23 Apr 2013

Osborne and the ‘unlikely’ currency union with Scotland

Am in the Trade Hall in Glasgow watching George Osborne launch the Treasury paper that says an independent Scotland shouldn’t bank on being allowed to join a currency union with the old UK it would’ve just left.

The SNP think it’s all bluster and scare tactics and that the remaining UK wouldn’t in reality risk destabilising its economic partner and social neighbour by refusing to come to a currency union deal with Scotland. Mr Osborne actually went further than the Treasury document saying currency union was “unlikely”, not just “challenging.”

He also repeatedly drew unhappy parallels for Scots to think on before they vote in September 2014. He talked of the relevance of Cyprus’ recent agonies to Scotland’s future. He repeatedly equated Scotland with Panama which has the US dollar but no say over policy.

The full report from the Treasury got stuck in a courier van making its way up from London and so wasn’t available to read for the audience in the hall. Maybe it was stuck at customs.

Snappers were prevented from taking pictures of the chancellor’s arrival in the sort of vast limo with tinted windows favoured by US presidents. To be fair, it had a lot of civil servants in it.

I hear there’s been talk behind the scenes about whether the remnant UK should threaten a referendum in remnant UK on any future currency union – a certain logic to that for a Tory party that’s raged against “ever closer union” in the European context. But George Osborne isn’t ready to go there just yet.

Talk to some in the Better Together campaign and you could think this referendum is won and over. But some longer in the tooth are much warier. They point out that the pro-independence team needs only 40 per cent or more to score something that would look and smell something like victory and certainly make a unionist victory feel pyrrhic.

It would keep the flame of hope alive for nationalists and pile on the pressure for a big leap forward on devolution. They also worry about pro-union private polling that suggests their vote is very flakey in parts, that younger men under 35 who feel their futures are bleak might be susceptible to a nationalist message that they should take a flutter on independence – it might be better, it can’t be worse.

They worry too about the impact a tightening of the polls in the UK-wide position might have if Scots voters think there’s a decent chance the Tories will come back into power in the 2015 general election.

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