The Blog

Meet the New Scotland - Same as the Old Scotland

Alex Salmond's long-awaited white paper on Scottish independence has appeared, rounding off the last full year Scots have before the referendum that will decide our constitutional future. And what an underwhelming document it is.

Alex Salmond's long-awaited white paper on Scottish independence has appeared, rounding off the last full year Scots have before the referendum that will decide our constitutional future. And what an underwhelming document it is.

Underwhelming, but also seriously concerning; because the Scottish government is proposing a drastic reconfiguration of almost all our major institutions - from the armed forces, to our diplomatic representation abroad, to our central bank and currency - without any concrete analysis of what such upheavals will do to our economy, society and way of life.

It is a big document, but it manages to say almost nothing of substance within its 670 pages. Much of it amounts to a shopping list of existing UK institutions that an independent Scotland would simply share, or provide with a superficial tartan re-badging, leading Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times to call Mr Salmond "a Braveheart whose Mum does the laundry".

Backing away many in his party who want to push for full independence - a Scottish republic with an entirely new currency, new political dynamic and a new set of institutions - Mr Salmond is left to dabble with what he thinks he can get away with, and the results mostly look like change for the sake of change.

We're told, for example, that we'll still be within Nato and the EU, that Scotland will keep the pound within a sterling currency union with the rest of the UK, and that Scotland, like other Commonwealth countries, will keep the Queen as head of state. Meet the new Scotland; more or less the same as the old Scotland.

But it's now clear that the UK government haven't made much contribution to Alex Salmond's wishlist. A series of recent Parliamentary Questions tabled by me reveal that none of the major ministerial departments in Whitehall have received any representations from the Scottish government over the last twelve months about the specific plans outlined in the White Paper.

Speaking for the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP confirms that 'if Scotland were to become independent, the Bank of England would be the central bank of the continuing UK'. On a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, he says 'it is highly unlikely that one could be agreed or made to work'.

The White Paper boldly claims that Scotland would be in the driving seat when it comes to making decisions about the use of the pound. When considered alongside the UK government position, these claims simply look fanciful.

On defence, the MoD has heard nothing from the Scottish government about its plans for Trident, or the future of the UK defence estate in an independent Scotland. These are issues of vital importance to those serving both north and south of the border. How can armed forces personnel in Scottish units know how to vote at the referendum if the future of the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in Scotland is still not clearly mapped out?

Changes to any political settlement requires negotiation, and it is to be anticipated that the UK Government would not cede any ground to the nationalists unless and until a 'yes' vote has even happened, but it seems strange that the Scottish government have made no effort to discuss their plans with UK government ministers in the last year. Not everything can be kicked into the long grass of 'negotiation' in the event of independence, especially when national security is at stake. Alex Salmond's proposals will remain a risky gamble until we receive more information on what exactly will happen to the UK defence estate and armed forces in Scotland in the event of independence.

Instead of providing clear and costed answers to the complex questions of independence, the White Paper provides only hopeful proposals, most of which have been deemed improbable, unworkable or impossible by UK ministers.

Of course, Alex Salmond is not a prophet. No politician can give a cast iron guarantee about what an independent Scotland would look like on day one, far less in five or twenty years time. But this does not mean that he can shirk his responsibility to provide the electorate with the clearest possible picture of how Scotland, and Scotland's share of UK institutions and its infrastructure, will fare in the event of independence. The White Paper fails to do this and appears to resemble not much more than a blatant election manifesto for the party of government.

At a time when our country is more integrated with the rest of the UK than at any other time in its history, the nationalist drive to divide us simply on the basis of geography remains an uncosted and uncertain leap into the unknown for little political or economic gain. For everyone who lives in the UK we are better together, sharing our risks and advantages, which is why I believe Scots should vote 'no' in 2014.