Independence White Paper

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th November 2013.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

The next item of business is a statement by Nicola Sturgeon. The Deputy First Minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will make a statement on “Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”, which is the Scottish Government’s comprehensive guide to an independent Scotland. It was published earlier today and was made available to all members from 10 o’clock this morning.

“Scotland’s Future” runs to 670 pages and 170,000 words. It is the most detailed prospectus for the independence of a country that has ever been published. The Government promised the people of Scotland, and this Parliament, detailed proposals for independence—the opportunities of independence, the benefits for individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole, and the practicalities of how we move from a yes vote in September next year to becoming an independent country in March 2016. “Scotland’s Future” provides all that detail and more.

I realise that members will need time to read and digest the contents of this landmark document. The Government has therefore made time for a full debate tomorrow afternoon, and I am sure that there will be many opportunities to discuss and debate the detail of it—in Parliament and across the country—in the months leading up to the referendum.

I will set out the key themes of “Scotland’s Future” and provide information on how the Government intends to raise awareness of it, and to ensure that the public knows how to access the guide and the detailed information that it contains.

As members will be aware, the guide is in five parts. Part 1 gives an overview of the compelling case for independence and describes what our newly independent Scotland will look like.

Part 2 sets out the financial strengths of our country, forecasts Scotland’s fiscal position at the point of independence, and makes clear how this Government—if elected in 2016 to be the first Government of an independent Scotland—would deliver our early priorities within sound public finances.

Part 3 details the benefits and opportunities of independence across the entire range of government responsibilities that will transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a yes vote, and it illustrates, through a set of Scottish Government policy choices, how we can start to use the new powers of independence to grow our economy and tackle the inequality that is so unacceptable in our rich country.

Part 4 describes how we will become independent—the negotiations, agreements and preparations that will be required in the transition period between a yes vote next year and independence day on 24 March 2016. It also considers the opportunity that independence will give us to develop a modern, written constitution that is fit for the 21st century.

Finally, part 5 provides a comprehensive set of answers—650 in all—to the range of questions that we have been asked about the practicalities of independence.

I will talk about the contents of each of those parts in more detail. The case for independence that is set out in part 1 rests on three key pillars: democracy, prosperity and social justice. The Scottish Government wants Scotland to become an independent country because we believe that decisions about Scotland should be taken by the people who care most about the future of Scotland—those of us who live and work here. It is better and right that decisions be made here in our democratically elected Parliament than by Westminster Governments that are very often in government despite having lost the election in Scotland. That is the democratic case for independence.

We want Scotland to become independent because we believe that access to our own vast resources and the ability to take decisions that will grow our economy faster are essential to putting our economy and public finances on a strong and sustainable footing, and to ensuring that our country can reach its full potential. That is the economic case for independence.

We want Scotland to become independent because we believe that being part of one of the most unequal countries in the developed world is simply not acceptable and that, with independence, we can choose to do things differently: we can ensure that our children get the best possible start in life and that we have public services to be proud of; we can ensure that the incomes of the lowest paid keep pace with the cost of living; and we can design a system of social protection that invests in the potential of people—one that supports people into work, but which also provides a decent safety net for those who cannot. That is the social justice case for independence.

Part 1 of “Scotland’s Future” also sets out some of the consequences for Scotland if there is a no vote in the referendum. The fact is that there will be no guarantee whatever of any more powers for our Parliament. There will be a real threat to Scotland's budget from the review of the Barnett formula that senior politicians in all United Kingdom parties seem to favour, and there will be a real and present risk that Scotland could be taken out of the European Union against our will.

Part 2, on our national finances, demonstrates that we are a wealthy and productive country. With independence, we would be the eighth richest country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of output per head of population, and the 10th richest country in terms of income per head. We more than pay our way: estimates show that for every one of the past 30 years—whether oil prices have been high or low—we have generated more tax per head than has the UK as a whole. Our financial foundations are solid and even with a population share of UK debt, our debt to gross domestic product ratio is projected to be lower than the UK’s.

Our starting point is a strong one, but it is just that—a starting point. The real benefit of independence will be the ability that it will give us to shape our own future. Beyond 2016, our future prosperity will depend on the decisions that we make as a nation. That is the whole point of independence—we will have the chance to make different and better decisions for Scotland. We will not simply continue with the same old Westminster policies that have failed us in the past and which will fail us again in the future. Instead, we can take the action that is needed to grow our economy and ensure that we have a growing, healthy and skilled population.

Part 3 sets out exactly how we can start to do that. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the benefits that independence will bring across the entire range of policy areas, and sets out some of the ways in which this Government would use the new powers of independence. I will highlight just a few of those ways.

First, with control of our own resources, we could embark on a transformational expansion of childcare.—[Interruption.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

It is our aim that all children from age one to when they enter school will have access to a guaranteed 30 hours of childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year—the same number of hours that children spend at primary school. We intend, by the end of the first session, to have delivered that policy for all three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds. The policy will provide our children with the best start in life and will enable many more women to join the workforce to fulfil their potential, provide for their families and contribute tax revenue to our economy.

That policy will also create 35,000 new jobs. Independence will allow us to ensure that the economic benefits from increased growth and, therefore, increased tax revenues will stay in Scotland rather than flow straight to the Westminster Treasury. That is why we need independence to successfully deliver that ground-breaking policy. [Applause.]

Secondly, we would call a halt to the damaging Westminster policies that are pushing so many people into poverty: we would abolish the bedroom tax within a year of the first election to the first independent Parliament. [Applause.] We would choose not to proceed with the roll-out of universal credit and personal independence payments. Those programmes are mired in controversy and delay, and will cause misery to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Independence will give us the chance, informed by the on-going work of our expert group on welfare, to build a fair and efficient social protection system that is fit for purpose.

Thirdly, because we know that a fair society needs a strong economy, we will ensure that our business taxes are competitive and support growth. We will do that as part of an industrial and economic policy to grow our economy, boost jobs and increase participation in the workforce.

The paper contains many other detailed proposals for an independent Scotland, including the advantages for our farmers and fishing communities, for broadcasting, for our transport connections and for our universities. It sets out exactly how we will effect the transition from being a member of the European Union as part of the UK to being a fully independent member with a seat at the top table and the ability to protect our national interests. It sets out how the governance of our nation would be underpinned by a written constitution to protect our freedoms and rights. It describes in detail the arrangements that we will put in place to secure and defend the nation. It also sets out our clear aim that, during the first parliamentary session of an independent Scotland, nuclear weapons of mass destruction will be removed from our country once and for all. [Applause.]

Those are just some of the benefits of Scotland’s becoming an independent country. Part 4 sets out how we will make the transition from a yes vote in the referendum to becoming that independent country in March 2016. It describes the preparations and the legal processes that will be required, and the range of negotiations that we will have with Westminster, the European Union and other international partners. The subjects that those negotiations will cover will include arrangements for the sterling area, equitable division of assets and liabilities, seamless delivery of public services across Scotland and the rest of the UK, and our continued membership of the EU and other international organisations. On all those, we have set out reasonable, rational and commonsense proposals that are in the interests of Scotland and of the rest of the UK.

Part 5 answers the range of questions that have been asked of us in recent months. That extensive and detailed “Q&A” section, which is fully searchable online, will be a valuable resource for everyone in Scotland as well as for everyone in the Scottish Parliament.

Our guide to independence is intended for the public. We want as many people as possible to read it, so let me turn to what we will do to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the opportunity to read it. The guide has an initial print run of 20,000 copies, but it will be made available to everyone who requests a copy. It has been designed to be as accessible and reader-friendly as possible. A summary document is also available in print and online. A fully searchable document is available at www.scotreferendum.com and reference copies will be available in local libraries. An e-book version is available on the scotreferendum website and from the iTunes store and Amazon. Anyone who wants a hard copy can request one by sending an email to referendumwhitepaper@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or phoning 0300 012 1809. Copies for individuals in the UK will be free, while bulk and overseas orders will attract a charge of £10 plus postage and packaging. [Interruption.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

A public information campaign that will use radio, press and outdoor advertising will be launched later this week, and an information postcard will be sent to every household to advise people how they can access the guide.

The total cost of the public information campaign will be £450,000. A final figure for the printing of the document itself will not be available until we know what the final demand for hard copies turns out to be, but I will, of course, update Parliament on that in due course.

In the 1997 devolution referendum, alongside publication of the white paper, a leaflet was posted to every household and a promotional video was produced by the then Scottish Office. There is therefore a clear precedent for public information activity on the scale that is proposed.

We face an historic year in Scotland. Two key dates are now firmly established: 18 September 2014, when we will choose our future, and 24 March 2016, when we will—I believe—become an independent country. I believe that, with its comprehensive set of answers about the practicalities of independence and its detailed proposals on the benefits of independence, “Scotland’s Future” will now be the document that drives the debate. It sets out the vision and the detailed plan.

There is simply no equivalent from the no side. With “Scotland's Future” providing the positive case for a yes vote, the absence of detail and vision from the no side will no longer be enough. Today’s publication changes the dynamic of the debate. The challenge is now for those who oppose independence to move beyond project fear and to give us their vision for Scotland’s future, and to answer the important questions about what will happen to Scotland if we do not vote yes.

Our message to the people of Scotland is this: take the opportunity to read “Scotland’s Future”, consider the positive opportunities that independence offers our country, compare and contrast it with the relentless negativity of the other side and make up your own mind. As of today, Scotland’s future really is in Scotland’s hands. [Applause.]

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you. Order.

The Deputy First Minister will now take questions. I intend to allow 30 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business. It would be helpful if members who wish to ask a question would press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

What we have today does not mark the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, but perhaps it marks the beginning of the end of the yes campaign. The white paper has 670 pages, but they are 670 pages of assertion and uncertainty, amplified by a statement from the Deputy First Minister that was a full exercise in assertion without evidence.

There is still no guarantee on the currency, and the much-vaunted legal opinion on our EU membership is noticeable only by its absence. The headline offer is another promise on childcare that the Scottish Government could deliver now but refuses to do so. Children are being denied the chance of proper care until their parents vote the way that the Scottish National Party wants them to. How cynical is that?

Beyond today’s events, the fundamental questions remain unanswered. Does not the Deputy First Minister accept that she cannot guarantee Scots what currency they would have for their wages, mortgages, pensions and savings because her plan is to rely on the good will of the rest of the United Kingdom, who are the same people whom she claims are doing us down and that is why we need to leave the United Kingdom in the first place? Of course, the Deputy First Minister says that if Scotland is not allowed to keep the pound, we shall simply default on our debts. The reality is this: the SNP is asking for a divorce but wants to keep the joint bank account. So, is plan B simply to do a runner? [Interruption.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

It is good to know that on this important day for Scotland, Johann Lamont is her usual cheery self. [Interruption.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

One thing that is absolutely certain in this referendum debate is that whenever she gets the opportunity, Johann Lamont manages to strike entirely the wrong tone and note. It really does not surprise me to hear Johann Lamont’s questions; I could have written her script at any time over the past few weeks. There was an article in The Spectator magazine a couple of weeks ago saying that it had already seen the no side’s rebuttal to the white paper, even before it was published. So, we know what the no side will say; it is hardly a surprise that they are trying to persuade people to vote no.

I will address the two substantive issues that Johann Lamont raised. On the European Union, we set out in “Scotland’s Future” a clear, reasonable and rational position that is fully consistent with our legal advice, and which shows how Scotland will make the transition from being a member of the EU as part of the UK to being an independent member of the EU and able to represent properly our national interests. I point out to members that the only risk that exists right now to Scotland’s membership of the European Union is the in/out referendum that David Cameron offers, which risks taking us out of the European Union against our will.

On currency, I make it very clear to Johann Lamont—in case she has missed it—that Scotland will continue to use the pound, which is as much ours as it is the rest of the UK’s. That position is not just put forward as a reasonable and rational position in the interests of Scotland; it is put forward because it is also a reasonable and rational position in the interests of the rest of the UK, for three reasons, the first of which is our trading relationship. Scotland is the rest of the UK’s second-biggest export market; it exports £60 billion of goods into Scotland. It would make no sense for a Westminster Government to force its own businesses into a separate currency.

The second reason is our massive contribution to the UK’s balance of payments. If we take our £40 billion of oil and gas exports out of the UK’s balance of payments, it will leave rather a big hole that would be extremely damaging to a sterling currency.

The third reason is a point to which Johann Lamont alluded. I am not making any threats; I leave that to the other side in the campaign. I simply make the point that, in any sensible negotiation, we talk about assets and liabilities. I think that Scotland should take a fair share of the liabilities of the UK, but I also think that we should get a fair share of the assets. We cannot have one without the other.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The people of Scotland have been waiting a long time to get answers on what independence might look like. I think that people right across the country will have looked at the launch of the white paper today and thought, “Is this it? Is this why we should break apart a United Kingdom that Scotland has spent 300 years helping to build? Is this why we should sacrifice one half of our shared nationhood and our dual identity? Is this why we should walk away?”

The truth is that there was little that is new—little that we had not heard here before—except the pledge on childcare. For six years, the Deputy First Minister has sat in a Scottish Government with full powers over childcare, and for six years the Scottish Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have been urging her Government to give Scottish families more help with childcare. Now, suddenly, after six years, we get this promise.

It is illuminating that, when the Deputy First Minister was asked this morning why, in six years, she had not helped families in that way when she had the powers to do so, she answered that she had not helped when she could have done so because the tax receipts of women going back to work would have gone to the UK Treasury.

If the Deputy First Minister wants to prove that the pledge is not retail politics and is not jotted down on the back of a fag packet, can she tell us how much the policy would cost? How much, per year, will 1,140 hours of childcare for all children from the age of one to school age cost, and why is the costing not in the document?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

First, I tell Ruth Davidson that I will be happy to allow the people of Scotland to judge the document. That is why we are taking great pains to make sure that everybody has access to a copy. I said in my statement that our message is, “Read the document and make up your own minds.” The question for the other side of the debate is, “Where is your equivalent?” We now have the case for independence. Where is the case for the no proposition?

On the specific issue of childcare, it is interesting that Ruth Davidson has come to Parliament and completely distorted a quotation that I gave on the radio this morning—but we will put that to one side. The fact of the matter is that this Government has been increasing childcare provision throughout our time in government, and we are continuing to do it right now. However, if we want to make not just incremental increases but a transformational change in provision of childcare, we need to access the increased revenues that will flow from that policy. If we were able to bring our levels of female participation in the workforce to the level of, say, Sweden—a comparable independent country—we would have increased tax revenues in the region of £700 million every year. That is the kind of revenue that would fund that policy. That is why we need independence to do that.

If Ruth Davidson was watching—I am sure that she was—the live stream of the launch this morning, she will have heard me give the answers to the question about costing. Part 2 of the white paper sets out how we will deliver our priorities within sound public finances, with £100 million within our first budget for phase 1 and £600 million by the time we get to the end of that first session of Parliament. By then, we will see the increased revenues from more women being able to participate in the workforce. It is the kind of ambitious, transformational and life-changing policy that independence will give us the ability to implement. If the Opposition would raise their sights and their ambition, they might find it within themselves to support it.

The Presiding Officer:

I advise members that 20 members wish to ask questions. It is unlikely that I will get through everybody, but if the questions and answers are brief, we might make considerable progress. I remind members that we will be having a debate tomorrow, so I ask them to keep the questions as questions, and to keep the answers as brief as possible. Thank you.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The thing that excites me most about independence is the opportunity to make transformational changes to our society and our economy. That is why I welcome the commitment to childcare in “Scotland’s Future”. Can the Deputy First Minister provide more detail about how, with independence, we can transform childcare provision in Scotland, and explain to the doomsayers in the better together campaign how the policy will help Scottish families and the Scottish economy, and help create jobs to boot?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Bruce Crawford asks an excellent question. He highlights exactly what people out there want to hear and want to know. They want to know what the benefits of independence will be to them, to their families and to their communities. This childcare proposal will benefit families the length and breadth of the country. It will give our youngest people—our children—the best start in life, and it will give parents, particularly women, the opportunities to participate in the workforce that many of them are priced out of now because of the prohibitive costs of childcare. It will also grow the economy and increase revenues, allowing us to make the policy affordable and sustainable.

Incidentally and into the bargain, delivering that kind of transformational policy will create 35,000 new jobs for the people who are needed to look after the children. That is the kind of ambitious policy that I believe will galvanise the campaign and be at the heart of the debate as we move towards the referendum.

Photo of Drew Smith Drew Smith Labour

Does the Deputy First Minister accept that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have the right to say no to a eurozone-style currency union? Is she listening and hearing the many voices from England, Wales and Northern Ireland that are saying that it is seriously unlikely?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I hear the no politicians say that because they are in a campaign to persuade people to vote no, so it hardly comes as a surprise.

We are not talking about a eurozone-style shared currency. Scotland and the rest of the UK has been described by a range of eminent experts as a optimal currency zone, unlike the eurozone in which the richest parts of Germany and the poorest parts of Greece co-exist within one currency.

The reasons why I believe that this is the right policy are not just because it is in the best interests of Scotland, but because it is in the best interests of people in other parts of the UK. Perhaps those who are on the other side of the argument would care to take the time to explain why on earth a Westminster Government would want to say to its own businesses that export into Scotland, “No, no. Scotland wants to stay in a currency with you but we will force you into paying the transaction costs and losing the jobs that would come from a single currency.” Why would a Westminster Government take out of its balance of payments the £40 billion that flows from our oil and gas exports?

This is a sensible, commonsense, rational, reasonable proposition, which is perhaps why the no campaign does not recognise it.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

As we know, Westminster continues to cut UK civil service jobs in contrast to the Scottish Government’s policy of no compulsory redundancies. That affects my East Kilbride constituency, so what does “Scotland’s Future” say about improving job security?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I refer Linda Fabiani to two parts of the white paper. Page 365 in part 4 details workforce issues such as the transfer of civil service and public service employees from UK Government employment to Scottish Government employment, where they will get the benefit of our no compulsory redundancy policy, which the UK Government does not have.

Given her constituency responsibilities, Linda Fabiani might also be interested in page 49 of the document, which makes it clear that Scotland’s military headquarters will be at Faslane, but the delivery functions will be at East Kilbride. I am sure that the member will find that to be of interest.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I like optimism as much as the Deputy First Minister, but she must be the only person on the planet who believes that there is not one single downside to independence that is worth mentioning in the white paper, and that dozens of other countries and organisations will agree to every single one of her demands on the currency, on NATO, on the European Union, and so much more. Yet if she is wrong, that is the gamble that she will have taken and the gamble that Scotland will pay the price for.

One area in which the Deputy First Minister is definitely wrong is childcare. The Scottish Government has the worst childcare arrangements in the British Isles, yet the Deputy First Minister has said that she is delaying the introduction of early education for two-year-olds until after the referendum, even though it is already being delivered by the powers in England. She has the powers now, so why the delay?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

In response to the first part of Willie Rennie’s question, I say that we, like every other country, live in a world that is at times difficult, challenging and uncertain. However, I believe that for this and every other country, in this uncertain world it is better to be in the driving seat of our own destiny than to leave the decisions to be taken elsewhere. That is why I believe that in any circumstances it is better to be independent.

I forgot to use two words in describing a currency union. Those two words were “logical” and “desirable”. They are not my words; they are the words that Alistair Darling used when he was telling the truth about it, before the no campaign got hold of him and made him change his tune.

Willie Rennie is wrong about the Scottish Government’s childcare position. I seem to recall that his UK leader, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK Government, was at one point forced to speak out against his Government’s childcare policy. We are making progressive changes to the provision of childcare, but we want to transform it. If Willie Rennie has been listening to this session so far—I am sure that he has—he will know that we need the powers of independence to provide that policy, grow revenues and allow those revenues to make that policy sustainable and affordable. I believe that that policy will capture the imagination of people around Scotland and, given his creditable track record on this issue, Willie Rennie would be better advised to get behind it.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

What discussions has the Deputy First Minister had with her opposite numbers at Westminster on the delivery of national security? The document indicates that the Government’s “first responsibility” is to reflect MI5, MI6, the Government Communications Headquarters and measures to deal with national cyberthreats with a “security and intelligence agency”. Will she give us confidence on her costings?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I know that Graeme Pearson, with his interest about and expertise on these issues, will be interested to read the document from page 261 onwards, which sets out proposals around security and intelligence, including the establishment of a new security and intelligence agency.

I am glad that Graeme Pearson raised the issue of discussions with Westminster counterparts. I have said repeatedly, and I say again today, that I would welcome discussions with UK counterparts about how we take forward negotiations in the event of a yes vote next year. I do not expect that we should pre-negotiate the entire independence settlement, but it would be in everybody’s interests for us to have sensible discussions. The Westminster Government’s position is that it is not prepared to have those discussions. If Graeme Pearson wants to take up the matter with the Westminster Government and encourage it to change its tune, I would be very happy for him to do so. I, the Scottish Government and the entire civil service are at its disposal to sit down and talk about these issues any time it likes.

Photo of Aileen McLeod Aileen McLeod Scottish National Party

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that at a time when the UK Government is seriously contemplating withdrawal from the EU, Scotland’s future in the EU can be guaranteed only by independence and that under any scenario, an independent Scottish Government taking its place at the EU top table is the only way to ensure that Scotland’s best interests are represented in EU legislative and policy decisions?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I make two points in response to Aileen McLeod’s vital question about Scotland’s representation in the European Union. First, our interests would be much better served by independent membership of the European Union. Anybody who doubts that need only speak to Richard Lochhead, who I am not sure is in the chamber, about the disgraceful situation around agriculture payments over the past few weeks, when Scotland’s interests were not served by the UK Government.

The second point is absolutely the correct one. The risk to Scotland’s membership of the European Union is not independence; the risk is the in/out referendum that is being proposed by David Cameron, the Conservatives and the UK Government. If Scotland does not become independent, there is a very real risk that, in that referendum, the UK as a whole will vote to come out, Scotland will vote to stay in and we will be taken out of the European Union against our will, with all the serious implications that that will have for our economy. That is the risk to Scotland, and that is one of the many reasons why we should vote yes in next year’s referendum.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

The Deputy First Minister will know that pensions make up about 40 per cent of the social security budget, but there was not one word about pensions in her statement. Is that because she has no answers? There are no answers on how cross-border pension schemes will be funded, no answer to the fact that pensions will cost more in Scotland due to the population ageing faster and no answer on the cost of pensions overall. [Interruption.]

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Is it not the case that the Office for National Statistics, the National Records of Scotland, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Scottish Government’s fiscal commission and even John Swinney have acknowledged that maintaining pensions in an independent Scotland would present a huge problem? Is it not true that the pensioners in Scotland face a stark choice? They can either believe the facts from experts or believe the assertions from the SNP.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I know that it has been only a few hours since the white paper was published and Jackie Baillie may not have had time to read it yet, but I recommend to her pages 138 onwards, which set out in detail the position around pensions. [Interruption.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Let me give her just some highlights:

“current pensioners will receive their pensions as now, on time and in full. Accrued rights will be honoured and protected” and:

“planned reforms will be rolled out ... including the introduction of the single-tier pension”.

In addition, the triple lock will be guaranteed for the first term of an independent Parliament. No such guarantee currently exists from Westminster.

Let me make a couple of other points about pensions. Right now, we pay a smaller proportion of our GDP on social protection, including things such as pensions, than is the case for the UK as a whole, so we start from a stronger, more affordable position. We have an ageing population, but we are not unique in that and, actually, that is a good thing and something that we should celebrate, not moan, about. We can argue about whether having an ageing population is a more acute problem for Scotland than for other countries. Actually, the proportion of our population over pension age is increasing at a slightly lower rate than the UK—if we look at the whole dependency ratio, it is better; if we look at the dependency ratio just for pensioners, it is slightly worse.

The key point is this: what do we do about that? The way to deal with and support an ageing population is to grow the working age population. How do we do that? We attract immigration rather than follow the UK Government’s policy, which is, for example, to get rid of the post-study visa. We take measures to grow our economy, to create jobs, to grow tax revenues—that is how to deal with and support an ageing population. We will be far better able to do that with independence than we will be as part of the union.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that one of the biggest gains of independence will be a social security system that is in line with the wishes of the people of Scotland? Can she outline what measures are set out in the white paper to achieve that fair and prosperous future?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I refer the member to part 3, chapter 4, of the white paper, where our proposals on welfare and social protection are set out. I agree that the Westminster assault on our welfare state is one of the many reasons for supporting independence. Our welfare state, cherished by all of us, is being dismantled by the Westminster Government before our very eyes. If we want to protect that, the best way to do so is to vote yes.

We set out some very clear policies in the white paper. We will abolish the bedroom tax within the first year of being elected as the first Government of an independent Scotland. We will take the decision not to proceed with universal credit and personal independence payments. Those programmes are mired in controversy, delayed and seriously damaging to some of the most vulnerable in our society. We will build on the work that is being done by the expert group on welfare to ensure that we can design a social protection system that is fit for Scotland’s purposes and helps people into work but provides the decent safety net for those who cannot work that I believe we all want to see.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

On page 305, the white paper says that the Scottish Government would look to establish an oil fund immediately upon independence to stabilise the economy, but it does not say where the money for that fund will come from.

Members: Oil! [Laughter.]

The Presiding Officer:

Order. Let us hear the member.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I think that members will find that it does not say where the money for the fund will come from. The question is: will it come from increased taxation or cuts in public spending? Alternatively, does the SNP seriously propose, as is rather implied, to borrow the money to save in an oil fund, in the world’s biggest payday loan? Surely that is not the common sense that is so beloved of the Deputy First Minister.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Norway established its oil fund some years before it started paying into the oil fund. In case Iain Gray has forgotten this fact, I remind him that independent Norway now has an oil fund of £450 billion. That is one of the very big benefits of being independent.

I think that Iain Gray knows the answer to his questions, because I am sure that, being the careful and prepared person that he is, he has read the fiscal commission’s work on the oil fund. The commission proposes an oil fund with two purposes. One is to smooth the volatility of oil revenues. We would make a cautious forecast of oil revenues and, when the actual revenues exceed that, we would put the excess into an oil fund. Secondly, we would have an oil fund with the purpose of saving for future generations, which is something that Westminster Governments over generations have failed to do. We would start paying into that when the deficit reached a point below 3 per cent.

That is very clear, but the key thing is that, if we leave Westminster in charge, for the next however many years, our oil revenues will be squandered in the same way as they have been squandered for the past 40 years, whereas, if we are independent, we can steward them for the future. That is yet another reason to vote yes and become independent.

Photo of Baroness Annabel MacNicoll Goldie Baroness Annabel MacNicoll Goldie Conservative

Whatever Alex Salmond says, an independent Scotland using the pound will not be under his control; it will be under the control of a foreign country. At page 111, the white paper concedes the possibility of “a different arrangement”. Will the Deputy First Minister please clarify what the different arrangement will be if the currency negotiations to use the pound fail? Will it be the euro, the groat or the Aberdeen dollar? What is plan B?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The point that Annabel Goldie draws attention to about different arrangements simply acknowledges that, in future in an independent Scotland, some parties might take a different view on the best currency arrangement for Scotland. I see Patrick Harvie here in the chamber, and I know that, as recently as the 2010 general election, Willie Rennie’s party still had entry to the euro as its preferred currency option. Clearly, there are differences of opinion in the no campaign on the best currency option. Our firm view is that a shared currency is in the best interests of Scotland and of the UK. I would have thought that Annabel Goldie, whose party gave Alistair Darling such a warm standing ovation when he came to its conference, would agree with Alistair Darling that a shared currency is both “logical” and “desirable”.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Will the Deputy First Minister advise the Parliament what discussions have taken place with EU member states to back up the statement that, to ensure that the current UK obligations and provisions apply to an independent Scotland,

“the necessary Treaty amendments will be taken forward with the agreement of member states”?

In the event that the consent of EU member states has not already been obtained, does she agree that it would be more honest for the document to explore what concessions might have to be made to secure EU membership? Which of the UK opt-outs would she be prepared to concede in order to ensure Scotland’s membership?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We have discussions with EU members on a range of issues and on a range of occasions. For example, over the next few days, Fiona Hyslop will brief the consular corps on the content of the white paper. She will be as aware as I am that no other European member state would want to be seen to say anything that could be deemed to be interfering in the domestic debate that Scotland is having.

To go back to an answer that I gave earlier, we would be happy to sit down and discuss these matters with the European Commission, but it has made clear that such discussions would have to be initiated by the member state, which is the UK. That takes us back to the point that the UK Government, for reasons best known to itself, does not want to discuss the issues, perhaps because it knows that the Scottish Government’s position is sound.

The question that the no campaign has to answer is why on earth any member of the European Union would not want Scotland to continue in membership. Scotland is a contributor to the European Union in many, many different ways. [Interruption.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

It would be in the interests of Scotland and other EU members for that contribution to continue.

On Patricia Ferguson’s question on opt-outs, I am sure that, if she has not already done so, she will read the detail on that in the white paper. We argue for a transition on the basis of continuity of effect. We are not asking for special arrangements to apply to Scotland; we are arguing for the arrangements that apply to us now as part of the UK to continue when we are an independent country. That is a reasonable and sensible position, as are all the positions that are laid out in the comprehensive document published today.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

What analysis is provided in the white paper as to the opportunities of independence to reverse the trend of widening inequality, which has been presided over by successive Westminster Governments of whatever political hue decade in and decade out?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

One of the reasons why we need power over the levers of social and economic policy is to deal with the inequality gap in the UK. I have already spoken about the childcare proposal, which would have a huge effect over time on raising attainment and dealing with some of the inequality gap. We also set out proposals to ensure, for example, that the minimum wage, tax credits and benefits rise at least in line with inflation. That is important because it would stop the lowest-paid in our society falling further and deeper into poverty.

There are a range of measures in the white paper that will address the inequality gap in Scotland, not overnight but over time, and help to make our country not only wealthier but fairer. That ambition for a wealthier and fairer country drives everything in the white paper and our support for the independence that we seek.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I would love to fund a childcare revolution by scrapping the weapons of war instead of cutting other public services. [Applause.]

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

However, even if the better together parties do not share the desire for the freedom to make that choice, does it not show the depths to which they have sunk that they describe that proposal as a childcare bribe? Since when did any politician with any integrity describe public services in such demeaning terms?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I agree 100 per cent with Patrick Harvie on that. It is a sign of what things have come to when we have not only Conservative politicians describing public service policies such as universal childcare in those terms—which, perhaps, does not come as a huge surprise—but Labour politicians queueing up to join them in doing so. That is the better together Labour-Tory alliance that wants to hold Scotland back. I am proud to be part of a cross-party yes campaign that wants to take Scotland forward to a better future.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I am sure that, like me, the Deputy First Minister believes that democrats across the chamber and throughout Scotland will be incredibly excited by the opportunity that independence gives Scotland finally to have a written constitution. Given the historic and social significance of that, I ask her what thoughts have been given to making writing that constitution a truly participative process, with innovative engagement techniques, so that everyone can feel and be part of the process.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Fiona McLeod raises one of the genuinely exciting opportunities of being independent: the opportunity to design a written constitution. We are one of the few countries in Europe, certainly, and the world that does not have a written constitution that sets out clearly the relationship between the citizen and the state and which protects our freedoms and rights.

The Government has been clear about the kinds of things that it would want to be in that written constitution—social and economic rights and a ban on nuclear weapons, for example. However, it should be written not by the Scottish Government but in a collaborative and participative way. Part 4 of the white paper sets out that process, but it should be determined by the independent Scottish Parliament elected in 2016. If we get the yes vote and become independent, I look forward to being part of—but only part of—that exciting process.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Only 12 days ago, the Deputy First Minister said that shipbuilding is dear to her heart and vital to the Scottish economy. However, 150,000 words later, can the 35 words in the document that refer to shipbuilding in any way match up to a new future or even to a sustainable future? Where are the assurances and guarantees to my constituents who work in Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth that the industry will have a secure future in an independent Scotland?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Shipbuilding is dear to my heart, which is why I always avoid taking any opportunity to use it as a political football. I think that shipbuilding is more important than that.

The white paper sets out what the initial procurement requirements will be for independent Scottish defence forces. It talks about something that has been talked about far too little within the Westminster system: diversification in terms of defence and the shipbuilding industry.

I will repeat what I have said previously. Following independence, the Clyde will remain the best place to build the type 26 frigates. Alistair Carmichael said that article 346 of the European Union treaty somehow prevented the UK Government from placing those contracts on the Clyde. I hope that he now regrets saying that, because, just a couple of weeks ago, he sat in a House of Commons committee next to a defence minister who contradicted him by saying that there is nothing that prevents the contracts from being placed on the Clyde.

The contracts will come to the Clyde because the Clyde is the best place to build those ships and has the best people and the best facilities to do so. Further, given the details that are set out in the white paper, it would make sense, post independence, for that to be a joint procurement process. Remember, joint procurement, in terms of cost effectiveness, is what the UK Government goes on about all the time.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

Following a yes vote, what further steps will the Scottish Government take to realise Scotland’s ambition to be an active and good global citizen?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The section of the document that deals with international relations and defence sets out in detail our commitments on international aid. Just as, I believe, we have a responsibility to the poorest in our country, so too, as a relatively rich country, we have a responsibility to the poorest around the world.

We have set out in the document our commitment to ensuring that 0.7 per cent of gross national income is secured for international aid, and a range of other ways in which we would work with international partners to be that good global citizen and help to tackle global poverty and build on the world-leading work that this Parliament has already done on climate change. The opportunities of independence in that regard are many and varied.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s aspirations on childcare, although I would give more emphasis to two-year-olds and would do it now. However, how could she deliver that or any of her other spending wishes with a neo-liberal economic policy, higher interest rates and a hope-for-the-best relationship with the rest of the UK?

Does the Deputy First Minister realise how absurd the Government looks when the white paper says that the Bank of England will continue to be the lender of last resort? Does she not understand that, even if there were a currency union, there would be no fiscal independence, contrary to what she said on the radio this morning? Is she not leading project wish against project reality, as will become increasingly clear in the months ahead?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I understand the vehemence with which Malcolm Chisholm makes his argument because, as someone who has the greatest of respect for Malcolm Chisholm, I have a sneaky wee feeling that he does not believe it in his heart of hearts and that, actually, he will be as inspired by the white paper as I am. [Laughter.]

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I do not know where the high interest rates that were chucked into that question came from. Perhaps Malcolm Chisholm has been reading the project fear playbook a little too much. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer:

Order, Mr Bibby.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Independence offers us the opportunity to take the steps that will get Scotland’s economy going and will create jobs that create wealth that we can share more equally in order to deal with the inequality that I know that Malcolm Chisholm loathes as much as I do.

I have not yet given up hope—and will not give up hope before 18 September next year—of getting Malcolm Chisholm on to the yes side of this debate, which is where I believe that his heart lies.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I congratulate the Government on producing a very workmanlike document, which I hope will start many of the debates that we should have in Scotland. I also gently say that Nicola Sturgeon should not dismiss what Malcolm Chisholm said, because a lot of us feel that this looks too easy. We know that it will be difficult, which is where we get to negotiations.

When we talk about negotiations, should we not think of tapping into all the talent and experience in Scotland after the yes vote? There are people who have been front benchers and in Cabinets, and there are people who have done international negotiations—they are called Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling; I would leave out one or two others. I seriously urge the Government to think of the whole country and not just the Scottish National Party.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I made a speech about a year ago in which I set it out clearly that, although this Government—as the democratically elected Government of Scotland—would lead the negotiations if we got a yes vote, we would do so as part of a team Scotland approach. I would very much want people such as Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown and Margo MacDonald to be in the negotiations with us, to ensure that all of us on Scotland’s side get the best deal that we can for Scotland.

That is a key point in the debate. We will have the yes/no debate passionately over the next few months and members will be on opposite sides. However, the minute that Scotland votes yes, we will stop being on opposite sides and we will all be on the same side, when we will have the opportunity to take our country forward. I agree 100 per cent with the proposition that Margo MacDonald made.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Given that women in Scotland need to worry just as much about the sticky floor as the glass ceiling, what proposals does the white paper set out to increase female participation in the workforce? What impact would those proposals have on the economy of an independent Scotland?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I have spoken at length about the childcare proposal, which would do great things to help women to participate in the workforce. We have also talked about what we would do to increase women’s representation on company and public boards—we would legislate for that if necessary.

Under independence, a practical transfer from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament will be of legal responsibility for equality issues. That is perhaps one of the little things in the white paper that will not get the headlines but which is absolutely worth supporting.

The Presiding Officer:

That ends questions to the Deputy First Minister on her statement.