Parliamentarians criticise independence paper but Skene calls it a red letter day
Criticism has been levelled against the Scottish government’s vision on how a Scotland separate from the rest of the UK would look.
The comments by Isles MP and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and his Edinburgh counterpart, Tavish Scott, have come after the release today by the SNP government of the white paper on independence.
Mr Carmichael says the weighty 670-page document deliberately ignores the uncertainties held by many people over separation.
Mr Scott, meanwhile, has highlighted “nationalist centralisation” and has criticised the nationalists for failing to provide islands legislation in the current parliament.
However the white paper has been defended by local nationalist Danus Skene, who hopes the paper’s release could move the debate on independence on to a new level.
The white paper set out a series of pledges, as well as gaining independence.
• Thirty hours of childcare per week for three and four-year-olds, as well as certain two year-olds;
• The removal of Trident nuclear weapons from the Clyde;
• Housing benefit reforms including the scrapping of the so-called “bedroom tax”;
• The retention of the pound.
Mr Carmichael said the Scottish government had ignored the uncertainties and difficulties of independence.
“This was their chance to level with people. They have chosen a different path and people will judge them on that.
“For years we have been promised that all the answers on independence would be in the white paper. The big day has finally arrived and we have 670 pages that leaves us none the wiser on crucial questions such as currency, pensions and the cost of independence.
“People will draw their own conclusions that the Scottish government have deliberately sought to ignore the uncertainties and difficulties of independence. We are simply expected to believe that everything will be perfect after we leave the UK. We are asked to accept that ending a 300 year United Kingdom will be straightforward. We are told it will all be all right on the night.
“It is astonishing that the Scottish government can sit in private discussing the costs of independence and then refuse to share those figure with the Scottish people. John Swinney’s leaked paper said it would cost £600m every year to run an independent tax system but today we saw nothing about that.
“It looks more and more like the Scottish government will continue to keep these things private. If they had convincing answers then today really would have been the day to share them with everyone.
Mr Scott added: “The SNP have confirmed that there will be no islands legislation in the current Parliament. The islands councils asked for this just last week but today they have been told ‘no’. That is deeply disappointing. It shows that the islands are secondary to independence while nationalist centralisation and removal of local powers will not be reversed under the SNP.
“People will see right through this manifesto and wonder why the nationalist government couldn’t use the powers they have had for six years to help Shetland families, businesses and local people.”
However Mr Skene said the launch of the paper was a significant milestone in the run-up to September’s referendum.
“I think we’ve had a very negative period. We’ve had a period that has been dominated by so-called ‘project fear’. That period, which has been led by a whole series of scare stories about the possible effects of independence … has not increased the ‘no’ vote. There has been a very modest hardening up of the ‘yes’ vote, although I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it.
“There has been remarkably little movement over this last six months. Now the positive arguments are being consolidated. One of the reasons I look forward to reading this with some care is that I very much hope this is a document that will be about options which will be available to a Scottish electorate and not some sort of prospectus for a post-independence SNP government.
“I think it’s a red-letter day in the sense that I would hope this will move the debate onto different territory, and that we will be able to focus on what the issues actually are.”
He insisted the paper did highlight issues pertenent to the isles, particularly surrounding the stabilisation of the oil industry and the Our Islands Our Future initiative.
“There is a cabinet committee being designated to look at this to take stuff forward.
“This is not an exercise about an SNP government, it’s an exercise about getting choice and policy options within Scotland whoever has control. I think one of the interesting speculations is what happens if the first post-independence referendum produces a non-SNP government.”
He said the financial comparisons on either side of the border were “extremely close”.
“By that I mean the per capita income between Scotland and England – we’re not talking about Germany and Greece. The fiscal wealth source of revenue is pretty close.
“While we do receive slightly higher government expenditure per capita in Scotland we are more than that contributing slightly higher taxation per capita in Scotland.
“What I think the endless debate about money is telling us is that the conditions either side of the border are extremely close.
“The issue is about how you distribute that wealth to what effect. The Scottish electorate is more prepared to see a greater equality generated through the taxation system spent on the social services, health etc.
“Scotland has a different distribution and spending agenda than England.”
He added: “It’s not just a question of independence it’s a question of what the risks are of continued union. The UK as a state is facing considerable difficulties of debt, fiscal options and the rest of it. There is risk there.”