Scotland will face the “severest cuts in political history” if voters reject independence, the country’s First Minister has claimed.
The day after he launched the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence, Alex Salmond challenged the leaders of the pro-Union parties to spell out what the financial impact of staying in the UK will be.
The parties involved in the anti-independence Better Together campaign, Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, must now “provide answers to fundamental questions about if Scotland maintains the Union”.
Mr Salmond issued the challenge as MSPs debated the White Paper which runs to almost 670 pages and sets out the SNP administration’s aims for negotiating terms after a Yes vote on September 18 next year.
Ministers are relying on keeping the pound as currency, shared with the rest of the UK, and are working towards seamless transition to European Union statehood.
The document also indicates what an SNP Government would do if re-elected in 2016, including pledges to increase free childcare, scrap the so-called bedroom tax and remove Trident nuclear missiles from Scotland.
“The assumption has been so far if we don’t have independence, everything will continue much as it is,”
Mr Salmond said.
“That’s not going to be the case.”
“The Government has set out our case for an independent Scotland. What we want to hear from the Unionist parties, Better Together, is how big is the Better Together raid going to be on the Scottish Budget if Scotland votes No.”
The vision presented by the Scottish Government in the White Paper would be:
“contrasted against a future where they see low growth in population, low growth in the economy and Scotland subjected to the severest cuts in political history, over and above the retrenchment of the last few years”.
Mr Salmond said:
“Politics are about choices and the choice next year will be between that new society or the future offered by Better Together, which for many Scots will be no future at all.”
The white paper, titled Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, sets out plans to increase the amount of free childcare youngsters can receive to 1,140 hours a year if the Nationalists form the first government in a newly independent Scotland.
Mr Salmond said if his party was voted into power after a Yes vote, by the end of the first parliamentary term £700 million would have been invested to provide this level of care to vulnerable two-year-olds and all three and four-year-olds.
“In the longer term our ambition as a country is to make these levels of care available to all children from the age of one,”
Opponents challenged him, demanding to know why Mr Salmond’s government – which already has power over childcare – had not done this already.
But the SNP leader insisted independence was necessary to implement this “transformational policy”.
He argued that a six percentage point increase in the number of women in the workforce could boost tax revenues by £700 million, and independence would mean this cash would all remain in Scotland rather than going to the Westminster Treasury.
The First Minister said:
“A childcare revolution is the sort of transformation under devolution that we can only imagine – with independence it’s one that we can implement.
“The revenues would flow into the Scottish treasury after independence, which would enable that transformational plan to be funded.”
He challenged his opponents to spell out how they would pay for such a policy under devolution without making “dramatic cuts”.
Mr Salmond said:
“In next year’s referendum the people of Scotland will be asked to choose between two futures – between taking the future into our own hands or continuing to allow key aspects of Scottish life to be controlled by Westminster governments.
“Yesterday the Scottish Government published our vision of a better Scotland. Across 670 pages and 170,000 words, addressing 650 questions, Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland sets out how we can build a fairer, more prosperous and more democratic country.”
Labour leader Johann Lamont attacked Mr Salmond over the Government’s currency plans.
She questioned how Scotland could be fiscally independent in a formal monetary union with the rest of the UK.
“We would have an independent Scotland which relied on a foreign bank and foreign taxpayers for our currency,” she said.
“A foreign parliament from which we had withdrawn would draw up the rules.
“This independent Scotland would have its interest rates, its spending policy, its tax policy, its borrowing limits set by a foreign country.”
Setting up such a monetary union would likely depend on a referendum for the rest of the UK, while Prime Minister David Cameron has said that such an arrangement is unlikely.
Maintaining the Bank of England as lender of last resort would also mean the rest of UK taxpayers bailing out a Scottish bank.
“Imagine if Scotland’s future currency depended on a referendum in which no Scot would have a vote,”
“The idea that you would abuse the rest of the UK for how they have done us down, and then go back to them and say, could you do us a favour and let us share your currency, simply beggars belief.
“The reality is better childcare, reform of the council tax, relieving the victims of bedroom tax. We could do all of these now, if (Mr Salmond) is serious about making this Parliament work.
“The White Paper is littered with con-tricks. Scotland deserves better and Scotland will see through it.”
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson questioned whether an independent Scotland could become a full member of the EU within the 18 months between the referendum and the Government’s independence date in March 2016, and whether it could remain in the EU while this process takes place.
Ms Davidson said that European officials have said Scotland would not be able to approach the EU for membership “until after it’s finished all of its negotiations with the UK”, which contrasts with the Government’s view.
These negotiations with the UK would need to be “completed in time to start a formal membership application which would require each of the institutions of the EU and every one of the 28 other member states – each one holding a veto – to agree to change the founding treaty; to open up and amend a number of other treaties; to agree all the opt-outs secured by Britain that the SNP want to keep; to add to the commissioners; to add to the voting”, she said.
“All of that in a matter of mere months when from application to accession it takes states an average of eight years to join.
“The Scottish Government are desperate to prove that they don’t have to come out of Europe before they get to go back in. And they are contorting themselves in every possible way to find a straw to grasp on this issue.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie criticised the First Minister’s pledge on childcare, complaining that he has not been able to match England yet.
“If he can’t even be trusted to match England on childcare, why I should I believe a single word he says on childcare for 10 years time?”
Extending the current policy under the devolved settlement has been a key feature of encounters between the two men.
The Lib Dem leader frequently calls for a increased provision during the weekly First Minister’s Questions session at Holyrood.
Mr Rennie also attempted to poke fun at the SNP’s expense one day after the formal unveiling of the White Paper.
“True to form, it’s day two of the happy clappy sect’s starry-eyed optimisim, worshipping the god of positivity,”
“Alex Salmond – the patron saint of blind optimism.”
Green party co-leader Patrick Harvie said the No campaign must make clear its agenda for change.
“Scottish Greens are comfortable encompassing all shades of opinion on the question of independence, while having a clear majority in favour of a Yes vote,” he said.
“But our highest priority in this debate is to ask what kind of country we want Scotland to be, and that is a debate the No campaigners have so far failed to engage in.”
SNP backbencher Christina McKelvie launched into an analogy about the birth of a nation.
“This is the day, our day, Scotland’s day. The day that we can cradle in our arms Scotland’s future and hear the infant cries of a new country,”
“On September 18 2014 we will dispatch our child off to a new kind of school, one that recognises the worth of every single infant and gives her wings to fly.”
Heaping historical significance onto the White Paper, she added:
“There is a strong argument that this is the most important political document to be produced since our country’s nobles appealed to the pope in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.”
SNP backbencher Marco Biagi looked further back into history in an attempt to criticise Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK.
“Alistair Darling could have been presented with the 10 Commandments themselves on the slopes of Mount Sinai and he would have dismissed them for saying honour thy father and mother, and asked if it includes adoptive parents,”