9 March 2016

Scotland would be independent this month with a £15bn black hole


Is there anything the SNP won’t do to cause trouble and create tension between England and Scotland? It seems not. Yet even by the party leadership’s usual standards, the intervention at Westminster in English Sunday trading laws is a belter. The law concerns England. Scotland has its own laws. Changing the law on this in England obviously should have nothing – nothing whatsoever – to do with Scottish MPs. Inevitably, the SNP has made up a flimsy, miserable excuse to get involved and is now pledging to block the changes.

They are attacking this issue with even more than their customary relish, however. And that is for a very simple reason. This week – and this month – they need to create a diversion from the truth of Scotland’s fiscal position. If the Nationalists had won the September 2014 referendum (which they lost 55-45) then on the 24th of March this year Scotland would be celebrating, if that’s the word, its independence.

But what’s this? This week, the GERS Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) bulletin for 2014-15  is out and it shows that Scotland’s position would have been awful, because of a slump in the oil price. It is elementary market economics. The SNP’s leader Nicola Sturgeon declares in response that “the economic fundamentals” are strong, which is what leaders always say when they are trying to sound reassuring in the face of dire figures.

None of the attempts to change the subject, on Sunday trading in England or whatever other wheeze they come up with, should obscure the reality that the false prospectus produced ahead of the referendum by the Scottish government was a charlatan’s charter, a truly dodgy dossier full of false assertions and wishful thinking that would have left Scotland beginning its life as an independent country in terrible shape. For the tax revenue shortfall would not have happened in isolation. Scotland would simultaneously have had to unscramble the currency mess (and there would not have been a banking union with England, there just wouldn’t) and tap the international debt markets just as its public finances deteriorated.

Of course Scotland could be independent. As a Unionist Scot I have never doubted it for one second. My main attachment is to the common-feeling that comes from being British and Scottish as part of the UK. But while independence is feasible it would involve many, many years of painful dislocation and difficult work. The SNP leadership didn’t want to admit that truth, so they instead attempted to con the voters into believing that Scotland would be absolutely loaded with ever larger amount of free goodies to hand out to the population. So much for their claims of straight-talking. Their manoeuvre was as cynical and shameless as anything it has ever been my misfortune to witness in politics.

They should never be allowed to forget that on its mooted independence day in March 2016, the SNP leadership would have put Scotland in the position of being broke.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX