Groundhog Day Square (1)

Groundhog Day. Again. Obviously.

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IT’S GROUNDHOG DAY. Again. The SNP wins an election and immediately demands a separatist referendum. The SNP has pretty much disowned the White Paper – known to some of us as the Waste Paper – of 2013, lovingly compiled for the 2014 referendum, and has produced no prospectus to replace it. Its intended successor, Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission Report of 2018, was binned as a result of SNP rank and file opposition to it. Yet, without a prospectus, the SNP demands a referendum. Any prospectus the SNP produces will doubtless fall into the same category as the 2013 tome. It’s perhaps worth noting that an anagram of the White Paper’s title, ‘Scotland’s Future’, is ‘Fraudulent Costs’. Perhaps that would do for a new version.

The fact is that, beyond ‘Braveheart’ sentiment and hatred of the English (for whom the proxies of ‘London’, ‘Westminster’ ‘Tories’ serve), the SNP and its supporters have nothing: no argument in favour of separation and certainly not a Scooby about what their ‘independent’ Scotland would look like. Except that it would be ‘vibrant and reimagined’, according to Fiona Rintoul in the Times. ‘Reimagined’ is a word used by soi-disant cultural figures, normally to describe the desecration of a major work of art. For example, Beethoven’s Fidelio (his only opera) was produced at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago, ‘reimagined in the present and future in space’. I gave it a miss. A neighbour who didn’t was pungent in his reaction.

In our new reimagined Scotland money would grow on trees – which is what, as a child, I imagined a ‘cash crop’ to be. We would not have Trident, the customary SNP totem. That would save pennies, in defence spending terms – and maybe not even that if an iScotland wanted to join NATO, with its two per cent spending requirement, of which Trident is currently a part in the UK defence budget.

In sum, the SNP cannot answer the basic questions. For a start, which currency would you use? I know they say they would *use* the £, but that leaves them with a host of other difficult questions. I don’t think anyone in the SNP now suggests – as Salmond blustered in 2014 – that of course the rUK would share the £ in a currency union with a separate Scotland. So sterlingisation it is – Sturgeon’s choice. That means iScotland having no control over its own monetary policy: the Bank of England would exercise that. There would be the piquant outcome that Scottish banks (if any remained in Scotland) would lose their issuing rights, and all Scottish notes would be printed with ‘Bank of England’. Not a good start for an ‘independent’ country.

Beyond that, the Bank of England is sterling’s central bank, but it would not act as a central bank for Scottish expenditure or borrowing, and it certainly would not act as Scotland’s lender of last resort. Imagine a financial or pandemic crisis without a lender of last resort? No thanks. Ms Sturgeon likes to tell us that a separate Scotland would do what other countries, including the UK, do and borrow the money it needed. This betrays a complete misunderstanding of (or dishonesty about) financial affairs. To borrow on the international markets, a country needs to have a track record of financial stability. For a country like the UK, having a reserve currency and a record of repaying loans means that loans can be obtained on the most favourable of terms. It needs emphasising that Nicola Sturgeon claims that these same favourable terms would apply to an iScotland. This is an untruth.

It would be untrue also if Scotland decided to have a new currency of its own. This would be a new and untested currency, with no track record of stability. Scotland would not have a central bank worth the name, nor reserves to support a new currency. Moody’s credit rating agency predicted in 2017 – before the upheavals of the pandemic – that an iScotland would probably have a *junk* credit rating, making borrowing difficult and very expensive. How much more difficult and expensive would it be post-Covid?

The SNP can brush aside these inconvenient facts by pointing out that time is on its side: the young will vote for them and their ‘independence’. But that is true only because the young believe their propaganda. An article in the Timesrecently showed that, if it turned out that leaving the UK would make young people’s household poorer by a mere £1,000 a year, their support for Scexit would plummet – from 62 per cent to 31 per cent. In fact, leaving the UK would make them £2,000 a year poorer for each household member, before one considers other factors, such as financial services and other businesses leaving iScotland. And then there is the little matter of the cost of setting up a new state. I don’t think anyone now believes that it would be as little as the £250 million that Salmond outrageously claimed in 2014. John Swinney had already suggested (in SNP privacy) that setting up a new tax system alone would cost £550-650 million.

The most interesting thing about the recent election campaign was that it showed that Nicola Sturgeon was losing the plot. Her much-vaunted party discipline had already been undermined by the defection of some of the wilder fringes of the SNP to Salmond’s Alba group. But she herself also appeared less plausible and sure-footed. This time people have noticed the old trick she plays of claiming that the election is not about secession but about domestic issues – the ones that are her remit and that she neglects in pursuit of her Holy Grail of separatism. Then, the moment the results are in, in her favour, she tells us that she has a mandate for a referendum. It isn’t really very clever, even if her masses lap it up.

In addition, she sticks to her script, insisting that a separate Scotland would be in the EU, even though the currency issue alone rules that out: you cannot join the EU when using a third country’s currency and having no control over your own monetary policy. She has also come up with a new variant on her EU theme. She claimed recently on the Today programme, where Justin Webb valiantly tried to get her to stick to the subject, that a separate Scotland could be in both the EU, with its freedom of movement policy, and also remain in the British Isles’ Common Travel Area, which means freedom of movement in that area. Does anyone seriously imagine that the powers in either London or Brussels would permit that? It is cloud cuckoo land at its most absurd.

Ms Sturgeon pretends that this can be achieved to try to square a circle. She knows she has to convince distraught Remainers that she would take Scotland into the EU (but she can’t do that with sterlingisation). That is the only way to increase her separatist vote. But she also knows that having a hard border with England – as would be necessary were Scotland to join the EU – would lose her significant support, even among many convinced separatists, let alone the soft middle ground voters whom she would need to win any referendum. This specious position is all of a piece with the SNP approach to difficult questions. In the Shetland by-election in 2019, the SNP threw everything at the campaign to try to unseat the Lib Dems, including promising that, when a separate Scotland joined the EU, it would abolish or transform the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy to suit Scotland’s needs. As if.

I believe that remains SNP policy.

Ms Sturgeon’s latest tactic with interviewers, recently on show with Andrew Marr, is simply to say in answer to a difficult question “I don’t accept that characterisation” – the question being about the fiscal transfer. With the imperiousness of a Roman Emperor, she tells us, “I don’t accept that Scotland as an independent country would be poorer”. All the evidence, of course, suggests that it would be. At the same time, she accepts GERS as valid, although her party’s propagandists dismiss GERS as a worthless PR exercise skewed in favour of the UK.

It is a bit of a mystery that hundreds of thousands of Scots seem unable to discern the internal contradictions in Ms Sturgeon’s position on a variety of issues. One can only assume that drinking the Kool Aid has dimmed their critical faculties.

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