The Scottish Government Cannot Continue to Obfuscate on Pensions

18/10/2013 09:26 BST | Updated 17/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Pensions and savings are increasingly central to Scotland's independence debate. Today you will hear more about them at the SNP's conference.

The Scottish government's much trailed pensions paper was eagerly anticipated. Finally answers to the difficult questions would be forthcoming, we were told. A blueprint for unwinding Scotland from a UK pensions system built up over generations was expected.

It didn't happen.

The nationalists ducked the hard questions and difficult decisions. The pensions document was less white paper and more wish list. Scots deserve better.

Scotland's population is ageing faster than the UK as a whole with implications for the sustainability of a separate pensions system - state, occupational and personal. Yet the nationalists refuse to engage with the reality.

Instead of confronting the difficult decisions which Scotland's demographic challenge poses the Scottish government obfuscate. Via the partial use of statistics the nationalists reject the demographic projections endorsed by a variety of impartial authorities - whether the National Records of Scotland, the Office of National Statistics and even Holyrood's own SNP dominated Finance Committee.

There was a simple approach of denying the facts; facts which SNP finance minister John Swinney recognises in private in the leaked cabinet paper where he questions the "affordability" of the state pension.

The same refusal to come clean on the implications of breaking up the UK pensions system is evident in the nationalists' attitude to the occupational pensions cross-border issue.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland (ICAS) has led the way in highlighting the fact that cross-border Defined Benefit (DB) company pension schemes must be fully funded. This is a huge issue since leaving the UK by definition creates a legal border between the Scotland and the rest of the UK. In the pensions context the creation of this border has hair raising consequences. Given the total UK pension scheme shortfall currently stands at hundreds of billions of pounds the cost of doing business in a separate Scotland and the rest of the UK suddenly just got much more expensive.

A serious pensions paper would have examined solutions to this problem, however painful from the nationalist point of view. Instead, once more, the Scottish Government took the easy route.

Apparently the 28 members of the EU who have to follow the funding rules on cross border schemes will look kindly on the nationalists' request for special treatment.

One might call this the Micawber approach to pensions: the nationalists always assume something will turn up in the end.

When it comes to our pensions the nationalists continue the wider approach of saying or doing anything in a desperate search to boost support for separation. They make grand promises they know they can't deliver. It's a fundamentally dishonest approach. Alex Salmond and John Swinney want all of us to take a gamble on our future and use our pensions as the stake.

In truth, unwinding Scotland from a UK pensions system which is built, sustainable and has the spread of population necessary to absorb demographic change is a big risk. That's why the Scottish Government refers to a "pan-UK" pensions system after independence. Here's a thought: better just keep the UK.