Referendum : The more things change, the more they stay the same

20 June 2013

The administration of pensions and benefits in an independent Scotland in the event of a “Yes” vote is an important matter that has been studied by an Expert Working Group established by the Scottish Government .

Earlier this month , its report concluded that Scotland should “continue to share the administration of pensions and benefits with the rest of the UK “ if Scotland becomes an independent country after next year’s Referendum. 

In doing so, its verdict has provided solid reasons for voting “No” in the Referendum and for continuing  with the present “shared services” arrangements.

The report warned that there was a “serious risk” to the payment of benefits in an independent Scotland and in the rest of the UK if attempts were made to establish a welfare system specifically for Scotland immediately after separation.

This is because of the  complicated nature of extricating the Scottish component of what is a long-standing UK-government institution.

This could take as long as 5 years during which time a Scottish Government might have to seek the approval of a UK Government to introduce changes to welfare policies.

However, Nicola Sturgeon, Minister in charge of the Referendum, has admitted that before people cast their vote in September next year, they will not have before them any detailed policies about how the pensions and benefits system would operate in an independent Scotland.

SNP Government Ministers have backed the report’s proposals, but the report cannot shed light on how the present Scottish Government would propose to finance welfare and pensions.

What we do know from the leaking of John Swinney’s private dossier earlier in the year is that :  

“SNP ministers have privately voiced concerns about an independent Scotland being able to afford state pensions and unemployment benefits…..A secret cabinet briefing paper by Finance Secretary John Swinney, which has now been leaked, revealed fears at the heart of the Government about the state of the country's finances and the impact on public spending….. Mr Swinney acknowledged in the document that an independent Scotland, heavily dependent on volatile and declining oil revenues, and fully responsible for economic growth, would face uncertainty over its future spending power. “(“Herald” 7/3/2013)

Nevertheless, a report on such a crucial matter as welfare should be, by right, the  subject of Parliamentary scrutiny, with MSPs questioning a report’s authors and those who made submissions to it. 

However, MSPs have been denied the necessity and the courtesy of questioning the authors of the report.

24 hours after their report was published, it was announced that the experts had withdrawn from an appearance before a Scottish Parliament Committee that had been arranged for the 25th. of this month.

Alastair Darling, Chair of Better Together, remarked,

"What would a separate Scottish welfare system look like? We are none the wiser after today's report. Slowly but surely the nationalists appear to be coming to the view that we are, in fact, better together."

Nicola Sturgeon expressed her agreement with the recommendations of the expert working group on welfare, despite the fact that they represent one more example of how an independent Scotland would be dependent on the rest of the UK for the administration of welfare.

To many this will seem like a paradox  - change means no change, and independence means continued dependence.

But why vote for “change” when the “change” on offer offers is just a continuation of the same thing that you had on the day before the Referendum?

The same argument applies to other features of the SNP’s case for independence  -  no change in retaining membership of NATO, no change by keeping the £ , and no change by retaining the Queen as head of state

The Nationalists ‘ case for independence is not being pursued as a full-throttle one.

They know it is unpopular with voters, and therefore the party hierarchy has to play down its message in an attempt to win more support.

So their campaign’s purpose is to try to persuade people that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It’s Faintheart rather than Braveheart .

And it still trails the “No” campaign by a considerable margin in the polls.

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