Jonathon Shafi

Jonathon Shafi

Scotland: Independent or a vassal state?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The leadership of the SNP is continuing to move the case for independence to the right, with no reference to the desires of its membership or the wider independence movement, argues Jonathon Shafi.

The author of the widely criticised Growth Commission (GC), Andrew Wilson, has written a column in The Spectator promoting the report as if it has been welcomed wholesale by the independence movement. Rather, the GC is largely the product of the thinking of Scotland’s premier corporate lobbyist group, Charlotte Street Partners.

The GC has been thoroughly repudiated. Unpopular in the SNP, it never the less stands as party policy, partly because of the way it was presented to conference. Rather than being deliberated upon in parts, the entire document was proposed as one motion. This meant that opponents of the report had to focus their attentions on one area: currency.

The proposal put forward in the GC for currency, is to adopt Sterlingisation. This means that Scotland would be beholden to UK financial institutions, sacrificing economic autonomy. In the real world, that means, for example, Scotland would have been unable to furlough workers during the pandemic.

The proposal for Sterlinigsation as reiterated in the Spectator by the author of the report is tied to six economic tests. As Wilson puts it: “Scotland would retain sterling until preparations for a new currency are completed and tests are met ensuring that it is in Scotland’s interests.”

This is a direct clash with what the SNP membership voted for in at their conference in 2019 – the setting up of a Scottish currency as soon as possible. These tests are in effect a veto against Scotland setting up her own currency and central bank. This reveals another contradiction in the official case for independence, since it is impossible to join the EU without having an independently controlled central bank which can harmonise with the rules of the Single Market, Customs Union and so on.

But coherence is not a strong point when it comes to the GC. Just as Wilson proposes Sterlingisation tied to tests, he in the next breath says: “A new central bank would be created immediately, serving similar functions to euro members’ central banks until the currency timing is right.” But as economist Laurie McFarlane points out: “National central banks are part of the euro system which also includes the ECB. The comparison would be valid if he was talking about a currency union with rUK, but he isn’t. He either doesn’t understand his own growth commission report, or he is deliberately trying to mislead.”

Any independence supporter reading this should be alarmed. We could end up, having voted for independence, without economic control and entering negotiations on the basis of the Growth Commission. But ‘negotiation’ would be a very generous word to use in this context, as the following shows.

Wilson states: “The Scottish government will seek to agree an Annual Solidarity Payment to the UK government to make good the agreed share of inherited debt interest payments and any joint work and projects that continue.”

In practice, the “Annual Solidarity Payment” means:

  • Scotland would accept in principle the total debt the UK wants us to take – with no negotiations.

  • Scotland would pay Westminster £1 Billion per year for ‘shared services’ rather than building up its own capacities. 

  • Scotland would hand over £1.3 Billion of foreign aid every year to Westminster, for the UK government to do with as it pleases without democratic oversight (foreign aid is used by the UK for diplomatic leverage, securing trade and military agreements etc). 

  • The total figure (as I say, it could be more) that Scotland would commit to paying every year, indefinitely, would be £5.3 Billion. 

The GC is written as if the economic crisises of 2008 and 2020 didn’t happen, and which would lead to cuts and much else detrimental to Scotland’s economic life and the living standards of working class people across the country. Nicola Sturgeon is fully supportive of this prospectus, which should have been well and truly buried given the context of the pandemic and all that entails economically and socially. But her response to the column was to promote it on social media, saying: “This by Andrew Wilson on the case for independence – and the paucity of the case against – is excellent and well worth a read.” 

The truth is Wilson’s Scotland would be a vassal state, without the economic power and political sovereignty to meet the needs of its people. We must choose instead a meaningful independence which can empower popular demands.

The SNP leadership remain fully signed up to the GC. It is vital that this is rejected both inside the SNP and across the independence movement.

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