John Ferry

The problem with Nicola Sturgeon’s latest independence drive

The problem with Nicola Sturgeon’s latest independence drive
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The Scottish government will start refreshing the ‘very positive case’ for exiting the UK, Nicola Sturgeon said this week, in the aftermath of Scotland’s local council elections.

Can we expect anything radical to come out of this series of papers? Will there be a big departure from the last major overhaul of the independence pitch, the 2018 SNP-commissioned Sustainable Growth Commission report? That report advocated an emerging market-style currency arrangement – with Scotland unofficially using pound sterling for a prolonged period after secession – and a decade of austerity to put the new state’s public finances in shape. Perhaps Nicola Sturgeon will now drop this foolishness and push instead for a new Scottish currency on day one of independence, with a commitment to a massive borrowing programme in that new currency?

The other question is whether realism will finally replace wishful thinking. A truthful independence plan would accept the high probability of the new state dealing with a severe financial crisis in the months or even weeks after official secession day. It would reflect on the likely need for a raft of emergency measures, like capital controls to stem the flow of currency out of the economy, or special provisions for state sector employees and their families should the government find it impossible to pay their wages at any time.

There will of course be none of this. The new blueprint will most likely be much like the old ones: big on utopianism and short on pragmatism. There will be one difference this time, however, which is that even as the SNP has remained steadfast in its monomania, the world around the party has shifted.

Scotland today is in the grip of three national emergencies: the cost of living crisis, the post-Covid recovery crisis, and the climate emergency. Given this context, the idea that the country will put itself through another traumatic referendum within the next 19 months, and then cut its economy off from its central bank, currency base, treasury and expansive tax base sometime in 2025, seems preposterous.

Take just one of those crises: the post-pandemic recovery. This week Dr Graeme Eunson, chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish consultants’ committee, described the situation in Scotland’s accident and emergency departments as ‘horrific’, stating that a workforce that was already stretched prior to the pandemic is finding it impossible to catch up.

Examine any part of the health service and you will find it on its knees. The latest Public Health Scotland report on waiting times for key diagnostic tests is frightening. Over 140,000 patients in Scotland are waiting to be seen for eight key diagnostic tests, such as endoscopies and MRI scans. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the waiting list size is almost 60 per cent higher than the 12-month average prior to Covid.

This is a disease timebomb waiting to explode. It will take years of careful management, without rocking the boat elsewhere, just to get these services back on a stable footing. Yet Nicola Sturgeon insists that sometime in 2025 the key institutions that guarantee funding for Scotland’s NHS will be taken out of the picture and replaced with a central bank that cannot issue currency and a treasury that will be severely hampered in its borrowing capacity.

This is likely to be a decade of crises. The SNP-Green coalition plan to create another self-inflicted crisis via independence can only fairly be described as deranged. And that’s before we even consider the new challenges to western collective security presented by Russian aggression and the SNP-Green threat to the nuclear deterrent, which could destabilise Nato.

Thankfully, there are signs the people of Scotland have more sense than their current government. A new Survation poll, produced for the campaigning organisation Scotland in Union, finds that only 29 per cent of Scots agree with Sturgeon’s position that there should be another referendum before the end of 2023.

Only one in ten Scots think another referendum should be in the Scottish government’s top-three priorities, far behind the NHS (61 per cent), the economy and jobs (48 per cent) and Covid recovery (30 per cent). The same survey asked the question: ‘Should Scotland remain a part of the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?’. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they would vote to remain, while 42 per cent said they would vote to leave.

There is no ambiguity as to what Scotland wants. It’s a pity the Sturgeon administration places its narrow ideological aims above the will and the welfare of the people.

Written byJohn Ferry

John Ferry is a contributing editor for the think tank These Islands and a former financial journalist

Topics in this articleScotlandPolitics