Scots urged to seize future ‘with both hands’
Salmond publishes 650-page white paper on government vision of independence
Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon presents the Independence White Paper to the members of the Scottish Parliament. Photograph:Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Scotland must seize “the future with both hands”, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said yesterday as he launched his government’s plans for independence. Publishing a white paper, Scotland’s Future, in Glasgow, Mr Salmond said an independent Scotland would be able to use sterling as its currency, despite opposition from London and Cardiff.
Rejecting arguments about the currency, Mr Salmond said it was in London’s interests to have North Sea oil and gas receipts – currently worth £36 billion a year – kept on sterling’s balance of payments. However, the issue is replete with difficulties, since a currency union would require the UK to vet an independent Scotland’s budget, and vice versa. Scots will vote on independence in a referendum next September.
An independent Scotland would welcome immigrants but would not have to impose border controls, since Ireland has different rules to the UK yet still operates a common travel area, Mr Salmond said.
The white paper said Scotland’s needs differed from those of the rest of the UK. “Healthy population growth is important for Scotland’s economy. One of the main contributors to Scotland’s population growth is immigrants.” Saying control over immigration would be one of the major gains, it accused the Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition of adopting “an aggressive approach” on the issue.
For now, the debate in Scotland has centred on economics, though there are likely to be twists and turns over coming months – particularly after next year’s European Parliament elections. Sharp gains by the UK Independence Party, if made, could make an impact on Scottish public opinion, particularly if they led to stronger demands in England for an UK exit. Meanwhile, forecasts about the next victor in the House of Commons elections will be significant, too, particularly if a Labour win is seen as unlikely or in doubt.
“For 34 of the last 68 years Scotland has been ruled by governments that were rejected at the ballot box in Scotland,” the 650-page white paper said. Nine out of 10 Scottish MPs voted against cutting child benefits in 2012 and imposing the bedroom tax on local authority tenants, but both occurred, it said. Meanwhile, eight out 10 Scottish MPs voted against the recent privatisation of the Royal Mail – though the company’s operations in Scotland will be brought under national ownership if Scots for independence, the white paper said.
Pensions would be protected, welfare benefits safeguarded and improved, along with the minimum wage, while corporation tax would be cut by 3 per cent. The latter cut would create “a competitive advantage against London and the southeast of England”, boost output by 1.4 per cent and create 27,000 jobs.
The first minister said policies set in Scotland would reverse the growing inequality found in the UK by international studies.
However, Mr Salmond said a Scottish National Party government would not be “spendthrift” in an independent Scotland – £600 million of extra spending would be promised in the first year, but matched by cuts elsewhere. Radical reforms to childcare – offering up to 30 hours free a week – would bring tens of thousands of women into the workforce, boosting the economy, said deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The Scottish budget would be helped by not paying for a share of the Trident nuclear weapon arsenal, while the submarine base at Faslane would have to close by 2021.
Questioned about future EU membership, Mr Salmond said he believed “that there will be enthusiasm” from other EU states for Scotland’s “continued” involvement.