This post originally appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice
That the SNP would dismiss yesterday's announcement on currency by George Osborne should not come as a surprise to any of us.
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have taken to the airwaves to complain of "bluff, bluster and bullying" by those nasty big boys from Westminster. It's actually quite brazen to sit there and say, having been told a very firm "no" that the answer was really yes. But their aim was to whip up fury amongst their own supporters, to incite an emotional reaction in those who don't like English Tories telling things like they are.
That was always going to be the huge risk of Osborne's gamble and the jury is still out on whether Danny Alexander and Ed Balls were right to agree with it. Those voters who are undecided, who instinctively might veer towards yes but are worried by the uncertainties of independence might be propelled back towards them in the face of what they might perceive as a reactionary and petulant manoeuvre. Except that doesn't quite work when one of the people agreeing this, Danny Alexander, is a highlander through and through.
From what I can see in my social media timeline, and I'm discounting people already involved in politics, those who were already committed to voting yes are outraged, those who were already committed to voting no are pleased and those who don't know are splitting fairly evenly. That's only a small sample of family and friends. It'll be interesting to see the first proper poll.
I am still in two minds about whether this is the right thing to do as I wrote the other day. I do, though, completely see the rationale behind being honest with the voters ahead of the referendum. It's really important that Scots know what they are voting for. I said then that Osborne needed to be logical, reasonable and measured in his tone. By and large, he was. In fact, he was quite cold and forensic. I'm not normally one for giving added publicity to anything that George Osborne says, but he summed up the whole independence debate quite well with this observation:
People in Scotland are being asked to accept two diametrically opposite things at the same time.That with independence everything in Scotland will changeand at the same time nothing will change.
The SNP wants to bring about fundamental change, but are giving false reassurance to people that things will stay the same, they'll still use the pound, they'll still have the Queen and they'll barely notice independence. If that's the case, what's the point? Leaving the UK is a huge decision that will require changes in every aspect of our lives, and will involve massive risk and uncertainty. To pretend otherwise is wrong. If Osborne's move yesterday gets more people realising that, then it will have succeeded.
The SNP's line has been that the UK Government is bluffing and they will still be arguing for a currency union because that's what'll happen in the event of a yes vote. They have refused to give out any details of their Plan B. The tone of the debate on Twitter has been of the "You can't stop us using the pound, na na na na na" variety. I've heard nationalists on discussion programmes also talk about using the euro or the dollar, like it's really easy to do and there is no downside. Prominent pro independence folk like Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan, neither of them every likely to be on message for the Yes campaign at the best of times, have repeated their calls for Scotland to have its own currency.
The Scotland Office's Scotland Analysis paper on currency looked at the four options considered by the SNP's Fiscal Commission and concluded that in every event Scots would be worse off out of the UK. Quelle surprise, I hear you say, but it makes sense. A new country doesn't have a proven credit history. How tough do individuals find it to get credit for the first time? Well, it's the same for countries, who generally have to pay a higher rate of interest. That feeds back to more expensive mortgages and borrowing costs for businesses for citizens.
Then of course there's the fact that if you just use someone else's currency, you don't have a proper central bank, or lender of last resort. It was quite scary to hear SNP minister Fiona Hyslop suggest on Brian Taylor's Big Debate today that the bank bailout in 2008 just benefitted the city of London. I was under the impression it protected the savings of ordinary people and their jobs, too. If there is nobody to give your banks liquidity when they need it, and they all do from time to time, a hitch quickly becomes a crisis.
You can't really accuse someone of bullying when you then infer that taking your share of the national debt is conditional. Trying to get your own way by threatening not to fulfil your obligations is not far off blackmail. All the nonsense being put about by nationalists that it's the UK's debt abd nowt to do with them will amount to nothing when lenders make an independent Scotland borrow at exorbitant rates, if they allow it to borrow at all. Starting life as a pariah state that doesn't pay its dues is not a good prospect. The idea that the SNP can just walk away from that debt is like me saying I'm not paying income tax because I've lost Child Benefit.
One of the great things about the independence debate is that we get Jim Naughtie back for our version of the Today programme a couple of days a week. This morning, he got closer than anyone else has done so far to getting Salmond to admit that there would have to be an alternative proposal at some point:
JN: Does that mean in the event of a yes vote you go into negotiations without another option in your back pocket?AS: Well let me say for the third time Jim that the fiscal commission working group set out all of the monetary policy options for an independent Scotland but recommended the best one was a sterling area and that’s the one that we’re going to be articulating and that’s what you’d expect us to do….JN: OK Alex Salmond says there is no alternative –AS: No I didn’t say that Jim, I saidJN – I’m just checkingAS – Try again, I said the Fiscal Commission Working Group set out a range of monetary policy options for an independent Scotland…
Willie Rennie encouraged Salmond to get on with telling us his Plan B:
The penny has finally dropped. The First Minister has effectively conceded that the Sterling Currency union with the UK will not happen.He pointed towards the options in his fiscal commission but he needs to tell us which one he’d choose. Would it be the Euro or a separate Scottish currency?The clock is ticking. With 10 days until Scottish Cabinet meets in the North East, the First Minister can’t turn up empty handed. I am clear that the only way to keep the UK pound, and all the benefits which come with it, is to keep the strong UK family of nations. Now that Alex Salmond is without his Plan A he has a duty to tell people in Scotland what his Plan B is.
If Salmond goes into the referendum without fully explaining his alternative, then he'll be asking the voters to pay the biggest game of chicken in electoral history. His comments to Naughtie suggest that he knows that even if he's not prepared to explicitly say so just yet. His original suggestion that they'd just wait it out till after 18th September has been exposed as bluff within 24 hours. If he wants examples of bullying, bluff and bluster, he could easily look in the mirror.