It is a truth of 21st Century politics that most debates are reduced to hyperbolic verbal punch ups, without a serious point ever being landed. There is rarely a clash in the House of Commons where some worn out cliche is not used to describe George Osborne as "downgraded." This week, it was the turn of Alex Salmond to say Osborne was "sabre rattling" over claims that an independent Scotland forming a currency union with the UK would actually reduce its financial autonomy.
In fact, Osborne and Danny Alexander were right to point out the contradictions in the SNP's ever evolving policy on what currency Scotland would adopt. As Alex Salmond knows, ditching the pound would be a vote loser. Convincing voters to change the status quo is difficult, and it is probable that most Scots like being able to use their money as legal tender down South.
So what would a currency union entail? For a start, Scotland would have no control over monetary policy. Regardless of the Bank of England's autonomy in setting interest rates, it is commonly accepted that it takes into account the UK as a whole, if not specifically the south of England. If Scotland became independent, the Bank would most likely continue to tailor monetary policy on this regional basis.
This is the crux of the problem with SNP policy: it is based on short term thinking. Salmond is staking his chances on the profitability North Sea oil ensuring the continued goodwill of the Bank of England. But oil prices are prone to volatility. Ultimately, the day may come when it would be necessary for an independent Scotland to set interest rates according to its own economic circumstances, something which could not happen in a currency union. Expect the SNP to ignore this caveat over the next year.
Lurking in the background of this discussion is the EU. It is conventional wisdom to dismiss any prospect of Scotland joining the Euro in the future. Yet, it has been stated by the SNP leadership that the EU would welcome Scotland with open arms, tacitly accepting that we would need to reapply for membership. What does any new member state have to do? Adopt the Euro, a currency hardly renowned for ensuring fiscal independence. If Salmond has any doubts on this point, a holiday to Cyprus is in order. Plus, if he thinks he can win any concessions from a supranational body with the ideological flexibility of the Soviet bloc, he is in for a surprise.
Of course, it is unlikely that any of this will make for a reasoned debate. Any suggestion of the difficulties an independent Scotland would face are shouted down as "scaremongering." Continuing to dismiss anything that Osborne says because he has been "downgraded" misses the point. It is true, perhaps, that the very fact Osborne is making a high profile intervention reflects the weaknesses of the No camp. So far, its figureheads have been figures from Labour's yore, backed by some unsavoury moneyed interests. They have been fairly myopic of late, and it is a welcome change for the campaign to focus on the finer details of SNP policy.
Independence is a simple thing really. The ability to do as one pleases without outside interference. True, no country is truly independent in today's globalized world. But it is fallacious for Salmond is lead a vanguard suggesting independence would bring radical change to Scotland. The basic issue of what currency to use is going to impede any policy preferences from day one. And that is a hard sell.Suggest a correction