Yesterday was another important milestone in the independence referendum campaign, as the Scottish Government launched their long-awaited white paper. Entitled “Scotland’s future: Your guide to an independent Scotland”; it sets out the SNP Government’s vision for the aftermath of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum. If Scotland chooses independence next September, these are the terms that the current administration will be working towards achieving. This is the both the SNP’s manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election and the blueprint for Scottish independence.
Some of the headlines of the white paper include a proposed independence day of the 24th March 2016 and the first election to the independent Parliament on the 5th May 2016, the establishment of a written constitution, re-nationalisation of the postal service, maintaining the pound as the national currency, keeping the Queen as head of state, increased childcare provision, cutting corporation tax by 3%, a ‘triple lock’ pension increase guarantee and a revamped and ‘fairer’ tax system. On the whole the message is that society won’t change terribly much, but Scotland will be more in control of itself and will benefit because of it.
This article will explore the key points of the White Paper in a comprehensive summary, including links to relevant passages in the PDF version of the paper, and also feature some of the arguments of the No campaign against the proposals.
The White Paper begins by setting out the case for independence, as the SNP/Scottish Government has done for years. It argues that home rule is more appropriate for Scotland, and cites examples such as the ‘bedroom tax’, the privatisation of Royal Mail, and the proposed EU secession referendum as areas where Scottish MPs have been overruled by the will of the Westminster Government.
The Scottish Government say that Scots contribute £10,700 per head in tax rather than the UK wide average of £9,000, and have contributed more than average since 1981, making the case that we’d survive economically on our own. Obviously, the topic of oil is also prominent, saying that the resource makes our GDP output 20% larger than the UK’s as a whole. The White Paper’s argument is that these resources are not being used to Scots’ full benefit because the Scottish Parliament only controls 7% of generated revenue at the moment (going up to 15% shortly after the implementation of the Scotland Act 2012) and that independence would bring us full control over our assets. An independent government would cut corporation tax by “up to three percentage points” in attempt to make Scotland an easier place to do business.
Professor Peter McGregor of the University of Strathclyde suggests that cutting corporation tax could result in “retaliation” from the remainder of the UK, and create a “race to the bottom and a loss of tax revenues for both Governments”, which would be ineffective in achieving its’ intentions.
In welfare terms, the Scottish Government propose that they will abolish the ‘bedroom tax’ within the first year of an independent Scottish Parliament and ask the UK Government to halt the roll-out of the Universal Credit policy in Scotland immediately after a Yes vote in the referendum next year. The White Paper also claims an independent Scottish Government will be able to tackle “long-standing inequalities” in Scottish society.
The White Paper proposes that Scotland will keep the pound as its currency after independence, and cites the Fiscal Commission Working Group’s conclusion that this would be the best solution for both Scotland and the UK. As part of an improved tax system, that is more specific to Scotland’s needs, the SNP will: ensure that benefits rise along with inflation, end tax breaks for those that are married, and reduce tax avoidance by £250 million per year, by using modern, digital collection methods. The Minimum Wage will also rise along with inflation, monitored by a newly created Fair Work Commission. The Government will support more companies in implementing a higher Living Wage, which is a level beyond the minimum wage connected with the average cost of living.
Critics of the Scottish Government currency plans, such as the No campaign leader Alasdair Darling, say that there is no guarantee that a ‘monetary union’ between the UK and Scotland would be created after independence, and argue that the White Paper doesn’t show a “Plan B” if the UK upholds its right to decline. Others criticise a lack of detail as to how other financial arrangements, such as loans, mortgages and insurance, will transfer into an independent Scotland; with the White Paper merely stating that “firms will…continue to provide products and services to consumers across Scotland…no matter where they are based” and that “existing systems will be honoured in full following independence”.
The Government’s pension plans also include a departure from Westminster policies. The retirement age would increase to 66 by 2020, but not to 67 by 2026 in line with the UK Government’s gradual increase policy. The Government propose guaranteeing a ‘triple lock’ on pensions, which mean that the pension will always increase by the highest of three measures: average earnings, CPI inflation or 2.5%, which is a measure already in place in the UK, but only guaranteed until 2015. The pension will be a single-tier system, set at £160 per week in 2016, which is £1.10 higher than the UK pension would be under current projections. All existing public and private pensions before independence will be maintained.
One of the points the Scottish Government seemed to stress most heavily with the White Paper launch was their childcare policy, which would see a universal system covering children from the age of one until they enter school, with an aim of cutting household childcare costs and getting more women in the workplace.
A major criticism of the White Paper, particularly from Alasdair Darling, is that these childcare provisions “do not need independence” to initiate. Nicola Sturgeon responded in a press conference after the White Paper’s launch, saying that the SNP government would not introduce the policy because they do not want the tax earned by extra women in work to go to the UK Treasury. Darling called this admission “utterly astonishing”.
Although at the moment Scottish education is already separate from the UK system, the White Paper touches upon the subject by saying that the current Government would retain the policy of no tuition fees for higher education. The current policy of offering education, training or employment to anyone up to the age of 19 could be extended to the age of 24.
In a similar vein to education, there would be no change in the ‘day-to-day’ running of the NHS in Scotland and that cross-border care along with the UK would still exist.
A cornerstone of the SNP’s argument for independence for years has been its’ energy policies, and they are enshrined in the White Paper. The Scottish government claim that Scotland produces six times its’ demand for oil and three times its need for gas and that up to £1.5 trillion can be generated by the oil industry until it runs out in the middle of this century. The document claims that an “Energy Fund” will be created so that oil and gas revenues benefit future generations and claim that their policies will reduce overall energy bills by 5%. The Government also sees a big place in energy policy for renewable energy, and claims it will give us an “energy bonus” in future as we have 25% of Europe’s wind and tidal energy capacity.
On citizenship, the Scottish Government say that any British citizens “habitually resident” in Scotland or anyone born in Scotland will have a right to Scottish citizenship, and therefore a Scottish passport – with measures to be be instated for those not fitting these criteria to be naturalised as well.
Broadcasting is an area where the current Scottish Parliament has no power, but the White Paper suggests that very little will change in terms of broadcasting under an independent Scotland. BBC Scotland will be remodelled into a Scottish Broadcasting Service, and will continue to be funded by a license fee and co-operate with the BBC to provide Scottish programmes UK wide and UK programmes in Scotland.
The SNP were vehemently against the privatisation of Royal Mail in recent months, and would take steps to renationalise the company under an independent Scotland, bringing benefits to rural communities that pay higher prices at the moment because of their remoteness.