With the Scottish referendum one year away, former chancellor Alistair Darling argues against independence and says the UK works because people from across the union pool their resources.
In little over a year’s time, we in Scotland will face the biggest decision in our history: whether to continue the most successful social, political and economic union the world has ever known, or go it alone. It is not a decision to be taken lightly.
In Scotland we have the best of both worlds – a strong devolved Scottish parliament, taking important decisions here at home about our schools, hospitals and transport, but at the same time we benefit from the strength and security being part of the larger UK gives us. Where is the sense in putting that at risk?
The central argument isn’t that we couldn’t go it alone, it’s that separation isn’t in our best interests.
The central argument for those of us who believe that the best future for Scotland is as part of the UK isn’t that we couldn’t go it alone, it’s that separation isn’t in our best interests. We have a clear positive message and a central big idea, which is that the UK is more than the sum of its parts.
By pooling and sharing our resources across the whole of the UK we can better manage the peaks and troughs our economy faces, whilst better supporting our public services like pensions and welfare. Our single UK market gives businesses barrier-free access to over 60 million customers and greater opportunities for our young people to find work. Why would we want to walk away from that?
This pooling and sharing of resources provides us not only with opportunities but also greater security. We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is the starkest modern-day example of this pooling and sharing. With its HQ in Edinburgh, one of the largest banks in the world had three hours’ worth of money left.
As chancellor at the time, with the full weight of the UK economy behind me, I had no hesitation in preventing its collapse and the devastating consequences that would have had for jobs, mortgages, savings and businesses in Scotland and across the UK.
The idea of pooling and sharing for the greater good goes beyond just our economy. A Scot founded the BBC; a Welshman created the NHS; and an Englishman set up the welfare state. In so many areas of our life, whether in defence, energy, sporting events like the Olympics or our influence in the world, Scotland and the rest of the UK work best when we work together. This doesn’t happen simply by accident. The social, political and economic union make it work.
Alex Salmond‘s independence campaign is asking us in Scotland to buy a one-way ticket to a very uncertain destination. In any walk of life, if somebody approached you with a proposition that they said would change your life forever, you would be entitled to ask difficult questions and expect credible answers.
Yet on the big issues the nationalists have failed to provide any meaningful detail. When people ask for detail the nationalists say they are being negative, which in Scotland means asking Alex Salmond a question to which he doesn’t know the answer.
If somebody approached you with a proposition they said would change your life, you would be entitled to ask difficult questions and expect credible answers.
What currency will an independent Scotland have? The SNP say we will keep the pound in a eurozone-style currency with the rest of the UK, despite the fact that what would then be a foreign country would need to agree to this and would also have a veto over an independent Scotland’s budget, borrowing and taxation. That’s a strange definition of independence.
What will happen to our pensions? Not only did the Scottish government’s own expert welfare commission say that the present UK-wide welfare system serves Scotland well, but it concluded that there would be a serious risk to the payment of pensions in a separate Scotland. Earlier this year the SNP’s own finance minister John Swinney gave the game away when one of his leaked cabinet papers questioned the sustainability of the state pension. That is very different from the land of milk and honey we are regularly promised by the SNP – they say one thing in public but something very different in private.
These aren’t minor technical details that can be worked out at a later date. The pound in your pocket and the support you receive in retirement are fundamental issues. People have a right to know what will happen if we take what at the moment is a giant leap into the unknown.
The referendum has been imposed on us from the top, namely by Alex Salmond. The fact that the poll won’t be held until three and a half years after his 2011 election victory is some indication of the fact that he knows there is little appetite for what is his lifetime’s ambition. Whilst hard-pressed families in Scotland are worried about paying energy bills, jobs and the future for their children, Alex Salmond tours the country making speeches about independence. His priorities are all wrong.
Yet despite the flimsiness of the nationalist case, those of us who believe that pooling and sharing resources across the UK is in all of our interests have a big fight on our hands. Alex Salmond only needs to win once and by one vote to break up the UK forever. With just over one year to go until the referendum, we will do everything we can to convince the people of Scotland that we are stronger and better together as part of the UK.
Alistair Darling MP is the leader of Better Together and a former chancellor of the exchequer