Irish crisis is proof Scotland should stay in UK - parties


IRELAND’S ECONOMIC crisis, illustrated by the severity of last week’s Budget, is evidence that Scotland cannot survive as an independent country, the Scottish Labour Party and the Conservatives have separately said.

The minority government of the Scottish Nationalist Party is pushing for a referendum to be held on a number of options next year, including full independence and far greater devolution from London.

Up to the beginning of the global financial crash, Scottish first minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond repeatedly said Scotland should emulate Ireland’s economy and form “an arc of prosperity” with Iceland and Norway.

However, Ireland’s fall from grace has provoked scathing criticism of Mr Salmond’s ambitions from Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray and his Scottish Conservative counterpart Annabel Goldie.

“Less than two years ago the first minister also said: ‘I am sure that most of Europe’s finance ministers would give at least one limb to have Ireland’s policy problems rather than their own’,” Mr Gray said yesterday.

He compared the Irish budget, which ordered €4 billion worth of savings, with the pre-budget report from the chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling, which, he claimed, would leave people marginally better off.

“In this tale of two budgets, would the first minister really ‘give at least one limb’ to have Scotland in Ireland’s shoes? In Ireland children have been asked to take their own toilet roll to school as the schools can’t afford it.”

He went on: “Less than two years ago the first minister said ‘only one question matters for Scotland: are we capable of matching Ireland’s success?’ The global banking crisis has shown that the answer is yes – but only if we are part of the United Kingdom.

“Or does the first minister still cling to the delusion that an independent Scotland would have been able to bail out our two biggest banks, keep the cash machines open and thousands of Scots in work?” he said.

Mr Salmond’s “arc of prosperity” was not “an economic theory. It was an arc of delusion. Ireland, Iceland – the countries he wanted Scotland to be like – have been those hit hardest by the global economic crisis”, he claimed.

Demanding to know where spending cuts in Scotland will be made, the Scottish Conservative leader Ms Goldie said prime minister Gordon Brown’s government in London had brought Scotland “to the brink of bankruptcy”.

“Doing nothing is not an option; living in denial is not an option; and saying that all will be well in an independent Scotland is not an option – just look at Ireland,” she told the Holyrood parliament last week.

Criticising Labour and the Conservatives for “extending their negative politics to attacking Ireland”, Mr Salmond’s spokesman said both “should consider that the Irish went into recession some 30 per cent more prosperous per head than the UK, and will undoubtedly come out of it at a similar level”.

Scotland, he said, had a current budget surplus for three years of £2.3 billion, compared to a UK deficit of £24 billion over the same period. “[Scotland] desperately needs the full powers of independence so that we can manage our economy far more effectively.”