Currency clash at First Minister’s Questions

The First Minister has refused to say if he would rule out an independent Scotland having its own currency.

Labour leader Johann Lamont challenged Alex Salmond on Thursday, demanding to know “for the sake of clarity” if he would exclude this as an option.

But the First Minister, who came under fire over the SNP’s currency plans from Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, refused to answer her question.

Ms Lamont pressed him on the issue after Dennis Canavan, chairman of the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign, said he would prefer the country to have its own currency if it left the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government hopes to establish a currency union with the rest of the UK if there is a Yes vote in next year’s independence referendum, which would allow Scotland to retain the pound in a “sterling zone”.

Mr Salmond insisted that policy “is in the interest of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom”.

But earlier this week Mr Canavan, who was both a Labour MP and an independent MSP, told the BBC: “My preferred option is for Scotland to have its own currency because I think that would give us more flexibility, more freedom. It would give us a wider range of economic levers.”

Ms Lamont said: “The people of Scotland deserve honesty and clarity. This isn’t about the First Minister’s bravado and gambling, this isn’t about a smart soundbite for him.

“This is about people’s jobs, their homes, their mortgages, their pensions, and their savings. So, for the sake of clarity, will the First Minister simply now rule out a separate Scottish currency?”

Experts in the Fiscal Commission Working Group, including Nobel prize winners, have already concluded that keeping sterling as the currency in an independent Scotland is “sensible” and an attractive choice for the rest of the UK.

Mr Salmond told his Labour rival: “We have put forward the Government’s viewpoint, supported by more Nobel laureates than you can shake a stick at, supported by former members of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, that it would be in the interest of Scotland and the interest of the rest of the UK to share sterling.”

The SNP leader also pointed out that both Chancellor George Osborne and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander had last week refused to rule out a currency union with an independent Scotland.

He said that was because they “know that the policy being put forward is in the interest of Scotland and the rest of the UK”.

Ms Lamont said the First Minister had failed to answer her question.

“The fact of the matter is the First Minister is trying to break up Britain but the only thing breaking up are his arguments and his campaign,” the Labour leader said.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also pressured Mr Salmond on currency and his position on a separate Scottish option.

Mr Rennie reeled off a list of pro-independence campaigners who want a Scottish currency rather than a sterling union.