By Stephen Daisley
Somalilandsun – The Scottish Government has unveiled its vision for an independent Scotland in a White Paper.
The document, which numbers 650 pages and answers questions about independence, was unveiled at the Science Centre in Glasgow on Tuesday.
It covers key policy areas include the economy, public finances, health, education, justice, defence and international relations.
Among the pledges contained in the White Paper are the abolition of the “bedroom tax”, a halt to the UK Government’s universal credit rollout in Scotland, the creation of a fair work commission, and an inflation-linked minimum wage. There would also be a triple lock for pensioners’ incomes, meaning they would rise by either inflation, earnings or 2.5%, depending on which is highest.
There would be a universal early years childcare system from age one until the start of primary school. The first stage will see half of two year olds receiving 600 hours of childcare. By the end of the first parliament, all three and four year olds and vulnerable two year olds will receive 1140 hours of childcare per year. By the end of the second parliament, the scheme will have been rolled out to all children under school age.
An independent Scottish Government would also guarantee to cut energy bills by five per cent.
These provisions are estimated to cost £600m, which the Scottish Government says would be raised by reducing defence spending and cancelling the UK Government’s proposed tax allowance for married couples.
The tax system would be simplified and emphasis placed on tackling avoidance with a target revenue gain of £250m per annum by the end of the first term of an independent Scottish parliament. Corporation tax would be cut by up to three percent to attract investment that currently goes to London and the South East. Businesses would get help with national insurance to encourage job creation. Air Passenger Duty will be cut by half initially and then abolished.
The paper also promises that public services, including the Royal Mail, will remain nationalised in an independent Scotland.
Scotland would have a defence budget of £2.5bn, funding 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel. The Trident nuclear deterrence system would be removed from Scotland’s shores by the end of the first term of independence. Scotland would apply to join NATO and the EU. A Scottish intelligence and security agency would also be created.
In the introduction to the White Paper, First Minister Alex Salmond writes: “Scotland is an ancient nation, renowned for the ingenuity and creativity of our people, the breathtaking beauty of our land and the brilliance of our scholars. Our national story has been shaped down the generations by values of compassion, equality, an unrivalled commitment to the empowerment of education, and a passion and curiosity for invention that has helped to shape the world around us.
“Scots have been at the forefront of the great moral, political and economic debates of our times as humanity has searched for progress in the modern age.
“It is in that spirit of progress that you will be asked on 18 September 2014.”
He added: “The answer we give to that question will determine how we can shape our nation for the future. The year ahead should be a national celebration of who we are and what we could be. The debate we are engaged in as a nation is about the future of all of us lucky enough to live in this diverse and vibrant country. It is a rare and precious moment in the history of Scotland – a once in a generation opportunity to chart a better way.
“At its heart independence is not about this Government or any political party. It is about a fundamental democratic choice for the people of Scotland. It is about the power to choose who we should be governed by and the power to build a country that reflects our priorities as a society and our values as a people.
“I believe in independence because I believe it will be better for all of us if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – the people who live and work here. It is my absolute conviction that Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands.
“I also believe that the bonds of family, friendship, history and culture between Scotland and the other parts of the British Isles are precious. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will always be our family, friends and closest neighbours. But with Scotland as an independent country, our relationship will be one of equals. I have no doubt that it will flourish.”
Pro-Union campaigners dismissed the document as a “work of fiction” and “a wish-list of promises without any answers”.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who heads the multi-party Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the Union, said: “Nothing has changed as a result of this White Paper. The nationalists have ducked the opportunity to answer the big questions about Scotland’s future. We have waited months for this and it has failed to give credible answers on fundamentally important questions. What currency would we use? Who will set our mortgage rates? How much would taxes have to go up? How will we pay pensions and benefits in future?
“It is a fantasy to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership. The White Paper is a work of fiction. It is thick with false promises and meaningless assertions. Instead of a credible and costed plan, we have a wish-list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them.
“As for the promises, they could deliver on childcare now. Their excuse for not using the power they already have beggars belief – Nicola Sturgeon said they couldn’t act now because women would go to work and the tax they pay would go to the UK Treasury. That is our treasury, not that of a foreign country.
“With so much uncertainty and unanswered questions about the cost of independence, leaving the UK would be a huge leap in the dark – especially when we know that devolution works for Scotland. We can have the best of both worlds – a strong Scottish Parliament with the strength and opportunity of being part of a bigger United Kingdom.”
On the other side of the referendum debate, the publication of the White Paper was welcomed by Yes Scotland, the cross-party campaign for Scotland to become independent.
A statement released by the organisation’s advisory board said: “In 2014, the people of Scotland will be asked whether Scotland should be an independent country. By voting Yes we’ll take the most important step in our journey to independence, and today the Scottish Government set out its plans for the route forward from there.
“All those involved in Yes Scotland are agreed that our country is ready for this journey, and we welcome the Scottish Government’s plans, which will form the proposals upon which people will be asked to vote next year.
“In the first election to an independent Scottish Parliament, the people of Scotland will choose the government they want to take Scotland forward, based upon the manifestos on offer from each of the political parties. The people of Scotland will be able to take our nation in whatever direction they see fit.
“So, rather than having decisions on matters such as energy, taxation, welfare, the economy, defence, foreign affairs, monetary policy, the EU or the constitution taken by Westminster, it will be the people of Scotland who will have Scotland’s future in their own hands.”
Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, maintained his organisation’s support for Scotland remaining in the Union, arguing that it was better for Scottish business.
He said: “Next year’s referendum is a matter for the Scottish voters. The outcome will matter hugely to businesses and consumers across the whole of the UK. The CBI believes that the nations of the UK are stronger together and that Scotland’s business and economic interests will be best served by remaining as part of the UK.
“Our members have been pressing for responses to many key questions on independence that we have put to the Scottish Government and we will study this white paper closely to decide how far it answers businesses questions.”
The White Paper has been published on www.scotreferendum.com
It came as a UK Government analysis claimed taxpayers could face tax rises of £1000 under independence.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said Treasury analysis based on a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested leaving the UK could see basic rate taxpayers north of the border paying more in taxes.
There are currently more than 2.4 million basic rate taxpayers in Scotland, who in total contribute some £6.1bn in income tax, according to Treasury figures. UK Government analysis shows they currently pay an average of £2517 a year. But the Treasury research suggested that if the basic rate of tax was increased from 20% to 28%, this would rise to £3523 a year – an increase of just over £1000.
However, the Scottish Government said Westminster has “squandered” oil revenues which could have been put in a national savings fund worth up to £22,000 for every person in Scotland.
Scots will go to the polls on September 18, 2014 to decide whether to become an independent country. If Scots vote to leave the Union, Scotland will become an independent country on March 24, 2016.
A Panelbase poll published in the Sunday Times showed support for a Yes vote at 38% while No was ahead on 46%. However, pro-independence campaigners said this meant they only needed a five percent swing in the polls to win.
Scotland’s constitutional decision has drawn the attention of the world’s media, with more than 200 international journalists accredited to attend the White Paper launch.