In a report published ahead of the expected White Paper on Separation, the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee says that the Scottish Government must meet high standards of accuracy and openness and avoid any risk of using public money to promote a party political agenda.
Highest standards of accuracy
The Committee says any document that is produced as a Government White Paper must meet the highest standards of accuracy and clarity, and must be totally honest about the risks, alternative possible scenarios and costs involved in Separation.
The Committee is concerned that the Scottish Government has shown a propensity to mislead Scottish voters on the likely outcome of some of the negotiations that would be needed for the final Separation agreement – as well as the timescale on which this could be achieved. Many important questions – like EU membership or the currency - have to be negotiated with the UK Government and others, and the White Paper cannot simply claim that the SNP will get whatever they want. It must lay out all the alternative scenarios that might actually emerge from these negotiations - and their consequences.
This report says that this is particularly noticeable on the question of the EU, where the Committee says that the Scottish Government was “happy to allow” the misleading impression that it had taken legal advice from the Scottish Law Officers which indicated a separate Scotland would automatically remain a member of the EU – with all the implications for travel and immigration control, trade, and many other issues that would entail. The Committee says in fact, opinion is deeply divided over the legal issues involved and it is possible that Scotland would have to enter into its own accession negotiations as a new country.
The Committee points out that similar uncertainties apply to:
- Currency: the Scottish Government must state what conditions it would be prepared to accept to achieve its stated aspiration of retaining a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom, and what the real implications for the Scottish economy would be if it fails to secure this. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said to the Committee very clearly that “currency union is unlikely to be in the interests of either an independent Scotland or the rest of the United Kingdom.” The White Paper cannot ignore this and should describe how it would negotiate from this position, and the implications of any alternative plan.
- Benefits, public services, taxation and pensions: the White Paper will lack credibility if it fails to put these into a realistic fiscal context and set out what the choices that would face a separate Scotland would be, rather than simply asserting that oil revenues will pay for more public services and allow lower business taxes as well.
Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Committee said:
“The Scottish Government has already shown great willingness to misrepresent or disregard the many inconvenient truths that do not support the case for Separation. Of course a case can be made for Separation, and its proponents must be allowed to make that case as well as they can, but they must not simply promote a party view with public money in a Government document.
A Government White paper must be, and be clearly seen to be, totally above reproach. It must lay out the facts, the truths, about all the possible scenarios the day after a "yes" vote, and it cannot ignore or gloss over the risks and uncertainties that exist, the biggest of which is what the United Kingdom government and others can reasonably be expected to agree to in the negotiations.
Similarly, on all the big important issues such as pensions, benefits, public services, and tax collection, the White Paper must be properly costed and show what a separate Scotland would realistically be able to afford, and the choices it would have to make, rather than simply claiming that oil pays for everything. If it fails to deliver this the paper’s credibility will be open to serious challenge. We intend to subject any statistics provided to vigorous, impartial analysis, calling on external bodies where necessary.
This White Paper must be a full and frank exposition of all these issues – otherwise it will be rightly subject to criticism and able to be dismissed as simply party political propaganda.”