The debate around our economic future reached an all-time low this week with Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) caught “cooking the books” about an independent Scotland’s finances.
In case you missed it, the Treasury “analysis” presented to the media said that the government in an independent Scotland would need 180 departments costing £2.7bn.
To put the Treasury’s claims in context, the UK Government has only 24 departments.
Indeed, it was so over-cooked that Patrick Dunleavy, a senior LSE academic on whom the Treasury’s “analysis” on an independent Scotland was based, felt he had to publicly distance himself from the report on Scotland’s finances saying: “The Treasury’s figures are bizarrely inaccurate. I don’t see why the Scottish Government couldn’t do this for a very small amount of money.” Ouch.
When this type of underhand tomfoolery is going on I understand why voters complain that they don’t know what to believe.
But casting uncertainty is the aim of the game for the No campaign. Our reality is that this is battle between fiction and fact. Between hyperbole and hope. And between animosity and ambition.
That’s not to say the Yes campaign or the Scottish Government has been perfect in putting forward their case.
But they have at least built their case on a belief in Scotland and our strengths, not by trying to undermine our confidence.
What the Treasury report does confirm is that we just can’t rely on what the UK Government has to say about the finances of an independent Scotland.
But this is not new behaviour. The UK Government has decades of form.
What we have seen this week is part of a concerted effort, since the 1970s, to underplay the viability and true state of Scotland’s economy.
We know that, in 1974, Gavin McCrone wrote a now-famous report for ministers predicting Scotland would become “as rich as Switzerland” if it controlled North Sea oil a prediction that was kept from voters.
Earlier this month the Sunday Herald also revealed that Jim Callaghan’s government was repeatedly advised in the 1970s to set up an oil fund to secure a legacy from the North Sea but failed to do so, leaving the UK and Iraq as the only oil-producing nations in the world without some form of savings fund.
Also in recent months former Labour Chancellor Denis Healey admitted in an interview with Holyrood Magazine that Westminster “underplayed” the value of North Sea oil. He said: “I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism but that was mainly down to Thatcher.
“I think they [Westminster politicians] are concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it.”
We also know that HMT and the Office of Budget Responsibility (which Alasdair Darling described as an extension of the Tory Party) have regularly been wide of the mark in their estimates of revenues from North Sea Oil and Gas.
Over the course of the referendum campaign we have had some howlers too. The No campaign announced that our phone bills will go up in an independent Scotland due to roaming charges on the very same day the EU abolished them.
The Tory coalition repeatedly say we can’t have a currency union with our own pound, then the Governor of the Bank of England says it’s totally possible and even a senior government minister leaks to the Guardian that opposing it is just political posturing until a Yes vote.
And I won’t even get started on EU membership…
The fact is that an independent Scotland would be among the wealthiest nations in the OECD. Scotland would be 14th on the list, with the UK at 18th.
And to put it into perspective, we will inherit £1.3 trillion worth of assets when we become independent.
Our military share alone of assets is £7.7 billion and Scotland’s cash value share of Trident alone is a whopping £221 million.
Obviously there will be costs and we will take our responsible share of debt, but much of the infrastructure needed for an independent country already exists and we as Scottish taxpayers already pay our share for all devolved and reserved services.
The negotiation of Scotland’s independence would include offsetting assets that would contribute to the cost of setting up public institutions.
If we were such a liability the UK Government would be desperate to ditch us. They are fighting to keep us as Scotland is a huge asset but it’s time we made our assets work in Scotland’s interests.
The real question we need to ask ourselves now is not whether we can afford to be independent.
It is whether the people of Scotland would do a better job of turning Scotland’s wealth into jobs and advantages. Yes or no? That’s for you to decide…