Yesterday the Scottish government published their highly-awaited White Paper for Independence, which basically sets out to answer all questions which could reasonably expect answering about the process of moving Scotland to becoming an independent country between September 2014 and March 2016, as well as kind of acting as a manifesto for what the SNP would like to achieve if they were elected to lead an independent Scottish parliament.
I’ve read bits and pieces of it on the downloaded ebook though I’ve been too busy to take a proper look through. I’ve ordered a physical copy from the Scottish government (I think they’re giving them out for free!) so I’ll try to go through it more in-depth later. It’s a 670 page document, totaling about 170,000 words, therefore I’d be surprised if anyone has yet managed to make a thorough analysis of it. I quite like MSP Joan McAlpine’s comment that the sheer length of the White Paper makes the American Declaration of Independence look like a ‘post-it note‘.
Nevertheless, from various summaries I’ve checked out online the main points of interest to me appear to be:
- A guarantee that there’d be no border controls between England and Scotland. Despite what some unionists would tell you, this has been painfully obvious for years. If an independent Scotland required passport checks to get into England it would more or less be the only land border in Europe to require such controls.
- As well as membership of NATO, an independent Scotland would have an army comprised of 15,000 soldiers with 5,000 in reserve. This would actually be a much larger share of Scotland’s population than the British army currently represents of the UK population. While I’m not sure I personally agree with having such a large army, Scotland certainly wouldn’t be open to invasion from, I don’t know, Russia – or whoever our current enemy supposedly is.
- We’d keep the pound sterling. I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind this, and this is one point in the White Paper I’m not utterly convinced by. Apparently Scotland would continue to control a portion of the Bank of England, thereby giving us influence over inflation rates and such things… ? I appreciate this is the SNP trying to avoid the issue of requiring currency exchanges to travel between Scotland and England but I’m not convinced it makes the most economic sense. But even so, it’s important to remember this is only what the SNP would do. In all likelihood an independent Scotland would elect a Labour government, or whatever the equivalent of Labour would be at that point, which may have much different ideas on which currency Scotland should have.
- All residents of Scotland will automatically become Scottish citizens, while joint citizenship with the UK will be possible. UK passports will continue to be valid until their expiration.
- Scotland would remain a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. Not my preference but I imagine the Scottish people would have much more say over this arrangement in the future if independent than part of the UK.
- Scotland would develop it’s own Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS), which would be funded by the Scottish portion of license fees which would otherwise go to the BBC. I think the BBC could still be accessed in Scotland, while likewise the SBS could be accessed in the rest of the UK. They’ve also said the SBS and the BBC would frequently collaborate; for instance, the SBS would participate in the annual Comic Relief appeal.
- A guarantee that the minimum wage would rise with inflation with, I assume, the insurance that wages wouldn’t be allowed to fall in real terms. There’s also a reference into looking at a Scottish living wage.
- The Royal Mail would be renationalised in an independent Scotland.
- The ‘Bedroom Tax’ would be abolished.
- It’s stated that Scotland should be able to participate as an individual nation in the Olympic and Paralympic games.
- Pensions are guaranteed to rise either by inflation, wages or 2.5%, depending upon which is highest.
- Tuition fees would continue to be free, while a ‘Common Research Zone’ would exist across the UK so that Scottish and UK universities can continue to benefit from their important academic links.
- A commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid with the aspiration to eventually increase this to 1%.
- A Scottish Asylum Agency would be established with the aim of creating a much more humane approach to applications for asylum than currently exists as UK policy.
- Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly, a pledge to safeguard the environment could actually be written into an independent Scotland’s constitution.
From what I hear, the majority of the White Paper’s content is incredibly dull, laying out facts and figures of no interest to all but the most motivated bureaucrat. This is the purpose of the White Paper – it’s aimed at showing the Scottish people that there is a detailed plan for independence beyond the nationalist promises of bagpipes* and flags. There will be critics of the White Paper, and rightfully so – the referendum next September will be a momentous decision and the vote should not be lightly decided – but I hope this will allow the debate to move onto a level playing-field. The Yes campaign have proved beyond measure that they have a positive vision for Scotland’s future; this is something Better Together sorely lack. Though they carry the current polling advantage, I don’t believe it’s enough to advocate the status quo while miserably griping at every aspiration the Yes Campaign advocates. Negative campaigning can only go so far. So if the publication of the White Paper does anything, I hope it can push the discourse of the debate in a more constructive direction.
*I wouldn’t complain at making the playing of bagpipes a requirement for all public buildings but I accept I might be alone on that one…