Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Scottish people don't deserve Mr Salmond...

So finally, having firstly accused the British government of interfering in Scottish affairs - as if Scotland were not a part of the United Kingdom - Alex Salmond and the SNP opt for the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn as their chosen date for the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. No emotion there then. Just hard-headed scottish pragmatism.

The first question he needs to answer is which currency Mr Salmond would choose for Scotland - the pound, the euro or the deep-fried Mars bar. If the answer is the pound, would the English let it keep sterling? What a delicious irony awaits there. And as recent events in euroland have shown, monetary union without political union is a nightmare.

Then there's the question of EU membership. For many years the SNP beguiled the Scottish people with the prospect of joining what Salmond liked to call the 'arc of prosperity' - a string of financially prosperous islands across the Atlantic seaboard of Europe: Iceland, Scotland and Ireland. Oh dear. Only Scotland it would seem survived that illusion. Principally because its banks were bailed out by the British taxpayer - something not available to the other two nations. Because of course, they were independent.

'Independence within Europe' was another of Mr Salmond's worthy slogans. Except that as a new member of the European Union the Scots would have to commit to joining the Euro, even if it were to be some way into the future - the EU does not have euro and non-euro members, just euro and pre-euro. Another interesting position for Mr Salmond to have to justify to the Scottish people. Not to mention Scotland's financial committments to the euro bailout fund which would automatically ensue from their membership. But the other side of the coin would also be true. How warmly do you imagine would Germany welcome into the eurozone another small country which spends considerably more than half its GDP in public spending? And this one doesn't even have the sunshine...

Then there is the small matter of the Royal Bank of Scotland which managed to go bust in the most spectacular way through its irresponsible lending policies and inept management. Either Mr Salmond could take responsibility for repaying the £40 billion that mostly English taxpayers have put into it or it could remain the property of the British taxpayer.

There is also of course, the national debt. The Institute of Economic Affairs has calculated that if an independent Scotland assumed its share of national debt dictated by its proportion of public spending then it would start life £110 billion in the red. The question which follows is, would Scotland then still have a triple A rating in the financial markets? Not likely.

Of course, according to the SNP there is £1 trillion in black gold beneath the waters of the North Sea. But UK oil revenues are highly volatile - last year they were £6.5 billion, this year £13 billion. And with the ending of the Barnett Formula, through which Scotland receives a £10 billion annual subsidy from English taxpayers - and which funds many of Mr Salmond's most popular programs, from free university education to free care for the elderly - it will need to make up the shortfall.

All that is quite an ask of any politician. But I am constantly assured by the media that Mr Salmond's judgement and ability is up to it. I just wonder, given the extraordinarily inept judgement that he has shown in the past, whether the Scottish people deserve such folly.