted completely to the Scottish people. Something that doesn`t change with Devo Max.
      The Bank of England when setting interest rates etc would arguably take more interest in an independent Scotlands financial wellbeing than at present, as it would not be in their interests to see financial problems in Edinburgh.
      Both Standard and Poors and Fitch (ratings agencies) have both reported that, if we vote Yes, they expect both governments to quickly negotiate a settlement as the markets would react adversely and damage both economies if they did not. They made it clear that it would be in both countries interests for each to remain healthy financially. They both warned that protracted negotiations would lead to far greater risk and consequentially far higher borrowing rates for both governments. Neither government would wish this to happen.
      As soverienty would swap to Edinburgh, Scotland would be free to conduct different foreign policies, foreign aid budgets, energy decisions, welfare decisions etc. It would receive all income tax receipts and business rates. It would be free to adopt social democratic principals, affecting all aspects of society. It would also be represented fully within the EU.
      There are c30 currency unions around the world working perfectly normally.
      Ruk has shifted towards a more neo Liberal agenda politically, while Scotland has remained Socially Democratic. There are dangers ahead if we remain in the UK as Scotland would find that Londons approach to the NHS e.g would gradually erode due to `consequentials` within our funding.
      Independence and a CU with rUK, with agreed borrowing and taxation limits within treaty would leave Scotland free to adopt different priorities politically, whilst both countries would remain partners on the same island.

  2. Donald

    Thank you for the information. This news about devomax upsets me. I haven’t done my own research into what it encompassed and I really wanted to vote Yes for Scotland to have the opportunity to go off and do its thing. Currency union without the democratic access to control the policies seems, as you’ve said, ridiculously short sighted. I wish I could secretly doctor the white paper while the government weren’t looking.

  3. I’m not entirely convinced. The policy that governs the Bank of England is controlled by Westminster, but Scotland’s share in that goes beyond the Scottish banks’ rights to distribute sterling. Scotland is an integral part of Westminster and we have a proportional input into UK monetary policy. That input would not simply default to rUK in the event of independence.

    We already have a currency union with the rest of the UK, maintaining this union whilst regaining much greater control of our general economic policy seems to me to be no bad thing for anyone.

    • Scotland is an integral part of Westminster and we have a proportional input into UK monetary policy. That input would not simply default to rUK in the event of independence.

      Yes, of course it would. That’s what independence means – among many other things, of course: Scotland loses any right to any democratic influence at Westminster, ever.

      We already have a currency union with the rest of the UK, maintaining this union whilst regaining much greater control of our general economic policy seems to me to be no bad thing for anyone.

      Sorry, you mean losing any control of our general economic policy. That’s what currency union without representation at Westminster means.

      • We would indeed lose our right to influence at Westminster, but you are making an assumption that an international pound would be governed solely by Westminster. It would not. It would be governed by both governments with input proportional to the relative sizes of our economies. This is what the SNP means by a currency union, and this is what they mean when they refer to “governance of the BoE undertaken on a shareholder basis”.

        Just as Germany does not have sole control over the monetary policy of the euro, despite having the largest economy of the eurozone states, Westminster would not have sole control over the pound if it were legitimately in use by more than one country.

        Perhaps you are thinking of Salmond’s flippant remarks that we would use the pound even if rUK did not agree to a currency union, and it is true that any country could tomorrow decide that sterling was their national currency without control over the monetary policy of the pound, but this would not be a currency union. (It would also be short sighted and problematic in all the ways that you suggest.)

        I do not believe that using the British pound without a currency union is something the current Scottish Government consider a legitimate option. In the event that rUK did not agree to a currency union, the Scottish Government would likely pursue either the formation of a Scottish pound (and central bank) or joining the euro, as they have been recommended by the Fiscal Commission.

        But I don’t believe it would come to that either. In the event of a Yes, Westminster would be forced to support a currency union, as it would be mutually beneficial to both governments. Having separate currencies and any resulting tariffs or levies on trade across the border would be bad for business on both sides.

        We would absolutely regain control of our general economic policy (by this I am mostly referring to fiscal and trade policy, although immigration policy plays a small part here). In the event of a currency union, the only thing we would not gain complete control of is our monetary policy, however, as I have mentioned above, we would not be left with any less input than we have currently. Restoring much of our economic control would increase the strength of the pound for Scotland and rUK both.

        You state in your article that “the setup as described in Scotland’s Future removes entirely what little democratic input we have. Forever.”, but having read Chapter 3 of the White Paper, I find this to be overwhelmingly not the case. If I am mistaken, could you direct me to the section to which you are referring?

        • At the most optimistic assertion that the SNP could negotiate a permanent devomax setup where the Scottish chancellor got to appoint a single member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, that would give Scotland an undemocratic and easily overruled single voice in monetary policy: and no means whatsoever – none – of having any input at all into any of the other decisions about the Scottish economy that would be made at Westminister/London.

          Even that limited giveaway of power would certainly be required by the Bank of England/rUK to be permanent – this isn’t an arrangement that Scotland would be allowed to terminate when lack of control of the Scottish economy turned out not to work well. (Just as there is no means by which a country can exit the eurozone.) Obviously Scotland wouldn’t have anything like the same status of the independent countries in the eurozone, as it would never have been an independent country, and would be permanently dependent on rUK/Bank of England to join the EU.

          The notion that removing entirely any democratic input into Westminster decisions about Scotland’s economy somehow gives us more control … well, that doesn’t make sense at all.

          Perhaps you are thinking of Salmond’s flippant remarks that we would use the pound even if rUK did not agree to a currency union

          No. Fairly obviously, if Scotland made use of the pound without currency union that could only be a temporary expedient. It would probably be a bad idea, because of the huge reserves of cash that would be needed. So it couldn’t have the same long-term disastrous effects as the devomax setup planned.

          Having separate currencies and any resulting tariffs or levies on trade across the border would be bad for business on both sides.

          Absolutely. No one ever managed to trade with a country that was using a different currency. It’s just bad for business even to try to do so. *nods nods* /irony

          The section in Scotland’s Future / Chapter 3 which outlines the Scottish Government’s plans is “Our currency, fiscal rules and financial regulation”. It’s useful to also read the Fiscal Commission Working Group’s report. Scotland’s Future is horribly written – both vague and full of handwavy detail. But it does make clear that Scotland won’t have the power to set any monetary policy – that will be done by the Bank of England: and as the FCWG made clear in its report, the intention is for Scotland to become the third country in Europe to have no central bank.

          • Currently Scotland does not have any voice at all on the Monetary Policy Committee. Osborne is able to appoint 4 of 9 committee members, all of whom are supposedly apolitical. If Scotland were not able to appoint one of these members, it would make little difference, the committee must consider the economy of Scotland and the effect it has on the strength of the pound as they do now, and they would be foolish not to.

            What other decisions about the Scottish economy would be taken at Westminster? Monetary policy is controlled by the BoE with input from the UK government. If the UK is split into two constituent parts, then these parts would provide that same input separately. Fiscal policy returns to Scotland, trade policy returns to Scotland.

            A country cannot leave the eurozone without also leaving the EU, since EU membership is contingent on adopting the euro (in theory), but if a member country wishes to withdraw from the EU then they have every right to do so. No such restriction would exist in the proposed currency union since it is not linked to a greater political union.

            I’m not suggesting that different currencies would make trade impossible, I’m suggesting that it would cause a huge financial headache for hundreds of UK-wide companies to suddenly have to put in place infrastructure to operate in two separate currencies when they previously had no reason to do so.

            The Bank of England (despite it’s name) is the central bank of the UK, not just of England. A currency union would mean retaining the BoE as our central bank and that it would serve as the central bank of both countries (Scotland and rUK) with a shared currency. I’m still unconvinced that this is inherently a bad thing.

            I’ll be reading the FCWG report to see whether it can offer further clarification.

          • Currently Scotland does not have any voice at all on the Monetary Policy Committee

            No, that’s not true. Scotland has 59 out of 650 MPs who make up the Parliament of the United Kingdom: 12 of whom are in the Government, either as Ministers or backbenchers. That’s a negligible voice in UK monetary policy, I’m not pretending otherwise, but it’s not zero.

            the committee must consider the economy of Scotland and the effect it has on the strength of the pound as they do now, and they would be foolish not to.

            Absolutely. And if they decided it was beneficial to the economy of rUK that the economy of Scotland should be *less* strong, *less* flourishing, it would be their obligation as central bank of rUK to make decisions to the detriment of the economy of Scotland.

            The Bank of England is the UK’s central bank. It’s responsibility is to the financial stability of the UK. That would not change if Scotland left the UK: it would merely ensure that their obligation to keep Scotland financially stable was zero except as far as that was good for the financial stability of rUK.

            If the UK is split into two constituent parts, then these parts would provide that same input separately.

            But that’s not what’s going to happen. The United Kingdom remains. Scotland will no longer be a constituent part of the UK, and will therefore have no input into the monetary policy of the UK.

            A country cannot leave the eurozone without also leaving the EU

            A country can in principle become part of the EU without joining the eurozone. Demonstrably, since neither Denmark nor the UK are part of the eurozone and both are EU members. (A country has to make a commitment to consider becoming part of the eurozone: it’s one of the Articles of Enlargement.) But the 1998 treaty which created the eurozone did not provide any mechanism whatsoever by which any country after joining the eurozone could leave it, nor be expelled from it.

            No such restriction would exist in the proposed currency union since it is not linked to a greater political union.

            Which is why it would be so appallingly dangerous for Scotland, to agree that the Scottish economy could be controlled by the central bank and government of another country.

            I’m suggesting that it would cause a huge financial headache for hundreds of UK-wide companies to suddenly have to put in place infrastructure to operate in two separate currencies when they previously had no reason to do so.

            That’s a perfectly valid reason for voting No.

            Independence would be a huge change. if you don’t think business in the UK can cope with it, and you think it wouldn’t be worth the effort and difficulty, then the honest thing to do is vote No, not pretend you’re for independence but just don’t want the problems as well as benefits that come with it.

            The Bank of England (despite it’s name) is the central bank of the UK, not just of England. .

            Yes. But Scotland wouldn’t be part of the UK any more, and so wouldn’t have a central bank unless one was set up as part of the process between indyref-with-Yes-majority and indyday.

            A currency union would mean retaining the BoE as our central bank and that it would serve as the central bank of both countries (Scotland and rUK) with a shared currency. I

            Nope. The “currency union” would mean that the central bank of rUK would be providing some central bank services to iScotland, but without the element of responsibility for financial stability or partnership with the national government.

            I can’t see why anyone who claims to want independence would think this was an inherently good thing.

            I thought the FCWG report was decidedly better written than “Scotland’s Future”, fwiw.

          • “The United Kingdom remains.“

            This is what I believe to be the crux of the disagreement here. The United Kingdom as it exists now does not remain, rUK is an entirely different entity from the UK. A country cannot lose a nation of 5 and a half million people and carry on as if nothing had changed.

            Scotland is not leaving the UK, we are not seceding from under the rule of the UK, we are initiating the break up of a union which is defined by having Scotland as a constituent part.

            Just as Scotland will have to renegotiate the terms of its continued membership in the EU, so too will rUK. Likewise, if we are to take proportional responsibility of the national debt, we are entitled to our share of the national assets, including the right to sterling as a national currency and our right to have proportional input into its governance.

            Governance of the pound in a currency union could not remain solely at Westminster, because it would no longer be solely a national currency but an international one. Our future input would be relatively small, as our economy is relatively small when placed side by side with rUK, but it would not be negligible and it would not be less than we have currently.

            If the MPC decided to strengthen the rUK economy at the expense of the Scottish economy in order to boost the overall health of the pound, then it would be entirely within their remit to do so, but it is already entirely within their remit to do exactly that, and they do, regularly. They would do the same in reverse if the stability of the pound necessitated it.

            I understand that you can postpone adoption of euro indefinitely after joining the EU. If after they had adopted the euro, however, a country wished to leave the eurozone, they could absolutely do so but only by withdrawing from the EU entirely. No country has ever done so, but it is allowed. There is no such analogue with an rUK/Scotland currency union. Either party would be free to terminate the union if they saw fit.

            I don’t think that business in the UK would struggle with independence, only that the transition would be easier with a continued currency union than not, and that Westminster would favour a currency union for that reason.

          • . The United Kingdom as it exists now does not remain, rUK is an entirely different entity from the UK. A country cannot lose a nation of 5 and a half million people and carry on as if nothing had changed.

            Interesting. In 1922, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (population then 42.8M, give or take – that’s from the 1921 Census) lost 3M people – the population of what is now the Republic of Ireland. That is, 7% of the population. The population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland today is 63.2m: that of Scotland alone, 5.295m (2011 census figures) – that is, 8.37% of the population. (And 78,387 km2 of territory, if that interests you.)

            Is it your contention that in 1922, when the UK became “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, after losing 7% of its population and 84,421 km² of territory, it was “an entirely different entity” that could not carry on as if nothing had changed?

            Because that may be your contention, but nothing whatsoever in international law nor in UK legal history supports it. Nor would it if Scotland quit the UK: the UK would continue, legally the same entity as before if somewhat diminished in territory and population, just as it did in 1922: the new name change would be “United Kingdom of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland”, I suppose.

            we are initiating the break up of a union which is defined by having Scotland as a constituent part.

            Wales and Northern Ireland actually exist, however, and – seriously – if you want to contend that when 7 or 8% of the population quit the UK this is “initiating the breakup of the union”, then it’s clearly not Scotland that initiated it, but Ireland in 1922.

            Just as Scotland will have to renegotiate the terms of its continued membership in the EU

            Wrong. Factually, wrong. iScotland won’t have any “continued” membership in the EU: it’s a new country which will have to apply for membership. Providing the SNP abandon the idea of currency union, Scotland would obviously qualify: but in order to be a member of the EU, Scotland would need to have its own central bank. Presumably (as I noted in my blogpost) part of the terms of devomax would be arranging for rUK/BoE to stand guarantor for the conditions that – without a central bank – Scotland could not fulfil on its own.

            so too will rUK.

            No, because rUK is already a member of the EU, and so wouldn’t have to renegotiate anything.

            This is not my surmise or speculation. This is a basic fact of international law: the UK is the original entity, Scotland would be a new country. I’ve seen this ignorant speculation about how rUK and Scotland would be two new countries before from Yes voters, so I suppose it must be a meme of sorts floating around the Yes campaign, but it’s just wrong.

            Likewise, if we are to take proportional responsibility of the national debt, we are entitled to our share of the national assets, including the right to sterling as a national currency and our right to have proportional input into its governance.

            Partly right, partly wrong.iScotland is obliged to take on its proportional share of the national debt, and is likewise entitled to have – if it’s not in devomax – the proportional share of the sterling deposited in the vaults of the Bank of England. This sterling* is what would form the basis of iScotland’s central bank.

            *gold sterling, hopefully: the Bank of England still has some left….

            So much is international law on the formation of a new country.

            But where you are wrong, of course, is to suppose that iScotland’s legal obligation for a share of the national debt and legal right to a share of the sterling which is the foundation of the currency deposits, would mean that the new foreign country had any “right” to demand any governance in the central bank of rUK – which would, after March 2016, be the central bank of a foreign country.

            Governance of the pound in a currency union could not remain solely at Westminster, because it would no longer be solely a national currency but an international one.

            Well, that’s an imaginative surmise and a half. You’re supposing that Westminster would agree to the SNP’s plea to have the Chancellor and the Bank of England continue to manage the Scottish economy. As the unnamed Tory minister leaked, the Tories might very well jump at that chance: it would be very good for their main donors the finance industry, and if they could get the deal all wrapped up before May 2015, then Labour has no input either.

            So, you suppose that the Tories agree that Scotland can be in a devomax relationship with rUK. Fair enough. To jump from that to suppose that they will agree to surrender any whit of Westminster’s authority over rUK’s central bank, or to allow a foreign country which has begged for rUK’s help any authority at the Bank of England, is really absurd: no national government would do that, nor have any reason to. If the Scottish Government make a deal to have the Scottish economy run by the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that’s not in itself a reason for the UK government to allow any input from Scotland: why should it be?

            Our future input would be relatively small, as our economy is relatively small when placed side by side with rUK, but it would not be negligible and it would not be less than we have currently.

            Of course it would be less. Zero is less than negligible.

            If the MPC decided to strengthen the rUK economy at the expense of the Scottish economy in order to boost the overall health of the pound, then it would be entirely within their remit to do so, but it is already entirely within their remit to do exactly that, and they do, regularly.

            Quite.

            They would do the same in reverse if the stability of the pound necessitated it.

            No, they wouldn’t. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the central bank of rUK to benefit a foreign economy at the expense of the national economy for which they are responsible.

            I understand that you can postpone adoption of euro indefinitely after joining the EU. If after they had adopted the euro, however, a country wished to leave the eurozone, they could absolutely do so but only by withdrawing from the EU entirely.

            Actually, I’m not even sure if that’s the case. It’s probably irrelevant, since as I’m sure you know, no member state has left the EU, but while the Treaty on European Union says “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements” the 1998 Act establishing the eurozone provides no such means for any state once in the eurozone to ever leave it.

            There is no such analogue with an rUK/Scotland currency union. Either party would be free to terminate the union if they saw fit.

            I already explained why that’s completely implausible in the blogpost.

            I don’t think that business in the UK would struggle with independence, only that the transition would be easier with a continued currency union than not

            Well, yes. Currency union would mean that Scotland was never really independent: there’d be no real “transition” to worry about.

            and that Westminster would favour a currency union for that reason.

            I think that the Tories will favour “currency union” because the finance industry in London would register the departure of the finance industry in Edinburgh a bit. And possibly also because the system of devomax and plausible deniabilty might allow Scotland, for a while, to be one of the largest offshore nations in the world. Also, because it would certainly be useful for rUK to effectively be able to continue exploiting iScotland’s oil, which would be much more easily managed in a devomax relationship than not.

            For the SNP, I am pretty sure that the whole recommendation of “currency union” was back-formatted from the campaigning idea of promising people independence without any significant change, and unfortunately, they seem to be unable to admit they made a terrible mistake.

          • I have made the mistake of confusing the break up of Great Britain as a political entity with the break up of the UK as a political entity, apologies.

            Regarding the EU, rUK would have to renegotiate a few things, reduction in voting weight and the number of MEP seats being the main points, and arguably renegotiation of certain exemptions afforded to the current UK.

            “Continuity of effect” concerning membership of the EU is the route the Scottish Government is intending to pursue. Graham Avery’s analysis suggests that Scotland being forced to leave the EU and reapply would be “a legal nightmare, create social and economic difficulties for EU citizens, and deprive the EU of benefits of Scotland’s membership”. This seems like a perfectly logical assertion to me, and that a fast tracked accession or interim agreement would be preferable to all involved.

            Avery’s analysis is in depth and an interesting read. It does not mention absence of a central bank as being problematic, or relevant otherwise, regarding EU membership. In another analysis by Business for New Europe, there is no mention of a Scottish central bank, or lack thereof, causing problems in the membership process either.

            However, if this were to cause problems, due to the articles of accession you have mentioned, do you think that this would be enough for the SNP to change plans and opt for a new Scottish currency?

            (I will get back about the currency union stuff but I’m too uninformed and am evidently making quite a few assumptions.)

          • I have made the mistake of confusing the break up of Great Britain as a political entity with the break up of the UK as a political entity, apologies.

            NP. Thanks.

            Graham Avery’s analysis suggests that Scotland being forced to leave the EU and reapply would be “a legal nightmare, create social and economic difficulties for EU citizens, and deprive the EU of benefits of Scotland’s membership”.

            Indeed – especially as, given the Scottish Government’s intention to deny Scotland its own central bank, Scotland wouldn’t actually qualify for EU membership.

            So, rather than the Scottish Government spending negotiation time pre-indy with the rUK government trying to set up a currency union and fix up some way the rUK can stand guarantor for Scotland in the EU, it would be more sensible to begin immediately the process of applying to join the EU. Part of that process would necessarily be setting up Scotland’s own central bank – ditch the whole nonsense notion of doing without one. Presuming that the EU as a whole is anxious for Scotland to become a EU state, and given that – providing Scotland has a central bank – Scotland would already meet the qualifications, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why Scotland wouldn’t become a new EU member on indy-day.

            (Obviously, even if there was a gap, it wouldn’t cause any immediate problems with regard to EU citizenship for individuals: everyone who is now a UK citizen living in Scotland would have the right to dual citizenship (iScottish /rUK) after indyday, and as an rUK citizen would still be an EU citizen.)

            .[Avery] does not mention absence of a central bank as being problematic, or relevant otherwise, regarding EU membership.

            Then clearly it’s not that in-depth, is it? If he just ignores the problem of the “currency union” in EU membership, and if he’s not bothered to think through the possibilities of the Scottish Government beginning the process of applying for EU membership on 19th September if Yes gets the majority.

            However, if this were to cause problems, due to the articles of accession you have mentioned, do you think that this would be enough for the SNP to change plans and opt for a new Scottish currency?

            No idea. I’m not privy to the inside discussions of the SNP heidyins. It’ll depend what’s more important to them: making nice with billionaires or independent EU membership. My guess is (they do like their billionaires) they’re hoping they can get a quick deal on with the Tories before May 2015.

          • I am simply suggesting that if an independent European policy expert, employed by the Westminster government to analyse Scotland’s future in the EU as an unbiased party, does not see fit to recognise or mention the currency union as a relevant issue in accession, it is either:

            A monumental oversight that has not been raised by the No camp or by any MPs or MSPs in relation to Avery’s analysis.

            or: It is just not the problem you believe it to be.

            “it would be more sensible to begin immediately the process of applying to join the EU”

            This is not actually something that Scotland is able to do, as they would have to do so via Westminster, and as Cameron has stated in relation to this matter “We will not negotiate the terms of [Scotland’s] secessionist state”.

            “it’s not that in-depth … if he’s not bothered to think through the possibilities of the Scottish Government beginning the process of applying for EU membership on 19th September if Yes gets the majority.”

            He does exactly this. As I mentioned before, he believes that fast tracked accession or an interim agreement would be preferable to all parties and that Scotland would not be forced to re-apply for membership under Article 49, concluding that 18 months is a perfectly realistic time frame to negotiate the application process.

            There is no precedent or procedure for secession within the EU, but there are a number of other related cases that he uses to support this claim.

            Regarding currency union, the FCWG report does not seem to support your understanding of how their proposed union would operate. The report states fairly explicitly that:

            The BoE would operate as the central bank of the proposed ‘Sterling Zone’ and would no longer be solely the central bank of the United Kingdom (Points 3.29 and 3.30). Therefore the MPC would not be forced to favour the rUK economy over the Scottish economy if they were not also supporting the strength of the pound.

            The report also goes into detail about the way in which the Scottish Government should seek proportional governance (3.37).

            The system is designed to provide “significant policy autonomy to Scotland (3.67)” and would “ultimately provide full control, in terms of economic sovereignty, to the people of Scotland (3.72)”.

            Furthermore, the report addresses concerns that the ‘Sterling Zone’ may pose Eurozone style risks (3.70) and states that it is “designed to be flexible and evolve should the people of Scotland wish for further reform in the future or should economic conditions change post-independence.“ (3.71)

            This is, of course, only a recommended framework, but were the Scottish Government unable to negotiate a favourable model, then a currency union would cease to be the preferred solution and the SNP would likely seek an alternative. I do not believe it would be the economic disaster you purport it to be.

          • I am simply suggesting that if an independent European policy expert, employed by the Westminster government to analyse Scotland’s future in the EU as an unbiased party, does not see fit to recognise or mention the currency union as a relevant issue in accession

            That was from 30th January? At that point, the official position of the Westminster government was that there wasn’t going to be a currency union. (Technically, that is still their position, if leaks don’t count.)

            So, there’s two possibilities:

            Avery didn’t mention it because as far as his employers were concerned, it was never going to happen anyway.

            Or, as I already noted in my blogpost, Avery didn’t mention it because if the SNP get the currency union, they’re going to need to include in it the responsibility for rUK/BoE to guarantee the Articles of Enlargement in the EU, so Scotland can join as a subsidiary partner.

            This is not actually something that Scotland is able to do

            Nonsense. On 19th September, if Yes wins a majority, Scotland can declare its intention of joining the EU and beginning the process of applying. At that point, if Yes wins a majority, unless the SNP are dead set on currency union and ignore all the other possibilities, Scotland will be independent in March 2016. And at that point – if not for the currency union idea – everything changes.

            As I mentioned before, he believes that fast tracked accession or an interim agreement would be preferable to all parties and that Scotland would not be forced to re-apply for membership under Article 49, concluding that 18 months is a perfectly realistic time frame to negotiate the application process.

            But as we noted above, Avery has not thought through what will happen if, instead of applying to become a member of the EU, the SNP is instead throwing time and energy into trying to have a “currency union” with rUK, on which EU membership would then depend.

            Regarding currency union, the FCWG report does not seem to support your understanding of how their proposed union would operate.

            Indeed. The FCWG dreamt up an idea of “Sterlingzone”. But it’s important to note that it’s not the Scottish Government who would be able to say how the “currency union” would operate. This is something that the SNP want from the Westminster Parliament, that would have to be legislated and agreed to at Westminster and by the Bank of England. No one in Scotland would have a say in that.

            No, the main thing you can definitely get from the FCWG which is under the Scottish Government’s control is the decision not to have a central bank for Scotland: instead to ask Westminster/Bank of England for “currency union”. I have already explained why their ideas of how it might work are improbable.

            “designed to be flexible and evolve should the people of Scotland wish for further reform in the future or should economic conditions change post-independence.“

            But I have already explained why it’s vanishingly improbable that if the Bank of England agrees to be central bank/lender of last resort to a foreign country, that they would allow this to be an arrangement which could subsequently be changed by any following Scottish government. You haven’t been able to show me I’m wrong.

            but were the Scottish Government unable to negotiate a favourable model, then a currency union would cease to be the preferred solution and the SNP would likely seek an alternative

            The SNP has only 18 months on its schedule between 19th September and their proposed indyday. They quite literally don’t have time to waste futzing around with messy ideas like “we won’t’ have a central bank” and “we’ll ensure that our EU membership is dependent on rUK”.

            I do not believe it would be the economic disaster you purport it to be.

            Because the SNP wouldn’t be able to negotiate it? Quite possibly. But they could certainly waste a lot of very valuable time trying. And it’s also possible they may consider themselves committed to a currency union no matter what, having made such a very big public deal over it, and since they are evidently not going to hear from Yes voters who disagree with them.

  4. I’ve read the white paper, have listened to some of the Yes/No speakers and how they see the future in an independant Scotland. There are certain aspects of the white paper that I disagree with, Corporation tax, NATO, and currency to name three.(Undecided on how we stand with EU and euro) Harvie (greens) suggested we might well use currency union for a couple of years before launching our own but I’m interested to read your take on how things are likely to be ‘fixed’ with inital negotiations. How do we go about letting SNP know we would rather have different outcomes? And is it too late?

    • How do we go about letting SNP know we would rather have different outcomes?

      Okay, some thoughts about that (I plan to write at least one more blogpost about this)

      There are two SNP MEPs for Scotland whom anyone in Scotland can write to with an issue, though they may write back to say that in their view all matters to do with the referendum are outside their remit.

      One way is to write to your SNP MSPs or MPs: but I have no SNP MSPs – in Lothian Region they’re Green, Labour, Conservative, and sadly Margo MacDonald is dead. (Not that she was SNP, but it would certainly have been worth writing to with thoughts about independence.)

      Another way is to write to the Greens to ask them to be more vocal in speaking out against SNP policy for post-indy, if Yes wins. (I do intend to write to Alison Johnstone about this, and I know someone has already written to Patrick Harvie.)

      Another method, which is what I plan to do: I can write to the SNP Ministers, but I haven’t yet because this and some previous blogs have been me working out more solidly (and getting reactions to) what I think, in order for a letter to them to be as sound as possible: I’ll also publish the letter as a post on this blog. It would not be worthwhile bombarding SNP ministers with multiple letters from one person about this, but one at least directed to (well, I also need to work out who else besides the FM and the DFM) is definitely worth writing.

      And finally: I can write to the Yes Scotland campaign. (This letter will be similar to the one sent to SNP Ministers.)

      I may also run a small survey or a poll to establish if there’s sufficient interest among Yes voters to try to start a letter-writing campaign. While obviously anyone can send their views to ministers or MEPs or to their own MSPs/MPs, I do think that it would be more strongly effective for the SNP to hear from people who can say honestly “I want to vote Yes but I don’t like this idea of currency union”. I absolutely want to get it on record that the SNP’s plan for devomax is something that I oppose, and the more people who do that, the more effective that would be post-indy if Yes gets the majority.

      The point of a letter-writing campaign would be to invite people to go on record opposing devomax, and to set up some kind of online reminder to those who wrote before indyref to ask them to write again after indyref if Yes gets the majority.

      I don’t feel it can be “too late” until the devomax agreement is actually signed off! I do hope that – if Yes gets the majority – more Yes voters would feel empowered to protest SNP plans rather than keep quiet in order not to rock the boat before the referendum.

  5. bjsalba

    What makes you think the BoE is actually controlled by Westminster. As far as I can see it is controlled by the City of London.

    Alex Salmond is proposing a rather different beast if you pay attention to the fine print (comments in speeches interviews).

    And Scotland does have other options.

    But bear in mind the old saying ” Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.”

    • Alex Salmond is proposing a rather different beast if you pay attention to the fine print (comments in speeches interviews).

      That’s not “fine print”, that’s propaganda. The “fine print” is what’s in the Scottish Government policy documents.

      What makes you think the BoE is actually controlled by Westminster. As far as I can see it is controlled by the City of London.

      You should probably read the blogpost you are commenting on: I clarify how the monetary policy committee is appointed and the ties between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Bank of England.

      But bear in mind the old saying ” Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.”

      I fail to see the relevance.

  6. Ronnie Smith

    Excellent, a simply excellent piece of work. The Scottish people are indeed being offered DevoMax flimsily dressed-up as independence and from what I can see, from the consciously dreadful Better Together campaign, the UK Tory and Labour parties seem happy to let us get on with it.

    More sobering than the technical and legal issues set out above is the simple political scandal of a campaign as important for a nation as Yes being based on a quite extraordinary fraud. And that is clear without even talking about the notion of ‘automatic’ EU membership.

    I write as a life-long supporter of independence who started campaigning in 1974. Mr Salmond’s cautious long term strategy, creating a narrative of change without change, is in real danger of running up against the buffers. DevoMax is not independence and it’s not even a matter of opinion. No amount of bluffing can change that.

    True independence cannot, by definition, include a currency union with either the Bank of England or the ECB.

  7. expatmac

    This is a very thoughtful piece & mirrors something I feel is often missing from the debate. The bigger issue is not “Independence: yes or no”? but what type of economic/currency/fiscal set up would scotland have. There are scenarios where Scotland would technically have indpendence but in practice have less power to contol affairs than now, the reverse is also true. A smarter solution would be to build up institutions now and see how the UK EU referendum goes.

  8. Jane, I’m disappointed with your conclusions though I agree with your misgivings about CU. Yes, CU will tie our hands to a greater or lesser degree but it will still be better than at present. You are not right to suggest otherwise. Whatever currency option we choose there are pros and cons. No country is truly INDEPENDENT in that sense. But CU is a reasonable next step; though personally I’d be happier with our own currency. And I’m dismayed you dismiss so easily the regaining of a Scottish role internationally on the rather specious grounds that it MIGHT not be a peaceful role. It is much much more likely to be so than at present. So you seem to me to be making the best the enemy of the good. I’d ask you to reconsider.

    • I’m disappointed that you, like almost every Yes voter, are unwilling to challenge the SNP on a major policy issue that you disagree with.

      It seems to me that if you want me to vote Yes, and you yourself agree that currency union is a bad idea, you should be trying to figure out how the SNP can change its plans before indyref. Why so passively accepting of SNP policy?

    • Ronnie Smith

      Let’s not think about better or worse than the present. Let’s consider ‘different’. What would be different from where we are now one we have our CU and our membership if EU and NATO? What change will we see?

      • More to the point, Ronnie, if Yes voters weren’t all so helplessly passive with regard to SNP party policy, what change could you be part of?

        • Ronnie Smith

          Well yes, of course. Two things bother me more than all the other things that bother me, at the moment. A large part of the Yes campaign seems to be based on escaping the clutches of Westminster. The focus is negative rather than a positive one that pushes the fundamental purpose of Scotland as an independent and fully functioning country. The second thing is my concern about just how long will this passivity and acceptance of SNP policy last among the faithful. For so much of it not to hang together and yet to remain unchallenged by a large number of otherwise sensible people is extremely worrying and bodes Ill for the future of the country

  9. Pingback: Voting counts

  10. David newton

    Sorry Jane, but you are wrong. Too often I have seen people put off genuine forward movement while looking for the immediate fulfilment of an ideal vision. Take your misgivings and let them inform what comes next. Otherwise this blog, fine and articulate as it is, will always be your last word in going nowhere. Sorry again – I don’t often comment but this seems just so sad.

    • Sorry, David, but given Yes voters won’t stand up to the SNP & get them to drop currency union before the indyref, the only way I see of stopping this backwards, regressive policy is to vote No.

  11. Denis

    “the only way I see of stopping this backwards, regressive policy is to vote No”

    A classic example of the best being the enemy of the good. You remind me of those who voted against AV because it didn’t go far enough.

    You may be right that it would be difficult to get from what you see as a flawed half-way “Devo-max” to fully working independence. But in practical politics I think we have to take things in stages. If you wait for a leap from the status quo to your long term ideal, you’ll be waiting for ever.

    • I find it interesting that virtually no one in the Yes campaign is willing to either publicly defy or criticise SNP policy.

      It’s interesting that this is so, but it also confirms me that the only way to stop the SNP intention to stitch us up with the Tories in currency union will be to vote No. If people won’t stand up to the SNP and tell them to change their policies when the SNP actually want their votes for Yes, there’s no way anyone will successfully do so afterwards, when the SNP no longer need their votes.

      AV was flawed but an improvement on FPTP. Currency union is a botched-up shambles, a national policy backformatted from a campaign idea, stupidly and dishonestly promoted.

  12. Denis

    We are in a currency union now. The time to argue about whether we want to get out of it is when we are in a bargaining position to change it, i.e. after voting Yes. If they mean what they say now, the unionist parties will be arguing strongly for some other currency policy in any post-Yes negotiations.

    • We are in a currency union now.

      No, we are not.

      The UK is one country and uses the same currency throughout, with one central bank, the Bank of England.

      A vote Yes is a vote for Scotland to leave the UK / become an independent country.

      The SNP’s plan for currency union includes the plan that Scotland will become the third country in the EU with no central bank, no control over its own currency, with Westminster continuing to make all of the macro-economic decisions for Scotland.

      This would be hugely to the advantage of the financial industry, who are the Tory party’s biggest donors. The SNP’s plan would be ideal for the Conservatives, in fact: it would please the financial industry, it would continue to give Westminster major control over the oil money, and it would ensure the Tory party no longer had to worry about 59 Scottish MPs.

      Given both SNP and Conservatives are in government until May 2015, regardless of Labour objections, if there’s a Yes majority the SNP will stitch us up with the Tories well before next May.

      The only thing I could see stopping them would be strong protests from within the Yes campaign urging them to change this prior to the referendum. That’s not going to happen. Hence I plan to vote No.

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