Scottish manifesto

27 November 2013
Earlier this week the Scottish parliament released the white paper on independence, which after a day of the server being overloaded I was able to download a copy. Somewhat long-winded and dry in places, I nevertheless gave it a fairly good read, as it is the first time the mechanics of independence have been thought out. I was disappointed.

On the whole the document feels like a somewhat socialist-learning election manifesto that would not be too out of place in Wales or northern England, and a lot of the stuff it talks about is only tangentially relevant to the case for independence. It even talks about Westminster being focused on London & the South-East, so it is clearly a marketing document rather than an actual plan, and it is more a reflection on the SNP than in independent Scotland.

“Scotland will always get the governments we vote for”
The above quote is directly out of the document, and it is pretty obviously an anti-Conservative punt, given that immediately afterwards it cites Royal Mail privatisation, the "bedroom tax", capital spending cuts, and Trident replacement. I punted back in 2011 that anti-Conservative feeling was why Scottish LibDem support collapsed in favour of the SNP, and it is nakedly obvious that a major plank of the Yes campaign relies on this. The temptation not to name the Conservative party explicitly breaks down on page 334.
There is clearly great pains in stressing that without north seat oil Scotland is still better off than the UK average, but it is over-egged and sticks out like a sore thumb. However it is cut, Oil will be a major ingredient in the business case for Scottish independence, and that conclusion was drawn even before I read pages 300 to 306. This is not good for Scotland, as no matter how it is cut north sea oil is well past peak, and to make matters worse the price for having it is getting nothing from places like the Falklands.
Keeping the pound
A clear-cut case of the SNP bending their own beliefs in a shamelessly populist move, and if there is one thing they should be crucified for, this is it. Until a few years ago SNP policy was to join the Euro, which all things considered would be a saner alternative, but the Euro is as hard a sell these days in Scotland as it is in the rest of the UK. While there is nothing stopping Scotland using the pound sterling post-independence and there is no reason to believe subsequent Bank of England policy will be malicious, this is clearly policy made on the hoof. Maintaining a Sterling area conditional on Scotland accepting a share of the UK national debt is a monumental policy blunder that puts Scotland's credit rating underwater from day one.
EU membership
Several European countries, in particular Spain with its eye on the Basque and Catalina regions, will make sure that independence does not result in grandfathered EU membership. While I suspect in practice Scottish membership would be supported by the remaining UK and would probably be fast-tracked, I can foresee the likes of the Spaniards wanting to make the process painful as a deterrent to their own restless regions. One sticking point is that new EU members are required to adopt the Euro, and enforcing this is the most expedient way of stuffing up Scotland's negotiations.
Schenegen area
While I agree that opting out of the Schenegen area and being part of the current UK-Ireland common travel area would be the right thing, this is something I am not so sure can be automatically grandfathered along with EU membership. As with EU membership itself, it is down to how much trouble other EU member states want to create.
The claim that money spent on Trident is better spent on other parts of defence is in itself sane, but I think that having all nuclear weaponry relocated away from Faslane within the first parliament of an independent Scotland would be logistically challenging at best.
Living wage
Yes, this is in there.
Air passenger duty cut
Supposedly aimed at encouraging Scottish tourism, and can understand it as levies constitute a large part of domestic air fares. After living in shamelessly pro-Aviation New Zealand, my views on this are that they should simply ditch the whole levy.
Corporation tax
The plan is to cut Corporation Tax by upto three percentage points below the prevailing UK rate, and rather unwisely it states that this is to offset competitive advantages of other parts of the UK. Personally I think cutting Corporation tax is a losing game because any company interested in it would simply make a beeline straight for Ireland. Truly competing on Corporation tax would need to undercut Dublin and do so by a significant margin, which basically means cutting the rate to something south of 10%.
Tax simplification
The UK tax system is Byzantine, but it is difficult to pay any real attention to any claim of tax simplification that does not give at least one major example.
Brands current UK immigration as bad policy out of London, which I think is not that far off the mark. Far as I can tell the policy is to reintroduce a lot of the points-based skilled migrant visas that have been scrapped over the last few years.
This is basically the UK current ancestry policy, and it more or less recognises that any workable policy would have to make it fairly easy for any British citizen to obtain Scottish citizenship. One potential headache is if the UK subsequently leaves the EU after Scottish independence, because then there is a huge incentive for non-Scottish British citizens to bend every rule in the book to get a Scottish passport. Expect a lot of English Europhiles to buy second homes in Scotland.
Populist and irrelevant. Lot of Scottish nationalism seems to be neutral on this, and I think the policy is a combination of outward continuity and path of least resistance.
The overriding tone of the white paper is that Westminster is an unreformable road-block where the interests of Scotland frequently fall off the table, particularly as its constitution bares little resemblance to how Scotland votes. This I can understand because there is a lot of overlap with the reasons I emigrated from the UK, but when it comes to the really big issues such as currency & national debt things are badly fudged. It focuses too much on wish-listing and not enough on the fundamentals, and in places it is clearly pandering to short-term prevailing views.