James Forsyth

Sturgeon struggles on the currency question

Sturgeon struggles on the currency question
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It was one of the defining moments of the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign. In that early August TV debate, Alistair Darling said any 8 year old could tell you what a country’s flag, capital and currency were but that Alex Salmond couldn’t say what currency an independent Scotland would use. Salmond’s floundering that night badly hurt the ‘Yes’ cause. This evening, when Andrew Neil pressed Nicola Sturgeon on what currency an independent Scotland would use, she replied the pound but without a monetary union. She indicated that this would be the case even if Brexit had happened. So, Sturgeon is saying that Scotland would be applying to join the EU while using a third country’s currency without a monetary union. It is hard to see how this position would be compatible with EU membership.

The whole interview was a reminder of how while Brexit might have provided the SNP with an opening to push for a second independence referendum, it also massively complicates the case for it. The SNP spent a generation making the argument for ‘independence in Europe’. If Brexit happens, it will have to work out how it would deal with the inevitable trade frictions that would result if Scotland was in the single market and the customs union and rUK was not. This evening suggested that Sturgeon has no convincing answers to these questions.

Tonight’s interview was also a reminder that if Nicola Sturgeon really wants to stop Brexit she doesn’t have that much bargaining power in a hung parliament until a second referendum has happened. There would need to be a government to push through a second referendum and if the SNP wouldn’t back it, it would fall—putting the 2nd referendum at risk.

Sturgeon is the SNP’s best media performer and an experienced front-line politician. Tonight’s interview suggested both that the SNP hasn’t worked out how to make the economic case for independence post Brexit and that its own domestic record is, finally, beginning to catch up with it.