Separate currency? Why separate Scotland at all, Mr Salmond?
The question of whether Scotland would be allowed to use the British pound if it became independent after this autumn’s referendum has become a political hot potato in the past week or two. Leading members of the three main parties in Westminster – most notably the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne – have all indicated that Scotland would not be welcome in a currency union with the rest of the UK should Scots vote for independence. The government of the UK central bank, the Bank of England, has also suggested there may be serious practical difficulties involved.
Today, the Scottish National Party leader and Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, blazed back at the idea of Scotland being refused access to the pound and a say in currency policy. ‘I am publishing today an estimate of the transactions cost [Osborne] would potentially impose on businesses in the rest of the UK. They run to many hundreds of millions of pounds. My submission is that this charge – let us call it the George Tax – would be impossible to sell to English business.’
Indeed. It would be a problem – though hardly a huge one – for businesses trading across the border to have to handle different currencies. Just like it is for such businesses to have to handle different tax rates and laws. Which raises the question: why are we making things so difficult already? Scotland has a different legal system to the rest of the UK and has the power to vary tax rates already. Surely if we wanted to make life easier for people on both sides of the border, we should get rid of such barriers altogether?
Rather than demanding independence, the logic of Salmond’s argument is to sweep away the last vestiges of difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK, so that the constitutional arrangements properly reflect what has happened in the 300 years since the Act of Union: that the UK is one country inhabited by one people. Forget independence – let’s scrap devolution.
Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.