There are some straws in the wind that the nationalist campaign is beginning to panic as time runs out before the September referendum. Having published a White Paper at the end of last November, at great expense to the taxpayer, the SNP government has now resorted to offering fresh bribes to the Scottish electorate – reliant, of course, on a Yes vote.
But why rustle-up new bribes? Were the first ones in the White Paper not enough? Or is the late entry of more benefits that other people have to pay for all part of a longer term strategy? If it is the latter then such a plan takes the Scottish electorate for mugs, for if voters can see through the first set of bribes why would they not see through the new ones?
At the beginning of the year the chief Yes campaign strategist Stephen Noon said that there would be three obstacles that would snare the No campaign and help bring home a Yes vote by September. Writing in Scotland on Sunday he listed his bear pits as,
“first, whether their promise of more powers will be sufficient or even credible; second, the outcome of the European elections and whether we are on the slippery slope to the EU exit door; and, finally, the biggest fear factor in Scottish politics, the prospect of yet more Westminster Tory rule.”
Well it hasn’t quite worked out as Noon anticipated. Firstly, he failed to take account of how the No campaign would deal with the SNP’s White Paper. The economic case for independence has been well and truly trashed. With just six weeks to go, Alex Salmond and his followers still cannot say with any certainty what currency an independent Scotland will have, how it will fund the ongoing state pension costs and what terms of membership Scotland will have to accept to regain entry to the EU.
Mark Carney explained in Edinburgh how a currency union could work and then George Osborne – with support from Ed Balls and Danny Alexander – explained how it would not be in the interests of the continuing UK to acede to those requirements. The SNP has been on the back foot ever since. Despite interventions by various economists on both sides of the argument the only certain way for Scots to keep the pound is to remain in the UK. End of.
As Professor Adam Tomkins has explained in typically lucid fashion, state pensions are not paid for by past National Insurance contributions – there is no pot of gold of NIC savings. NIC payments only give people an entitlement, the funding comes from current payments (and borrowings if required). So if Scotland were to become independent the future payments would have to be funded out of Scotland’s own contributions raised at the time.
That’s the same Scotland that will have a demographically weaker position with a larger number of people of pensionable age requiring support (which is why the White Paper’s economics are dependent on 100,000 extra immigrants coming to Scotland). The idea that the future taxpayers of the UK have a duty to fund pensions for people that have walked away from it is plain wrong, and even more bizarre coming from people who in the same breath can say Scotland should consider walking away from any UK debt liabilities.
On the issue of the EU the SNP cannot even bring itself to admit that it will have to renegotiate the general terms of membership. The question is not whether an independent Scotland would gain membership, it is what benefits that the UK has negotiated (the Fontainbleau discount, various opt-outs and derogations etc) that Scotland would lose in the rush to re-join.
Those are the main weaknesses in the White Paper but there are others, such as the oil revenue forecasts that have been twice shown as wildly overoptimistic and the childcare promise that has been exposed for lacking any financial modelling.
Imagine Labour launching a new childcare policy that would become self-funding through the tax revenues of mothers going back into employment – only to find out that no financial modelling had been done and for it to work would require 40,000 more mothers than currently exist? How the SNP hopes to find those 40,000 new mums it cannot say.
I could go on with other examples, so when I say the SNP’s economic case is on the ropes I believe I am being kind.
But back to Noon’s bear pits. His second mistake was to anticipate the unionists would release their policies on new powers for the Scottish Parliament by March – but they were cannier than that and played a longer game. They have taken their time in an effort to build up credibility and crucially the Conservative proposals have trumped the Labour policies. This not only strengthened the unionist hand by suggesting that come what may in 2015 general election stronger powers would be delivered – it also helped undermine the fear of more Conservative rule in Westminster (if that’s as big a fear as Noon claims).
The idea that a failure by the unionists to deliver further devolved powers would trigger a “major crumbling of their support” to the benefit of the Yes campaign has simply not materialised.
Likewise Noon called it wrong on the European Parliament elections.
The theory was that the EU elections would show the political difference between Scotland and England confirming to Scots that England would take Scotland out of the EU – and that it would therefore make sense to vote for independence to remain in the EU (even though there is no certainty about the terms of any Scottish membership).
The SNP expected UKIP to win well in England but be obliterated in Scotland and called upon the Scottish electorate to put a third SNP MEP in Brussels (out of the six) – as it was widely expected the Liberal Democrat seat was vulnerable. The Scottish electorate listened and repudiated the SNP by electing David Coburn its first UKIP MEP. Scotland was found to be not so different after all, leaving Scotch egg on the faces of both Alex Salmond and Stephen Noon.
That leaves the fear mongering about a Tory government being re-elected in 2015 – ignoring as always that the current government is in fact a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who won more seats in Scotland than the SNP in 2010.
But just how feared is this notion? Scottish Conservatives are actually gaining in the polls and have now enjoyed 18 by-elections in a row where their vote share has increased. So much for the positive “could we” and “should we” campaign that is meant to spurn negativity. It remains to be seen if playing the anti-Tory card is really working – certainly the polls are hardly shifting enough – with the latest showing that while a larger share of Don’t Knows could vote Yes it will not be enough to provide a victory.
So it should come as no surprise that, as we reach the final weeks and the chief strategist’s plan is not delivering, Alex Salmond resorts to his old and familiar retail politics of bribing the electorate with money he doesn’t have.
Promises of raising public sector pay and increasing the minimum wage following independence are cheap at the price. Indeed I expect more of the same, more political bribes to be conjured up to try and convince the electorate that independence will be a tartan paradise.
It is future generations that will have to pick up the cost through higher taxes, greater borrowings or shedding jobs – it won’t be Salmond’s worry as he settles down on his secure pensions (RBS, House of Commons, Scottish Parliament and First Minister). Maybe Stephen Noon has a strategy to get Scotland out of that hole too.