Q. Isn't Scotland too small to be independent?
A. Absolutely not. The size or population of a country has got nothing to do with its prosperity. Scotland is slightly smaller than Austria and about the same size as the Czech Republic. Of the 193 independent nations represented in the UN today, around 85 have a population smaller than Scotland's.
The 10 most prosperous countries in the world* are:- 1.Norway; 2.Denmark; 3.Sweden; 4.Australia; 5.New Zealand; 6.Canada; 7.Finland; 8.Netherlands; 9.Switzerland; 10.Ireland. *Legatum Institute Prosperity Index, 30 October 2012.
An independent Scotland, with access to all its national resources, will be the 8th most prosperous country in the OECD* world league table and the European Union's 3rd richest nation-state.
*Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development
Look at this list of smaller European nations, many of which have achieved independence within the last few years. The areas are in sq.km., with the populations in brackets.
Austria 83.858 (8,453,000); Czech Rep. 78.866 (10,512,000); SCOTLAND 78.772 (5,295,000); Serbia 77.474 (8,854,000); IRELAND 70.280 (4,588,000); Georgia 69.700 (4,469,000); Lithuania 65.200(3,190,000); Latvia 64.589 (2,217,000); Croatia 56.542 (4,291,000); Bosnia Herzegovina 51.129 (3,840,000); Slovakia 48.845 (5,445,000); Estonia 45.226 (1,318,000) DENMARK 43.094 (5,580,000); NETHERLANDS 41.526 (16,733,000); SWITZERLAND 41.290 (7,952,000); Moldova 33.846 (3,560,000); BELGIUM 30.510 (11,041,000); Armenia 29.743 (3,275,000); Albania 28.748 (2,832,000); Macedonia 25.713 (2,058,000); Wales 20.779 (3,064,000); Slovenia 20.273 (2,057,000); N. Ireland 13.843 (1,810,000); Montenegro 13.812 (625,000); Cyprus 9.251 (1,099,000); Luxembourg 2.586 (509,000); Malta 316 (452,000).
Q. Does Scotland have the resources to be independent?
A. Of course. Our GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT (GDP) (excluding oil and gas production) is around £86billion. That's larger than the economies of New Zealand, Norway, Finland and Ireland. Our diverse economy provides employment for around 2.5million people, and generates an annual output of over £100billion.
We have a wealth of natural resources: agriculture and forestry; beef, mutton/lamb, pork, poultry and egg production; dairying and dairy products; fishing, fish processing and fish-farming. There are also extensive reserves of coal and sources of iron, zinc, oil-shale and peat. Not to mention glorious mountain scenery and an ample supply of water. As a net exporter of electricity, and with increasing development of wind and wave power, Scotland doesn't need or want any more nuclear power stations. "Silicon Glen" is the name given to our long-established and highly diversified electronics sector. For example, Scotland manufactures 28% of Europe's personal computers. Whisky exports are now worth over £4billion annually -- with the UK Treasury raking off some £1.6billion in duty each year. Other major industries include Textiles, Construction, Engineering, Manufacturing, Food & Drink Production & Brewing, Shipping & Ferries, Ship & Boat Building, Oil & Gas Production/Refining & Onshore Oilfield Services, Transport & Freight Services, Retailing, Printing & Publishing, TV & Radio Broadcasting, Sport & Entertainment and Research & Development. Tourism generates £5billion annually. Edinburgh is Europe's 4th largest financial centre, and 4th in the world for fund management. We have a globally recognised brand and identity. "Made in Scotland" has a reputation for quality and integrity. Exports bring in an estimated £17.5billion. £12.2billion are from manufactured goods; while food & drink (excl. whisky) earn £1billion annually. In addition to England & Wales, USA and Switzerland, 45% of our exports, worth £9.6billion, go to the European Union, notably France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Italy. We have some of the world's best universities, colleges and research centres, with many young people in fulltime post-school education. Scotland's problem is certainly not lack of resources. The main obstacle to our potential wealth and progress is control by London governments, whose constant focus and planning priorities are generally implemented for the benefit of the economy of South-East England.
Q. But wouldn't we need control of North Sea oil to survive?
A. No. But the oil is obviously of huge benefit to Scotland, in addition to our many other resources. Around 90% of the UK's oil revenues come from the Scottish sector of the Continental Shelf. In 2008, our offshore natural resources generated an estimated annual output of over £30billion. The energy sector directly employs 40,700 people in Scotland, and indirectly supports 195,000 through its supply chain and export activities.
Since 1980-81, the UK Government has eagerly taken more than £242billion in tax receipts from the North Sea oil and gas fields. That works out at around £48,400 for every person in Scotland. The money has been squandered on things like the Millennium Dome, yet another Heathrow terminal, the London orbital motorway, the horrendously expensive and unnecessary Trident missile system and military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vast reserves of oil and gas, worth £1.5trillion, are still to be tapped in the Scottish sector of the North Sea and Atlantic. Experts predict that oil and gas companies will invest £134billion in extracting 17billion barrels of oil from the North Sea in the 30 years to 2042. In October 2011, BP said that they expected to maintain production from their fields at around 200,000-250,000 barrels of oil a day until 2030 --and were working on projects that would take production from some of their largest fields to 2050. An independent SNP Government would open a Sovereign Wealth Fund, based on what Norway (pop. 5million) set up soon after oil was found in their sector. A share of the revenues would be invested in the fund for future generations -- so that oil continues to benefit the Scottish economy far into the future. The Norwegian fund now stands at an incredible £450billion. Of course, the only hope that Scotland has of equalling this is via an independent Government with full financial powers. Aberdeen is the "Oil Capital of Europe" and, as one of the world's largest energy hubs, is home to the European headquarters of some major global companies. However, the benefits of the oil industry to the city have been very unevenly distributed. For example, increased real earnings have been mainly confined to those employed in the oil sector. For others, including most women, real earnings are below the national average.
Scotland is a net exporter of ELECTRICITY. Up till now, this has been mainly generated by coal-, oil- and gas-fired power stations, and from nuclear and hydro-electric plants. With an estimated 25% of Europe's wind resource, 10% of its waves and 25% of its tidal potential, the country is now rapidly expanding its RENEWABLE ENERGY sector.
World-beating technologies are being developed with the aim of generating the equivalent of 100% of our electricity needs from "green energy" by 2020, and to have a low-carbon economy that supports around 130,000 jobs. Some of our wave and tidal innovations could be commercially viable as early as 2015. In April 2011, Scotland had 1,367 onshore wind turbines in 117 locations, and more are planned. Two of the world’s biggest offshore windfarms could be built in the inner Moray Firth. These are:- (1) a £4.5billion project, consisting of 189-339 turbines, 13.7 miles offshore from Lybster, Caithness, in the E. part of the Smith Bank. They would generate up to 1,500mw, i.e. enough power for more than a million homes, by 2020; and (2) £3billion for 142-277 turbines at the Beatrice field, 13.5 miles from the Caithness coast, at the NW point of the Smith Bank. These would generate 1,000mw, enough for 796,000 homes. Some much smaller marine windfarms could soon appear off Scottish coasts, including 11 turbines in Aberdeen Bay.
Q. Scotland already has its own Parliament. Why do we need independence?
A. The present Parliament has less powers to raise and spend its own income than virtually any other legislature in Europe. Less than the Isle of Man, Catalonia, Flanders or the Basque country. Holyrood only has control of a meagre 7% of its FINANCES -- mostly raised from council tax and business rates. All of your other taxes go straight to the London Treasury. Scottish Government budgets are almost wholly reliant on Westminster whims. Currently, the amounts that Hollyrood can spend on vital services like health, education and law and order depend entirely on grudgingly-given "block grants" or "pocket money". The London Government also sets the level of age pensions and other allowances.
INDEPENDENCE is normal for nations of Scotland's size and population; giving us the freedom to control our own destiny for the benefit of all our people and to achieve our full potential in the world. Crucially, self-government is the ONLY means to change things for the better in Scotland. Some of an independent Scottish Government's priorities would be:--
*To eradicate poverty. Currently, around a third of Scotland's children and a quarter of its pensioners live below the poverty line.
*To tackle urban deprivation, bad housing, homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency and poor health. Scottish life expectancy is currently the lowest in the UK and, in many parts of the country, lower than anywhere else in Western Europe. We also have the highest incidence of cancer deaths and MS in Europe, and the suicide rate is high.
*To use all of Scotland's resources to boost our economic growth and industrial development. At the moment, the Scottish Government can only legislate to lessen the impact of continual economic mismanagement from London.
*To rid Scotland of Trident and other nuclear weapons and to block the building of any new nuclear power stations.
*To have our own representatives at the top tables of the EU (which, among other things, would enable us to protect our fishing industry from further decimation) and in other international bodies.
Of course, there are many other reasons why Scotland should run its own affairs and these will be covered in answers to subsequent questions.
Q. Is Scotland subsidised by the UK?
A. This is a myth! It is obviously in the interests of all unionist politicians (Labour, Tory and Liberal) to advocate dependence, and all sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to their claim that Scotland gets more than its fair share of "pocket money" from the London Treasury. They are always very keen to talk up Westminster's generosity to the Scots, but very reluctant to admit just how much Scotland actually pays for the "privilege" of being run from London.
Let's look at the facts. Despite being home to 8.4% of the UK population, Scotland actually pays 9.9% of its taxes. We don't get a penny from our own tax revenues or North Sea oil. Instead, as part of the UK, we have to pay for things like the hugely expensive and unnecessary Trident nuclear submarines at Faslane, participation in unwinnable foreign wars, or bailing out spendthrift banks. Not to mention innumerable and mismanaged London-centric, grandiose vanity projects like the Millennium Dome (£789million), Portcullis House (£235million), Heathrow Airport's new terminals (£6billion) and widening of the M25 (£6billion). In 2012 alone, £9billion was splashed out on the London Olympic Games and £3billion on the Royal Diamond Jubilee. The Barnett Formula, introduced by the UK Government in 1978, was designed to bring about convergence between Scottish and English public spending. It calculates annual changes to the size of the Scottish "block grant" or budget, which has been decreasing year by year. For instance, the Formula ensures that a 10% increase in public expenditure on relevant English programmes will yield only an 8.1% increase in the money which the Scottish Government is allocated to spend on similar programmes. Over a three-year term, this "Barnett Squeeze" means that Scotland loses out by some £2billion in any spending increase by UK Governments. The current British recessions, brought about by greedy bankers and a compliant and incompetent London Labour Government, means that this squeeze will be even tighter for the foreseeable future. It has been estimated that Scotland would save £50million a year by not having to send any politicians to the Westminster Parliament.
Q. Would our economy be stronger with independence?
A. Definitely. Scotland's growth has remained behind that of the UK in nine out the past 10 years. In 1977-2007, our average annual GDP growth rate was just 2%, well behind that of Ireland (5.3%), Norway (3.1%) and Finland (2.9%). With independence, Scotland would manage its own national budget, and enjoy full responsibility for promoting economic growth and improving our competitiveness. We would collect and spend our own taxes, including the revenues from North Sea oil, and would be able to borrow freely in international markets.
For decades, Scotland's economic stagnation and decline have been mainly due to "absentee" administration. London Governments, of any hue, have tended to view our country through the wrong end of a telescope, and major decisions on economic planning and investment have been generally and primarily designed for the overpopulated South-East of England. An independent Scotland, with full fiscal powers, would obtain control of key elements of the UK's current economic policy. These include: all taxation, financial markets and regulation, monetary policy, inflation targets, foreign exchange and borrowing, company and employment laws, employment rights, immigration, energy policy, competition, corporate insolvency, science and innovation, telecommunications, consumer protection, product and trading standards, health & safety, and social security. A Scottish Government would also be able to formulate a more competitive Corporation Tax to boost the economy through increased foreign investment, research and development, and the siting of major company headquarters. Currently, the service sector accounts for 75% of Scottish jobs, while 220,000 are employed in manufacturing, less than half of the number in 1981. Despite UK recessions, Edinburgh remains as one of Europe's largest financial services centres, and the industry directly employs around 91,500 people. Economic independence would require the establishment of new financial institutions. When the time was right to leave sterling, a Scottish Central Bank would set interest rates; regulate the currency; police the finance and banking sectors; conduct operations in the money markets; and manage our foreign exchange reserves. In 1973, the country lost its only Stock Exchange when Glasgow's was swallowed up by its London counterpart. City centre sites in either Glasgow or Edinburgh would be chosen for these important national institutions.
Q. Why Independence when countries are moving closer together?
A. The SNP is an internationalist party and welcomes the trend towards global co-operation and European integration, but very much wants Scotland to play a full part in the world community. Being a virtual province of the UK means that we are always on the sidelines and mere spectators when it comes to international affairs.
The London parties often denigrate calls for Scottish independence as "separatism" but, of course, they couldn't be more wrong! As an independent country, Scotland would be far less isolated than it is at present, with its own seat at the top tables of the EU, the UN and the Commonwealth, and diplomatic representation in many key countries. As Winnie Ewing famously said after her 1967 Hamilton by-election victory: "Stop The World, Scotland Wants To Get On!"
Many countries gained their independence during the 20th century. Around 125 countries have become self-governing since the Second World War, 50 of them from the UK. In 1905, Norway amicably obtained self-government from Sweden. In 1809, Finland exchanged Swedish for Russian rule but became free in 1917. Poland also gained independence from Russia in 1918. In that same year, Iceland gained home-rule from Denmark, becoming a republic in 1944. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up in 1919, the two controlling countries, plus the Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes and several other eastern European countries achieved independent statehood. Much closer to home, Ireland gained its independence in 1921 (and has no wish to return to control from London!) In 1960, Cyprus and later Malta (1964) were to become self-governing. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other countries, gaining their independence. Shortly after, many old nations, including Serbia and Croatia, re-emerged after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The Czech Republic and Slovakia parted peacefully in 1993.
Q. Would Scotland remain in the European Union?
A. Yes. The SNP's policy is INDEPENDENCE IN EUROPE. The party sees the European Union as an institution in which independent countries work together, and not as a forerunner of a federal super-state called the United States of Europe, or similar. It wants national governments to retain control over many key issues, such as their constitutions, taxation and spending.
However, to get listened to in Europe you have to be an independent member state, and Scotland would continue to be part of the EU after self-government is achieved. This natural progression is set out in the 1978 Convention on Succession of States, which says: "Any treaty in force at the date of succession (i.e. independence) in respect of the entire territory of the predecessor state continues in force in respect of each successor state so formed". Although unlikely, it would not be possible for any EU member state to attempt to block Scottish membership.
At present, as part of the UK, Scotland only has 6 MEPs -- or the same as Luxembourg or Malta. As an independent state, this representation would rise to 12 or 13, or equal to Ireland or Denmark. For the first time, Scottish Government Ministers would be free to represent our needs and priorities in Europe by right. We would be given our own seat in the European Commission and take our turn at the six-month Presidency of the EU. Scotland would also be allocated 7 votes in the Council of Ministers. With our present access to the largest single market in the world, thousands of Scottish jobs depend on exports to the EU, currently 45% worth £9.6billion. Crucially, an independent Scottish Government would be able to give priority to areas which are currently neglected by British representatives in the EU, not least the Scottish FISHING industry. Due to a history of weakness or disinterest by UK negotiators, the last few years have seen our fishing fleet decimated. This has had a particular impact on the North-East's fishing communities, particularly those of Peterhead and Fraserburgh. A first priority of MEPs from an independent Scotland would be a thorough revision of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, which has had such a devastating effect on one of our major and traditional industries.
Q. How about embassies in other countries?
A. In addition to the EU, Scotland would be a member of the UNITED NATIONS, the Commonwealth, the World Health Organisation, the OECD and the World Trade Organisation. This would enable us to promote our national interests globally and engage with other states as an equal partner.
The Scottish Government would appoint a Foreign Minister and establish a department to deal with international affairs. One of its major responsibilities would be the administration of a skilled and effective diplomatic service. Since the restoration of our Parliament, we have already set up "commercial embassies" in Brussels, Washington and Beijing. In addition, Scotland Development International, which promotes trade and inward investment, has a presence in 21 other locations.
The UK still sees itself as a world power, and Scotland is required to pay its share for continuing pretentious extravagance by the Foreign Office. Remarkably, even in these economically stringent times, there are still over £1.1billion worth of British embassies, offices, residences and land around the world. The SNP would look to the example of most other small nations, and use our financial share of these UK assets to establish a fewer number of less grandiose embassies -- which could even be shared with other EU states in some countries. The legations would promote our political, economic and cultural interests. They would also offer protection to Scottish citizens, who would carry EU/Scotland passports when abroad. Another exciting development would be Edinburgh's enhancement to the status of a real world capital. Currently, the city has only a handful of consulates. Independence would result in the opening of numerous foreign embassies, and offices of the EU and other international organisations. There would be state visits by world leaders and other dignitaries, while a Scottish Prime Minister or Foreign Minister would have similar status when visiting the EU or other countries.
Q. Would we have to pay more tax?
A. An independent Scotland, like other countries, would raise money through taxes on individuals and businesses. As with most governments, INCOME TAX would be, by far, the biggest source of revenue. Of course, no-one likes to pay tax, and the unionist parties cynically play on this aversion by regularly trotting out their scare story that people would automatically pay more after independence.
The truth is that, as a wealthy country, we would be able to maintain, and improve on, the present level of services within the current overall level of taxation. Labour, Tories and Liberals also prefer to ignore the fact that self-government would result in 99% of income and other taxes staying in Scotland, instead of being sent to London. The remainder would go to the EU.
Financial independence means that Scotland would have the opportunity to change its tax structure to reflect the political will of the people, and to introduce a tax system designed to make the country a more attractive place for business growth and investment. A Finance Department, or Treasury, would be established and headed by a Finance Secretary. Initially, existing tax rates would remain in force until changed by the Scottish Government; and current facilities, like the Inland Revenue's Centre 1 in East Kilbride, would be used for administration, assessment and collection. After income tax, VAT (Value Added Tax) would be the next highest revenue earner for a Scottish Finance Minister. As with other European states, Scotland's legislation would have to comply with the provisions of the EU's law on VAT. There has always been difficulty in devising a satisfactory and equitable method of financing Local Government. The SNP has long favoured a Local Income Tax, based on an individual's ability to pay. The policy has always received considerable support from the public, but generally criticised by both business and trade unions, sometimes for political rather than pragmatic reasons. The present Council Tax, introduced in 1993, is based on the notional value of a property, with discounts for single people. It remains to be seen whether either of these, or a version of the pre-1989 rating system, would be implemented by an independent Scottish Government.
Q. What about pensions and welfare benefits?
A. The state pension, benefits and tax credits would continue to be paid, as now, in an independent Scotland. Currently, around 840,000 Scots live in poverty, including 200,000 children and 200,000 pensioners. The disgraceful level of PENSIONER poverty is on a scale virtually unknown in other small EU countries which, as independent states, are economically better equipped to look after their elderly.
An improved system of Social Security benefits, tax credits, the minimum wage and employment support (or Job Seekers' Allowance) would avoid poverty traps -- where little or no financial benefit is gained from employment due to the withdrawal of means-tested benefits. People should be supported back into work, but those that are unable to work will not be abandoned to a lifetime of poverty, struggle and hopelessness. A key element of the Scottish welfare system would be greater integration and less bureaucracy, which would enable claimants to easily understand which benefits they were entitled to. Different forms of support would be made complementary. For example, free Child or Personal Care would not result in the loss of a corresponding cash benefit; and those attending training courses, or doing voluntary work to improve their employment prospects, would not be penalised by losing benefits. As with tax administration, the present structure and staff for benefit agency and employment offices would be transferred to relevant departments of the Scottish Government. The design and delivery of a tax and benefits system would be based on a reasonable level of taxation, minimum standards of care, guarantees of income, and incentives to earn and work. The cost to public finances would need to be balanced with the economic circumstances, priorities and needs of the country at any given point. However, Scotland's relative prosperity after independence would ensure that its most vulnerable citizens would be more than adequately cared for.
Q. Would there be a Scottish army, navy and air force?
A. Yes. A nation that governs itself must have the capability to defend itself, and Scotland would probably have defence forces on the scale and model of countries like Denmark or Norway. These nations are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and Scotland would also inherit a treaty obligation to the alliance.
Although supporting Scotland's continuing membership of NATO pro tem, the SNP's fundamental opposition to nuclear weapons would require the phasing out, and eventually removal, of the massively expensive and militarily unjustifiable Trident submarine missile system from the Clyde. Failure to remove all such weapons from its territory could result in Scotland's withdrawal from the alliance. However, this would only be done after careful consideration and consultation with neighbouring countries. It should be noted that no nuclear missiles or submarines are located in Norway or Denmark. Scotland's defence would be primarily focused on securing its territory, rather than having any ambitions to engage in overseas wars. Our NATO membership would be conditional on our support for only those peace-keeping operations which had been sanctioned by the United Nations. We would also be prepared to assist in international disaster relief, with the deployment of specialist units.
On independence, military personnel serving in existing Scottish regiments, and other units of the British Army, would be given the opportunity to transfer to the Scottish Defence Force. The same opportunities would also apply, to a lesser degree, to those serving in the Royal Navy and Air Force. The SNP has fully costed policies for our independent armed forces, and self-government negotiations would cover all "moveable and fixed" defence properties in the country. Scotland's population share of UK armed forces assets is estimated at £5.9billion. The present facilities include naval bases, airfields, a number of army barracks and TA bases, and defence housing, which would all come under the control of a Scottish Defence Department. The newly-established Scottish Navy and Air Force would probably, in time, be built up to the level of their counterparts in Denmark; and, initially, have more ships and aircraft at their disposal than Ireland's modest Navy and Air Corps. In addition to supporting ground forces, both of these Scottish services would be engaged in surveillance, oil and fishery protection and search & rescue. Scotland would save £250million a year by not having nuclear weapons based on its territory. There are no plans to re-introduce conscription, which ended in the UK in 1960. Protection of our national security, from either external or domestic threats, would be of paramount importance; and we would also work in close co-operation with neighbouring nations, particularly those of the British Isles, to ensure regional security. In common with other developed nations, it would be necessary to establish a security service or intelligence agency. It would operate covertly, to protect Scotland's national security from such external threats as terrorism, subversion or hostile espionage. The Scottish Parliament already uses our police force to implement aspects of counter-terrorism. The agency would also have the resources to thwart the plans of any domestically-based groups or individuals intent on undermining or destabilising the elected Government. The new security service would work alongside the present Special Branch of the Police Service of Scotland.
Q. Would we have our own TV and radio stations?
A. Yes. Broadcasting would be made a key part of our national ethos -- expressing our distinctive culture to both domestic and international audiences. In the last 50 years, television has largely displaced religion as the "opium of the people", to the extent that many people's lives and opinions are virtually shaped by what they see and hear on their TV screens. Independence would result in news reporting, including that of world affairs, being presented from a Scottish perspective; and political commentary, in particular, would be balanced and fair, which is not the case at present.
The Scottish broadcasting industry currently employs 2,400 people and is worth around £111million to the economy. The highly unpopular and rigorously collected £145.50 television licence fee results in Scots shelling out £180million to the BBC each year. Aside from the declining quality of the programmes on offer, Scotland is very much short-changed in other respects. For example, in 2008 only 3.7% of the BBC's network television programmes were made in Scotland. STV is only required to produce a measly 1.5 hours of "non-news" programming per week. Channels 4 or 5 virtually ignore us altogether. Our new public broadcasting service would initially be based on the assets and staff of BBC Scotland, and the existing network, studios, transmitters and frequencies used to present national TV and radio programmes. A Broadcasting Council, subject to EU directives, would safeguard the quality and impartiality of public service broadcasters. The Scottish Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) would have a budget in the region of £300million. Various options would be considered for its funding, including licence fees topped up with some limited advertising revenue. An authority, equivalent to the present ITC, would be set up to regulate independent television and radio stations, which would access their news bulletins from a Scottish Independent News provider. As now, there would be no obstacles to Freeview, satellite and cable services being available in Scotland. Depending on demand, the SBC and STV would be able to buy in particular programmes from other broadcasters in the US, Europe and around the world. Devotees of "Eastenders" or "Neighbours" would still be able to view their favourite "soap" on Freeview channels. We would also have the opportunity to cheer on the Scottish entry in the annual Eurovision Song Contest.
Q. What will Scotland's currency be?
A. Scotland presently uses the STERLING monetary system, and is unique in Europe in having three different banknote issuers: the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale and RBS. Bank of England notes are also legal tender north of the border, but sometimes Scottish notes are not accepted in England. Although there is an understandable sentimental attachment to this multi-currency, it is now generally thought of as impractical and cumbersome in the 21st century.
An independent Scottish Government would have three options: staying with sterling; introducing a new currency (with notes and coinage issued by a Central Bank); or entering the European Economic & Monetary Union (EMU). The Euro is now used by 27 EU member states, including France, Germany and Italy. The SNP would consider Scotland's adoption of the Euro, but only if this was first approved in a referendum, and economic conditions and entrance requirements were favourable to Scotland's interests at the time of application. We would continue to operate within sterling until we decided to enter into Europe's monetary system. Being part of a larger currency union can offer some protection from financial market speculation and eliminate exchange rate risk. An added incentive is that interest rates in the EU have been consistently lower than in the UK for the last 25 years. Mortgage rate stability would therefore be better guaranteed by Scottish membership of the Euro. There would no major problems if England and Wales chose to remain with sterling. Ireland has had the Euro since 1999, and Scottish companies are well used to paying for goods and services in Euros from suppliers in Europe. Scots who had a bank account in England would have nothing to prevent them from accessing their money. They can already use a cash dispenser to draw money from any account in any other country in the world, whatever its currency.
Q. Will schools, hospitals and other public services be improved with independence ?
A. The Scottish Government already has control of departments for AGRICULTURE & FISHERIES, EDUCATION, HEALTH, POLICE & JUSTICE, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, HOUSING, INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT, PRISON & FIRE Services, ROADS & TRANSPORT, SOCIAL WORK, WATER & DRAINAGE, the ENVIRONMENT, LIBRARIES & MUSEUMS, the ARTS and SPORT. The departments are headed by Holyrood Ministers, with their buildings and staff already in place throughout Scotland. After independence is achieved, all of these services will have greatly increased funding, due to the Scottish Government's ability to utilise all of the country's resources and wealth - instead of relying on fluctuating and grudgingly-given handouts from London. Civil servants based in Edinburgh and elsewhere will also transfer to a Scottish rather than UK Civil Service.
Some of the above services are dealt with in detail in subsequent questions.
Q. How would agriculture benefit?
A. Our farmers are subject to the directives of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and its two "Pillars". The First Pillar delivers income support for farmers, through the Single Farm Payment and market interventions for certain products. The UK Government wants this scheme to be phased out entirely. However, a Scottish Government would insist on its retention. This is because about 85% of Scotland's land is termed as "Less Favoured", where profitability is lower than on better quality land. The Second Pillar is designed to ensure delivery of public goods in the event of market failure. At present, Holyrood is responsible for the policy on animal health, but the budgets are held by the UK Government. None of the animal disease epidemics of recent years originated in Scotland. The mixed response to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2007 showed that political and fiscal autonomy would have resulted in faster and more effective control of the attack in our cattle herds. An increase in funding would also go a long way to sustaining the viability of our rural areas; which could benefit from new tax incentives, including relief from Stamp Duty Land Tax, and specially tailored fuel and vehicle excise duties.
Q. Would our fishermen be better off?
A. The Scottish fishing fleet currently accounts for 66% of the fish landed in the UK. Scotland is also the EU's largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon. In recent years, the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has had a particularly adverse affect on the industry, with a large number of boats being decommissioned. This decimation has been mainly due to the dismal performance of UK negotiators, who appear to have little interest in the welfare of Scotland's fishermen. Currently, the Holyrood Government is responsible for implementing unpopular decisions made under the CFP, including the management of fish stock quotas and the number of days boats spend at sea. It can also regulate inshore fisheries by all UK vessels within Scotland's 12-mile sea limit. Because of the relative importance of our fishing industry, it is essential that we gain the power to manage quotas and vessel licensing. Crucially, independence would give us the opportunity to directly argue for the replacement of the CFP, including the repatriation of sea fisheries management to coastal member states like Scotland, Denmark and Iceland (due to join the EU in 2014).
Q. How about education?
A. Scotland has had its own distinctive education system for many years, and has seen some improvements since full legislative responsibility was gained in 1999. This includes control over the curriculum framework, qualifications and examinations, compulsory periods of schooling, pre-school. childcare, children's services, children's hearings, social and youth work. Our universities, old and new, are internationally recognised. The SNP has introduced a long-term Curriculum For Excellence strategy, the biggest reform of Scottish education in a generation; and over 300 schools have been rebuilt of refurbished in the first three years of its first term in Government. Independence would allow children's services to be integrated with Tax Credit and welfare benefits eligibility. This would, for example, provide parents with easily accessible financial support for childcare.
Q. Would the health service benefit?
A. From its inception, the NHS in Scotland has been largely independent from the rest of the UK, and we now have a fully-devolved and integrated healthcare system. However, the UK Government still has control over things like the regulation of the main health professions, medical supplies, surrogacy and abortion. Independence would provide us with the ability and financial resources to tackle unacceptable levels of poverty, chronic ill-health, drug and alcohol abuse, and their adverse affects on our economy. It has been suggested that independence itself would instil a new level of confidence, self-worth and well-being in Scottish society; to the extent that it would lead to many people having less need to rely on alcohol or drugs to get them through life. Improvements to the NHS in the last ten years have included a reduction in waiting times, better workforce planning, more investment in equipment and the development of the "single patient record". The SNP Government's main achievements in heathcare legislation since 2007 have been: Increasing the payments for free personal and nursing care. This benefits over 50,000 vulnerable older people, 42,000 of whom receive care in their own homes. Also, charges for prescriptions and eye tests have been abolished, to ensure that all patients, whatever their situation, will have access to the medicines and treatment they require. In March 2006, smoking in enclosed public places was banned and received widespread public support.
Q. What about housing?
A. The Scottish Government already has many responsibilities for housing and regeneration policy, but can't realistically be expected to meet any of its targets until the country obtains independence and full fiscal control. The UK Thatcher Government's flawed Right to Buy policy has resulted in half a million Scottish council houses being sold off in the last thirty years, and the lowest number of dwellings available for "social renting" since 1959. Consequently, the total number of people on council house waiting lists now stands at 200,000. The SNP has introduced the necessary legislation to reform this policy, which will result in 18,000 houses being kept in the rented sector over the next ten years. There are around 40,000 homeless people in Scotland at any one time, and the country's population is forecast to rise to 5,470,000 by 2030. Something like 19,000 new houses would need to be built annually to meet these demands. With very limited funds at at its disposal, the SNP Government has financed 3,000 new council houses, with the new National Housing Trust expected to provide 1,000 more. Decades of blinkered, complacent and incompetent Labour Party control in Glasgow has resulted in the city having some of the worst housing stock in Europe. Scotland also has a relatively high social rented sector, and Housing Benefit currently meets about 75% of its total rents, or £1billion a year. An independent Scottish Government would have control over all the levers of housing policy, including the writing off of Council housing debts and an overdue reform of Housing Benefit. For instance, the Under-Occupancy Penalty or "bedroom tax", introduced by the UK Government in 2013, would be abolished.
Q. Would there be improvements in transport?
A. Yes. The Scottish Government already has responsibility for most of the country's transport functions. However, the UK Government currently has control of: roads - the regulation of roads, vehicles and drivers and UK-wide speed limits. Rail - all of the UK's railtracks and signalling (owned by the London-based Network Rail); standards, regulations and passenger complaints; and cross-border franchises. Marine - policy, regulation and security. Air - economic, security and safety regulation and international representation. Taxation - the levying and collection of vehicle excise duty (or road tax), fuel duty and air passenger duty. The latter only accounted for 5% of Scottish tax revenues in 2007-08, but they would be an important policy acquisition for an independent Government. For example, the EU could be pressed to allow a lower rate of fuel duty to be applied in some of our rural areas, particularly the island communities. The UK Government is proposing to devolve air passenger duty to Northern Ireland, but not to Scotland. Since 2006, the Holyrood Government has been able to target investment in the country's rail network, including working towards faster journey times between our major cities. The companies running rail services and rolling stock (notably Scotrail) would continue in their franchises. Scotland hasn't had a major national airline, worthy of the name, since Caledonian Airways in 1961-70. As an independent state. Scotland would have the capacity to operate a truly international "flag-carrier" on the lines of Ireland's Aer Lingus. Crucially, independence would allow all of the country's transport policies, initiatives and taxation to be fully integrated.
Q. How about sport?
A. As an independent nation, Scotland would have its own team at the Olympic Games and in all other major world sporting events. In anticipation, a National Performance Centre for Sport, which will include a National Football Academy, is set to be established in 2016. While it is true individual Scots do well in some sports -- including tennis, golf, snooker, bowls, cycling and swimming -- it is the poor performance of the national football (soccer) team that gives particular cause for concern. Our team has failed to qualify for the last seven major international competitions, and is currently (Sep. 2012) ranked at 47th in the world. What are the reasons for the current malaise in Scottish football? Could it be the dreary domination by the sectarian plagued Rangers-Celtic "Old Firm" and the Premier League's overuse of foreign players. Or maybe it is the modern tendency for potential Denis Laws -- who used to kick a ball around at every opportunity -- to spend much of their time watching TV or playing computer games. Psychology is an undoubtedly crucial factor, particularly in the international sports arena. Scotland football fans are always passionate and loyal, but the same can't be said of the players on most occasions. Is it possible that our national team's lack of motivation and commitment is due to a collective subconscious inferiority -- that they are playing for a mere North British province and stateless nation? Is this status reinforced by the players wearing red (socks), white (shorts) and blue (shirts)? Are some of our best players - many of whom play for English clubs - driven more by personal glory than patriotism? We could take a lesson from Ireland, an independent nation. Despite having only a small pool of available players, their national pride spurs them into playing well above their status. Even tiny independent countries like Liechtenstein or Faroe can play with the kind of passion that is absent in Scottish teams. It would be an understatement to say that Scottish sport, of any kind, is currently underfunded and, as in other spheres, the required investment would only be forthcoming from an independent Scottish Government.
Q. Would we maintain a good relationship with England?
A. Very much so. Independence would actually lead to an improved relationship between Scotland and England, in that dealings would be conducted by two sovereign governments on an equal footing. It certainly wouldn't mean an end to the strong and valuable social ties and friendship which exist between ourselves and the other countries of the British Isles. We will always retain common interests and goals through our shared history, geography and social interchange. It is important to remember that although the political union would be dissolved, our social union in these islands would continue as before.
Scotland's biggest trading partner is England and Wales, with trade worth £26.1billion in 2007. As a full member of the European Union, Scotland would continue to have access to its markets and, as both Scotland and England were in the EU, enjoy complete freedom of movement between the countries, with no customs or passport checks on our borders. Already, no passports are required for those travelling between the UK and Ireland. Like the Scandinavian countries, we would be able to work together in a strong partnership on areas of mutual interest and advantage. The existing Joint Ministerial Committee should serve as a useful model for a new intergovernmental body to manage the new relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government already provides representatives and input to the British-Irish Council, which is a forum for finding and progressing areas of collaboration, and developing policy solutions to common challenges faced by its member administrations.
Q. Why the need for a referendum before we can reach independence?
A. For many years it was thought that a simple majority of Scottish seats won by the SNP in a Westminster general election would be a clear-cut mandate for the party to begin independence negotiations. However, the restoration of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 largely shifted the constitutional debate from London to Edinburgh.
The first SNP Government of 2007 was considerably strengthened, in power and influence, by the historic May 2011 election -- but even this was not seen as a mandate for immediate self-government. The SNP is of the opinion that debate on such a major constitutional issue as independence cannot be restricted to the Scottish Parliament alone.
With this in mind, a National Conversation was launched in August 2007. Well-attended meetings and events were held all over the country, with more than 15,000 people taking part. The Conversation culminated in the SNP Government's publication of a White Paper, entitled Your Scotland, Your Voice, in November 2009. A consultative draft Bill, calling for a referendum on independence was then put before the Scottish Parliament, but this was rejected outright by the unionist parties. However, the overwhelming mandate achieved by the SNP Government in May 2011 enabled it to schedule a national Referendum for 18 September 2014. Voters will simply be required to put a cross against Yes or No to the question: Should Scotland be an independent country? A majority of the Scottish electorate voting Yes would empower the Scottish Government to commence negotiations with the UK Government, leading to Scotland becoming self-governing.
Q. What happens after Scotland votes Yes for independence?
A. Choosing independence in the REFERENDUM would be an act of self-determination by the Scottish people. UK Governments have indicated, in recent years, that if the Scots decide that they wanted to govern themselves, there would be no impediments to prevent them from doing so. It is expected, therefore, that negotiations between the Scottish and UK Governments would be conducted in a spirit of cordiality and co-operation.The 1983 Vienna Convention establishes principles for the division of the value of assets during independence negotiations.
Scotland would exercise its right to a share of the UK's assets, land and offices in our country and elsewhere. While discussions proceeded, the Scottish Parliament and Government would continue to govern in matters over which it already had control, and arrange for the transfer of the powers still held by Westminster. Negotiations would concentrate on practical arrangements, to ensure that the transition would be as smooth as possible. Currently, the UK has a very large deficit, and Scotland would inherit its share of the debt, despite it having been the result of economic mismanagement in London. Because of the complexity and range of issues, negotiations could take anything from six to twelve months. Teams from each side would be composed of politicians, civil servants, law officers and other experts in the field under discussion. At the conclusion of the talks, appropriate legislation would be enacted by both the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments, with the effect of transforming the agreed terms into a binding Treaty between the two states. There would be a Declaration of Independence by the Holyrood Parliament; the 1707 Treaty of Union superseded by a new Constitution; and Scotland would regain its sovereignty. Our independent Parliament and Government would assume the powers currently reserved to Westminster and Scotland would take its place in the world community. We would apply for membership of the United Nations, and a Scottish delegation sent to the European Union's Council of Ministers.
Q. How would Scotland be governed?
A. While independence negotiations were underway, the Scottish Parliament would approve the text of a draft CONSTITUTION. This would be subject to full public scrutiny and debate before being finalised by the Parliament, and would become law as soon as an independence settlement had been agreed and put into effect. The Government and Parliament would also be formulating policies for the newly acquired areas for which they would be taking responsibility, and opening a dialogue with the EU and other international bodies. The SNP proposes that the first ELECTIONS to the newly independent Scottish Parliament be held in May 2016.
A single-chamber parliament would have fixed four year terms, and its MPs elected by proportional representation.The Government would be headed by a Prime Minister, a cabinet and other ministers elected by the Parliament, which might be made slightly larger, to take account of its greatly expanded powers. While it is possible that the SNP would form the interim Government, it would be up to the democratic will of the electorate as to who would govern the country thereafter. It is envisaged that the three major parties currently under control from London would contest the elections as truly Scottish political parties, committed to national independence. The judicial system would continue in its present form, and an independent legal body appointed by a Judicial Appointments Commission. The UK Ministry of Justice's Supreme Court would no longer be a court of appeal in civil cases. Automatic rights of citizenship would be open to all those living in Scotland. The SNP believes that all of our citizens have a valued part to play in our new country, regardless of their place of birth or ethnic background. Those who chose not to take up Scottish citizenship, or opted for dual citizenship, would continue to enjoy an unaffected right to residency in the country. We would also welcome the diverse skills, talents and contributions made by the New Scots who chose to make their home in Scotland. To emphasise our new statehood, "MSPs" would become "MPs" and, where "Scottish" was used in a provincial sense, many organisations could decide to use the alternative "National", or even "The" in their titles.
Q. Why do we need a written constitution?
A. Nearly every country in the world, except the UK, has a written constitution. There are two principal reasons why Scotland requires its own. The first is to define what its Parliament can and can't do. The second is to guarantee the basic human rights of ordinary citizens, based on international law.
The UK doesn't have a written constitution, other than the grossly undemocratic and discredited 1707 Treaty of Union. This has given the UK Parliament absolute supremacy, with unlimited powers to legislate as it sees fit. On the other hand, the people would be masters of the Scottish Constitution, while the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state would be subordinate to it. The SNP prepared a draft text for a Constitution in 1977, revised it in 1990-91 and finally published A Constitution for a Free Scotland in Sep. 2002. In it, the powers of the Parliament, Government and Head of State are clearly defined, and the independence of the judiciary guaranteed.
It proposes the inclusion of a "binding and entrenched" Charter of Rights, which would surpass the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Charter guarantees the right to: a fair trial; freedom of thought, speech and worship; freedom of the press, assembly and the right to form a trade union; housing and property; free health care and education; work, and support for those unable to do so; freedom of information; access to the countryside; freedom from restrictive trade practices; protection for those who seek asylum; dignity in old age; privacy; and the vote for all citizens over 16. The current Queen, and her successors, would remain as Head of State, and Scotland would be a member of the Commonwealth. However, some of the powers of the monarchy would be removed, with the intention of it fulfilling a more informal role than has traditionally been the case. The Scottish Government would only cover the costs of royal engagements while the monarch was acting as our Head of State, and make no contribution to the upkeep of other members of the Royal Family. During the monarch's absence from Scotland, it has been proposed that he or she should be represented by the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, who would assume the additional title of Chancellor of Scotland. The Queen (or King) would confirm the nomination of the Scottish Prime Minister but would not have the right to veto legislation. Instead, the Chancellor of Scotland would certify that laws had passed all their parliamentary stages. Any future amendment of the Constitution would require the approval of three-fifths of Parliament, plus the majority vote of the people expressed in a referendum.