Referendum : Robert Burns Can't Vote and John Swinney  Can't Say

Lesley Brennan

1 July 2013

Last month, Alex Salmond declared that Robert Burns, Scotland’s national Bard, would have voted “Yes” in next year’s Referendum.

That level of confidence had been absent when John Swinney, Finance Minister, addressed a high-level conference on the future of pensions at which he claimed that pensioners in a separate Scotland would be “better off” than those in the rest of the UK.

When challenged to provide evidence for this claim of how much this would cost and where the money would come from Mr. Swinney was unable to do so, except for the comfort zone of future economic growth.

But Mr Swinney has already committed his innermost thoughts on pensions to paper in his now-famous leaked dossier which has already become one of the most important documents of the Referendum campaign.

It earned the “Daily Record” headline :

SNP dossier reveals pensions could be cut to plug £28bn oil black hole in independent Scotland

 after which the Record said,  “ (John Swinney) admits our economy will be heavily reliant on fluctuating oil prices and says pensions and welfare might be cut and public sector jobs axed when those resources begin to dry up.”

There is world of difference between his public claim that pensioners in a separate Scotland would be “better off” with his private admission that pensions might be cut.

And what is that policy of economic growth that the public face of Mr. Swinney has pinned his hopes on paying for the provision of pensions in an independent Scotland.?

Mr. Swinney’s hopes of future economic growth rest on a policy of no increased taxation on the giant oil companies operating in the North Sea, and Alex Salmond’s policy for corporation tax on business which would always be set at 3 per cent lower than the UK rate.

The worrying implications of this large tax cut for business for the funding of public services and, ironically, pensions, are already well established.

UNISON ‘s Dave Watson rightly dismisses this supposed easy co-existence of low taxation and high spending on public services as “fantasy economics”

At this point , the views of John Kay are instructive, as he is a former member of  Alex Salmond’s council of economic advisers

In February he warned  :

“Nor should we devote much time to arguments for independence which imply that an independent Scotland would have lots more money from some unexplained source, and would therefore be able to avoid making choices on taxation and spending and debt.

“Unfortunately, such choices have to be made, not only in the framework of the United Kingdom, but in any framework other than that of cloud cuckoo land.  “

In the same vein, he challenges those in the “Yes” campaign “ who talk about the economic consequences of independence need to move beyond vague aspirational statements – such as ‘an independent Scotland would have the powers to tackle poverty in Scotland’. 

“That is not quite the same as identifying specific policies that would address poverty in Scotland and explaining how they could be implemented either within or outside the framework of the United Kingdom.”

Detailed figures on how important matters such as pensions are to be funded in an independent Scotland are not provided at a time when pensions face a big oncoming demographic challenge with a forecast increase of over half a million more pensioners in Scotland in the next two decades.

Instead of this being given this vital information , we are given reassurances that independence will always mean “more” and “better”

 – and that Robert Burns would have voted “YES” in next year’s Referendum.



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