[Mrs Linda Riordan in the Chair]
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Riordan, for a very important debate. Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen a watershed in the referendum debate in Scotland. The Governor of the Bank of England’s non-partisan and technical intervention on the currency has been critical in debunking the false assertions that the Scottish National party has been peddling about keeping and using the pound. I will come back to those revelations later and to some of the latest news on that issue.
We can sum up the Governor’s intervention by reflecting on a quote from renowned economist Keynes:
“He who controls the currency controls the country”.
And which eminent economist said that a country without its own currency is a country not only without a steering wheel, but also without brakes? No, it was not Keynes, Adam Smith, or even Marx, but the lesser-known SNP Education Secretary, Mike Russell. There is little doubt that the Governor was saying exactly that when he stated:
“It is no coincidence that effective currency unions tend to have centralised fiscal authorities whose spending is a sizeable share of GDP.”
He went on to say:
“In short, a durable, successful currency union requires some ceding of national sovereignty.”
The central message of the Governor’s speech, of course, was that currency union requires fiscal, economic and political union to avoid financial crisis.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. As he will know, the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, of which I am a member, has conducted an inquiry into the consequences of Scottish separatism. Last week, we were taking evidence from a number of eminent academics. One in particular, Professor MacDonald of the university of Glasgow, who is an expert in economics, said, in the context of price shocks regarding Scottish oil production:
“If you had a separate currency, your exchange rate would take up the adjustment, but, of course, if you are part of a monetary union, you won’t have that…That, for me, is one of the key deciding issues as to why, whatever we want to call it, a currency union or a monetary union would not work.”
Does my hon. Friend agree with that assessment?
I do, and I think that is the assessment that many economists, academics and politicians have been making over the past few weeks. The Governor of the Bank of England made the very same assessment, and the Scottish Affairs Committee deserves great credit for the amount of work they are putting in on the issue.
Let me go back to the central message of the Governor’s speech. He said that currency union requires fiscal, economic and political union to avoid financial crisis. It is precisely that fiscal, economic and political union that the SNP seeks to dismantle with its obsession with independence. When the First Minister met the Governor of the Bank of England a few weeks ago, there was one person in that room who would control Scotland’s fiscal, monetary and spending policies in a currency union after independence, and it was not the First Minister.
A key test that the Governor set for any currency union is that a centralised fiscal authority would need to control about 25% of that fiscal union’s GDP. That is about 50% of the spending in Scotland. The SNP immediately responded by saying that they would have 100% control over taxes and spending in an independent Scotland, so by default, it is the SNP that has ruled out a currency union by completely ignoring the central warning of the Governor’s full analysis.
We do not have to look too far back into history to see that the Governor was correct. The euro created sovereign debt crises, financial fragmentation and large divergences in economic performance. That clearly illustrates the risks and challenges of creating and maintaining a formal currency union across different states with differing economies.
People in my constituency have said that they should be entitled to a say on the terms on which an independent Scotland might continue to use the pound, for the very reason that they fear that, if the conditions are not sufficiently strict, they could end up with a Greek euro situation, with workers in one country paying to prop up the financial circumstances in another. Does my hon. Friend agree that people in Selly Oak, and indeed, in England, have a point on that?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. A currency union is a question not only for Scotland, but for the rest of the United Kingdom, because the stabilisers that require a currency union would be stabilisers that England or the rest of the United Kingdom would have to use, as well as Scotland. It is a question for the rest of the United Kingdom, and that is a very valuable intervention from my hon. Friend, who is from an English constituency. [Interruption.] I can hear SNP Members chuntering, “Scaremongering”. Well, I hope that they go back and tell their constituents that the SNP disregards what they are saying as scaremongering rather than as raising legitimate issues about the currency and jobs.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will make some progress, then I will give way. I was talking about the euro. Let us reflect on what is happening now with the euro area: it is seeking very significant steps to expand the sharing of risks and pooling of resources to create a more homogenous currency union to make it work properly—exactly what the UK in its current state now provides for the pound sterling.
I know that the First Minister said that we should ignore experts, but John Cridland, the director general of the CBI, emphasised last week:
“As the Governor highlighted, successful currency unions need strong fiscal agreements and a banking union, with common supervisory standards and resolution mechanisms. The negative effects”—
this point is critical—
“of not having these structures in place have been starkly illustrated by the Eurozone crisis.”
There is a very positive case for staying with the United Kingdom as part of this currency debate and I would like to run through three points that are particularly relevant to the currency and the economy.
First, Scotland benefits from being part of the UK economy, which is the third largest economy in Europe and the sixth largest in the world. Being part of the larger, more diverse UK economy brings strength, stability and security, not only to Scotland’s finances, but to those of the United Kingdom.
Secondly, being part of the UK offers us protection from financial shocks. During the financial crisis, banks based in Scotland took advantage of the protection offered to UK banks. Since 2007, the UK has committed £1.2 trillion to bailing out the banks. At its peak, the Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland received £254 billion in support from the UK Government. That pooling and sharing is critical.
Thirdly, the rest of the UK is Scotland’s biggest trading partner. Scottish businesses buy and sell more products and services from the rest of the UK than every other country in the world combined. In 2010, 70% of Scotland’s exported goods and services went to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, accounting for a massive 35% of Scottish GDP. Likewise, 70% of Scotland’s imports are estimated to come from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Turning that argument on its head, based on the very ill-thought-out and ill-judged comments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer overnight, what assessment has been made by the no campaign, the Treasury and the Labour party of the impact on Welsh jobs should Scotland not be allowed to use sterling as currency? [Interruption.]
I did not quite catch the end of what the hon. Gentleman said about Welsh jobs—[Interruption.] The impact on Welsh jobs would be the impact described by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). Losing Scotland from a single currency in the United Kingdom is very dangerous indeed—[Interruption.]
Let me make some progress, then I will give way. The attitude you have just seen from the nationalists in the Chamber, Mrs Riordan, sums up exactly the argument we are having. When challenged on legitimate questions about legitimate issues to do with people’s jobs and the economy of this country, all they can do is shout, “Scaremongering”, and shout down the people who are asking those legitimate questions.
This is not just a technical or political issue; it is also a significant issue for the Scottish public. I say to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) that I am sure the attitudes of the Welsh are exactly the same. The recent Scottish social attitudes survey said that 79% want to keep the pound with only 11% wanting their own currency—no doubt the Greens and the chair of the yes campaign are included in that 11%—and 7% want Alex Salmond’s previous obsession, which was the euro.
The First Minister has gone from saying that the pound is,
“a millstone round Scotland’s neck”
to making it the currency of choice for the SNP, but not all the yes camp believe that that is right. The SNP’s own fiscal commission was not even in favour of an informal monetary or currency union.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On the specific issue of jobs—I am speaking as an MP whose area has a border that divides Scotland and England—my local businesses, the North East chamber of commerce and the local authorities have all indicated that there would be a negative impact on jobs, growth and the development of our respective economies in Scotland and England were the referendum to go ahead. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that point, as always, is totally ignored by the Scottish nationalists?
I am grateful for that intervention. That point is ignored because it is convenient for the nationalists to ignore it. They do not care about the rest of the United Kingdom. They do not care about businesses and employment across the rest of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] If they did, they would put their efforts into ensuring that that worked for businesses and for employment across the United Kingdom, rather than being obsessed with the constitution.
I will try to make significant progress. There is a banking museum in the old HBOS headquarters on the mound in Edinburgh. It says that people think of money today as banknotes and coins, but that the currency used to be things such as tea, shells and even feathers. That has been used in the past. We may need to go back to that, because people need to know what the money will be in their pockets. We cannot run a modern economy on empty ginger bottles. Incidentally, people can press their own coins at the museum. There is a little press that kids can use to press their own coins. Perhaps that will become the Scottish Government’s plan B when they have to decide to print their own coins.
This is too important an issue for the SNP and the yes campaign not to be honest with the Scottish people and businesses about the way forward. The overwhelming weight of opinion is now against a currency union. It is little wonder, as any agreement would mean that our interest rates would be set by a foreign bank and include strict instructions on how much Scotland could tax and spend. Scotland would have no control at all over monetary policy. It would also mean the loss of our UK central bank, which acts as the lender of last resort. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills raised the lender of last resort issue last week in relation to the large Scottish financial institutions perhaps being forced to move south to be by the central bank, for the reasons that I highlighted earlier, from the crisis in 2008.
My hon. Friend makes that point rather well. Let me go on to talk about something that has been mentioned already. Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, in terms of having a currency union in the way that the SNP envisages, would be exactly the same relationship as the Greek Government currently have with Germany, but it is not just an issue for Scotland.
Let me make a little progress. I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but I will allow hon. Members to intervene.
It is not just an issue for Scotland. The rest of the UK—this is an important point, which other hon. Members have made in interventions—would have to agree. It appears from speculation in the press today—perhaps the Treasury Minister can indicate whether it is speculation—that there will not be an agreement on currency union, as it is undeliverable. If an agreement is not possible or is ruled out by the Treasury, what will be the Scottish Government’s plan B? [Interruption.] The nationalists are chuntering away about what they would do. I am happy to take an intervention if they want to tell the people of Scotland now what the Scottish nationalists’ plan B is for the currency should Scotland vote yes for independence. [Interruption.]
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has given way; he promised to give way. Has he informed the people of England of what his policy would mean for them if he managed to go hand in hand with Osborne and keep Scotland out of sterling? What would it mean for the balance of payments? What would it mean for the value of sterling? What would be the price of holidays for English people going abroad without Scotland’s contribution to sterling? The hon. Gentleman knows full well that Labour keeping Scotland out of sterling would make things far more expensive for English people.
I apologise to everyone in the debate. I allowed the hon. Member for the Western Isles to intervene to tell us what the SNP’s plan B is, and he chuntered on about something to do with holidays that I could barely hear because his colleagues were chuntering over him. I have no idea what he said. [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman did not hear because of the chuntering beside him, but the point is that we know full well what we are doing—we are keeping sterling. But if his policy was—[Laughter.] If his policy was put in place, what would happen to people in England as the balance of payments worsened and sterling weakened? Imports would be more expensive. Holidays would be more expensive. Labour’s policy is irresponsible to the people of England as it is to the people of Wales.
The former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars, said that the SNP’s currency union plans were “stupidity on stilts”. After listening to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), does my hon. Friend think that Mr Sillars might have been speaking about him?
Is not the former deputy leader of the SNP on to something? The fundamental fact is that if the Scottish National party wishes to keep the economic and social union, there also has to be a political union; otherwise democracy is lost. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I absolutely agree, because what the SNP wishes to do is cherry-pick what it wishes to have in an independent Scotland. It cannot have the economic and social union without having that political union. Let us just reflect on a hypothetical situation in which Scotland either is an independent country or has its own currency. After the eurozone crisis of 2008 and beyond, it would probably be in negotiations with the UK Treasury to get more of a fiscal pact and more of a monetary union to ensure that those stabilisers were in place to ensure that it did not happen again.
Let me go back to where I was—challenging the SNP on whether it had a plan B. It is quite clear that it has barely a plan A, and it will not tell us what its plan B is. The Scottish people deserve to know before they go to the polls. It is clear that leaving the UK means losing the security of the pound. The yes camp cannot even tell us what money we would have in our pockets. How can they ask us to vote to leave the United Kingdom?
The pound is one of the most trusted and secure currencies in the world. The eurozone crisis has shown us how important it is to have a strong and stable currency, and this is not just about what money is in your pocket; it is about what it will buy you. Losing the pound means more expensive mortgages, more expensive credit card bills and more expensive car loans. Anyone who banks, anyone who saves and anyone who borrows will be hit with higher bills.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the debate. He will be aware that the Deputy First Minister has indicated in the broadcast media today that the Scottish Government are now minded to default on their debt in the event of a yes vote. Can my hon. Friend give any indication of what he thinks the interest rates would be on our residents’ mortgages or on debts and savings if such a scenario occurred?
That is a very timely intervention, because there is no doubt about this. Everyone in this room, everyone watching this debate and everyone in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom will know what happens when people do not pay their bills. When people default on their bills, they end up in a situation whereby the bills get higher. Interest and credit get higher and more difficult to get. Indeed, they are punished for ever more with an incredibly bad credit rating. In the context of an economy and a country, that is devastating for jobs and public services at the very least.
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the problem of any two countries that go into a currency union and therefore have to get their budgets, spend and tax agreed between them, which in itself will be deeply problematic with an independent Scotland under SNP leadership certainly, but will he also recognise that the situation is even worse than that? In the event that, in that situation, Scotland overspent, it would in effect be down to London to decide that it was going to have to row back on that expenditure and cut expenditure north of the border.
I am grateful for that intervention. Again, I can only emphasise what the Governor of the Bank of England said. It was a non-partisan speech; it was a technical speech about currency unions and that was the point that he made: those monetary, fiscal and spending stabilisers have to be in place; otherwise a currency union does not work.
What about business? We sell twice as much to the rest of the UK as we do to the rest of the world combined. Losing the pound would mean that every time a Scottish company sold to or bought from somewhere down south, they would incur the cost of exchanging money. That would result in higher prices for us all, as the supermarket bosses—again, we have been told by the First Minister to ignore them—warned us last week. We should listen to business. In a strong criticism of the SNP White Paper, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland has warned that there is
“a high degree of uncertainty as to what the currency of an independent Scotland will be.”
ICAS states that no alternatives have been set out in case the negotiations are unsuccessful, and warns:
“The choice of currency will have a very significant impact across the pensions sector, the economy and the country generally, and this will inevitably remain as a major uncertainty for the time being.”
We should listen to that warning from Scotland’s accountants. The SNP must tell us what currency it would use instead. Will it set up an unproven currency or rush to join the euro?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate on a matter that has got my constituents, and probably his, worried. Not so long ago, the nats wanted to join the euro; indeed, that was a slogan of theirs. It is very strange—it is a consequence of all that has happened in mainland Europe—they are now trying to hitch up to the pound, which would also be a foreign currency.
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. The SNP has ditched its euro credentials and its wish to join the euro in favour of a currency union with the United Kingdom that it is already in. I believe its slogan was “independence in Europe” but it now seems to be “independence in the UK with the pound.” Will it rush to adopt the euro—indeed, will Scotland actually be in the EU—or will it join the only other two countries in the world that tie their currency informally to another? This is a great quiz question: which countries are those? The answer is Panama and El Salvador, which use the dollar. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) chuntering, “Greece”, and that is exactly the point that I have been making.
The First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Scotland this morning made the unedifying assertion that Scotland will default on its debt if no currency union is forthcoming. That ill-thought-through, toys-out-of-the-pram threat is a recipe for economic crisis and political conflict. It is reckless and irresponsible, to say the least.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A currency union requires some kind of political co-ordination to ensure that the stabilisers make the currency work. What better political stability could we have than being the United Kingdom, with a strong Scottish Parliament as part of that overall economic and political framework?
I apologise for missing the start of the debate; I have just come from a debate on a statutory instrument that affects my constituency. My hon. Friend is making a powerful contribution. According to the International Monetary Fund, none of the 64 largest economies in the world operates without a central bank. Does he agree that if Scotland were forced into the position, which was denounced by the SNP’s fiscal commission, of using the pound without a central bank, the consequences for business and ordinary people throughout Scotland would be devastating?
I could not have put it better myself. I look back to 2008, when hundreds of billions of pounds were poured into Scottish banks to keep the economy afloat, and to keep my constituents, many thousands of whom work in such banks in Edinburgh, in jobs. Without such action, the whole financial structure would have collapsed.
I see that the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence asked the question:
“What about bank bail-outs if there is another financial crisis?”
The Scottish Government responded:
“If in the future wider support from governments is required to stabilise the financial system, this would be coordinated through the governance arrangements agreed between the governments of the Sterling Area.”
In other words, they would have to rely on negotiations with the rest of the UK Government. Contrast that with the situation in the recent financial crisis when, as part of the UK, the Scottish banks were able to call on the resources of the UK.
That is precisely the argument about pooling and sharing, and it is why the UK is such a powerful political, social and economic union. The larger and more stable economy of the UK can deal with such shocks.
Experts such as Professor MacDonald and Professor Armstrong are clear that defaulting on debt would be a reckless move with negative consequences for the people of Scotland for many years to come. That threat shows that the SNP accepts that Scotland cannot keep the pound if it leaves the UK. Defaulting on our debts as a nation has the same impact as if someone defaults on their debts as an individual, and I have already mentioned what happens if someone does not pay their bills. Our credit rating would be terrible, and we would have to pay more for absolutely everything, which would be a disaster for ordinary individuals and families up and down Scotland. Any Scot who borrows money or who has a mortgage, a credit card or catalogue payments will have to pay more. That is not scaremongering, but basic economics.
The SNP has said in its fantasy White Paper that Scotland would have to rely on the rest of the UK to collect our taxes and to pay our pensions and benefits for many years after independence until it sorted out its own systems. The SNP cannot threaten to dump the debt one minute and ask to share everything else the next. That is a recipe for crisis and disaster. How would those UK institutional systems work with a separate currency? Can the Minister tell us whether the systems used by the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are capable of working in a currency other than sterling? I doubt it. The White Paper is underpinned by and predicated on the pound. Perhaps it will turn into an actual white paper when it has been so heavily Tipp-exed that it contains nothing but Tipp-ex.
Scots have an international reputation for being prudent and thrifty. To default on its debts would irreparably damage Scotland. Even to threaten to default on debts has significant consequences for interest rates, borrowing and international reputation, which the National Institute of Economic and Social Research put at a minimum of 1.5%.
I will not give way again to the hon. Gentleman, because he refused to answer my last question. To summarise, losing the pound would result in a higher cost of living, with higher mortgage repayments, higher credit card and store card bills, and more costly car loans. Scotland would start out as a separate state with no credit rating, or one that had been hugely damaged by threats of default. There would be fewer jobs, because of the cost of changing money every time Scottish firms bought or sold from our biggest customer, which is the rest of the United Kingdom. There would be deeper cuts or higher taxes because the Scottish Government would pay more to borrow money, which would result in more debt and lower public spending. There would be risks to benefits and pensions as payments were converted from sterling to a different currency.
There would be risks to the economy. Without the back-up of the rest of the UK, Scottish banks would have gone under during the financial crisis, and families and businesses across the country would have lost everything. Scotland would have an unproven and weak currency with a poor credit rating and high borrowing costs. The SNP’s proposition may be summed up as this: we should go from a proven and respected single currency backed by a strong lender of last resort as part of the United Kingdom to a promise from Alex Salmond that he is simply not in a position to deliver. That is not good enough for the Scottish people or Scottish business.
I can say this afternoon without doubt, argument or contradiction that the currency of Scotland post 2014 will be the pound, but only if we stay in the United Kingdom. It is now clear that the most positive case that we can make for the Union is the pound in our pockets. We must do all we can, today and for the next seven months, to protect it for future generations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on a very impressive speech. This is an issue of finance, but also of the heart. As with all matters of finance and long-term matters of the heart, pragmatism and practicality must hold sway. Listening to SNP Members chuntering—when they are not on their mobile phones—and not listening to the debate, one is struck by the fact that their basic argument is that they want to have their cake, eat it and then still call the cake Scottish, not British. Last autumn, when I was campaigning with the Better Together campaign—a cross-party campaign that is doing a fantastic job—one Scot put the situation to me in this way: “The prospect of an affair is always more glamorous than the work of saving a marriage.” I suggest that that is the situation in which the Scottish people now find themselves.
I strongly support the desire of the Scottish people to be together as part of the United Kingdom.
On a point of order, Mrs Riordan. Is it entirely fair that, in a debate as important as this one, 95% of the time is given to one side and we are now restricted to five minutes? How could that possibly be fair? Can you look into that so that we get more time to put the other side of the case so that the people who are watching this get the opportunity to hear it?
I speak as a Brit, a mongrel Englishman, a lover of Scotland and an MP whose constituency borders Scotland. Were there to be Scottish independence, I have no doubt that tourism and trade would continue, but it would be naive not to accept that trade on a cross-border basis would unquestionably be affected. That is not some Conservative Member of Parliament speaking; that is the opinion of the chambers of commerce, local authorities and business groups I have spoken to on both sides of the border.
Some of the key questions have been raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh South, but I have some others. On what basis would Scotland get to keep the pound? Would it be used informally, just as some Latin American countries, Greece and Montenegro use other currencies? Why should the Bank of England take notice of Scotland in setting monetary policy? Why should the Governor travel to Edinburgh and be interrogated by Scottish MPs in such an event? After independence, surely the Governor would owe his appointment entirely to a rest-of-UK appointment system? At that stage, would the First Minister come to London seeking an audience to negotiate? The arguments that have been put forward are, respectfully speaking, a farce.
I also suggest that, when one goes through Mark Carney’s speech and looks at the currency options, it would seem that the SNP proposes to keep the pound as part of a formal sterling currency union agreed with the rest of the UK. However, the SNP seems not to have contemplated the fact that that would involve giving up huge amounts, as Mark Carney made very clear, as well as requiring the agreement of all other parties. The SNP seeks independence but would require and accept greater control by a third party.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the phrase “sterling area” used in the Scottish Government White Paper is wholly misleading? The sterling area that used to exist with the Commonwealth and Ireland was all about pegging exchange rates; the SNP actually wants full currency union, with all the concomitant controls that that would require.
I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s point. I looked at the Scottish Government White Paper, and it states that
“a monetary framework will require a fiscal sustainability agreement between Scotland and the rest of the UK”—
that is, if independence goes ahead—
“which will apply to both governments and cover overall net borrowing and debt. Given Scotland’s healthier financial position”,
after independence, presumably,
“we anticipate that Scotland will be in a strong position to deliver this.”
With respect, that is complete comedy.
My hon. Friend is raising some important points. Does he agree that trust in the institutions that used the currency in an independent Scotland would be a necessary part of currency union? That raises significant questions about the regulation imposed in Scotland. Is the SNP proposing that the Financial Conduct Authority continue to be the prime regulator for such institutions? If so, how does it propose that the regulator will have proper oversight so that we can trust such institutions not to fail?
The arguments on fiscal regulation might appear dry and unexciting, particularly when addressed in the press, but they are utterly key to the future prosperity not only of the whole existing United Kingdom, but especially of Scotland if it were to become independent. Such aspects of fiscal regulation as my hon. Friend mentioned—how a bank would function; how a currency would be managed; what sort of interest rates would be managed; who is in charge of such matters—are totally unaddressed by the SNP. Frankly, they must be addressed if anyone is to have any faith in the SNP’s fiscal approach to the argument.
I have no doubt that that would be the case.
I am mindful of your instructions, Mrs Riordan, so I must finish. If keeping the pound would not be possible as part of a formal sterling currency union; if the SNP no longer wishes to join the euro, which one can see; and if there is no prospect of an independent country with border control—my constituents are somewhat concerned that there might be a rerun of Hadrian’s wall—where are we? We will have a new Scottish currency. The expression that is used is “sterlingisation.” In its briefing on an independent Scottish currency, not part of a fiscal union, the House of Commons Library—I can assure the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that it certainly is independent—states that such a
“policy is often used by countries which have a poor economic record.”
I could not have put it better myself. It is the currency situation in Greece, Panama, El Salvador and Montenegro; it is not what we should be pursing.
It is slightly disappointing that we cannot have a longer, more detailed debate on this issue. There is a great deal to say to answer the points that have been raised.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on securing this debate, although from what we have heard so far, it is less of a debate on currency and more of a quick canter through some of the no campaign’s scaremongering. I would like to address one or two of the points that he made. He suggested that the Scottish economy would be run on ginger bottles—that is, old lemonade bottles. What a patronising and insulting way to look at a modern, productive economy.
No. I have only five minutes.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh South suggested that so much money had been put into Scottish banks. I draw his attention to chapter 1, paragraph 1 of the report by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. The cash cost at peak is reported to be £133 billion—that was £47 billion to Royal Bank of Scotland in return for 82% of the stock, around £25 million into Lloyds, and smaller amounts to the Icelandic and other financial institutions. Where taxpayers are still on the hook is the near £50 billion owed to them from Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, which may be many things, but they are not Scottish banks. The notion that the argument was ever about Scottish banks bad, English banks good, must be knocked on the head.
The old chestnut about Scotland in a sterling currency zone being like Greece was also raised. Greece’s problem had nothing to do with being in a currency union and everything to do with appalling productivity. As we know, Scottish productivity is nigh on identical to that of the rest of the UK. That would avoid such problems entirely.
No. I do not have time.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh South rightly and understandably prayed in aid Dr Carney’s recent speech, which he said did not pass judgment on the relative merits of the different currency options for Scotland, but instead drew attention to the key issues. However, Dr Carney did point out that any arrangement would be negotiated and that the Bank of England would implement whatever monetary arrangements were put in place. That is to be welcomed, not just by me, but by the 71% of people in the rest of the UK who support the continued use of sterling after Scottish independence. The same proportion—71%—of Labour voters in Scotland also support the continued use of sterling after independence.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh South and the no campaign seem to fail to understand what Scotland brings to the table. Of course we recognise the constraints—I will come on to them—but we bring export revenue receipted in sterling. The impact on the sterling balance of trade would be immediate and significant were Scotland somehow—impossibly—forced not to be able to use sterling. The same applies to trade—the rest of the UK sells £60 billion into Scotland. If we were forced to use a foreign currency and transaction costs were applied, that would imply a catastrophic loss to English businesses: additional costs that the no campaign never mentioned.
Let us put the matter into context. In 2012, the rest of the UK sold into Scotland more than it did into Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, Russia, India, South Korea, China, and Japan combined, yet we hear from the no campaign that they do not want us to use sterling, even though that is impossible, which would imply massive transaction costs and the loss of jobs in the rest of the UK. I am sure that is not something they intend to do.
No, I do not have time. So where would independence while keeping sterling leave us? It would not imply a foreign currency controlling our economy, because the central bank does not control the economy. It works to a single 2% inflation target, which we think is sensible.
No, I do not have time. It would effectively leave us in Scotland in the same place as the rest of the UK, accepting the discipline of an independent Monetary Policy Committee, while leaving Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, in complete control of the rest of its social and economic levers. We would have parity.
I do not have time. I have barely a few seconds left. I do not even have time to comment on the Chancellor’s supposed intervention tomorrow. However, if a Tory toff Chancellor goes to Scotland to bully and to scaremonger, it will be looked on very badly indeed by the Scottish people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I follow the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) from the Scottish National party, and I hope that, in the words of Bill Clinton, he will feel our pain in Scotland. This is the level of debate that we have to put up with day in, day out in the separation campaign. It is full of bluster, assertion and very little detail.
In the short time available, I want to pose the argument in the language that the ordinary man and woman on the street understand. We face the biggest decision we will ever make on 18 September 2014, and I had high hopes that the debate would deal with all the big issues. A business man—a friend of mine in my constituency—told me about a meeting that he had with the SNP treasurer in charge of finances for the campaigning. He asked the SNP treasurer how he would deal with the big issues such as currency, and he replied that they would make lots of promises, spend money before the campaign and that hopefully that would get them through. I did not believe that statement, but I do now, because I have read the Scottish Government White Paper. It contains no facts and no detail and threatens the future of my country.
We should also realise that the people who support a separate Scotland are largely cultural nationalists who believe that, irrespective of the economic damage that separation would do, Scotland must be a separate nation. I do not have a gripe with people who believe in that particular brand of nationalism, but the rest of the people are Jerry Maguire individuals—if I can use that term—when it comes to the debate, because they want someone to show them the money. They want someone to say they will be better off if Scotland separates and is not part of the UK.
After last week’s debate about the future of the UK, I would put the debate into three different boxes: first, things that we know will not change; secondly, things that we know will change; and thirdly, things that we will have to negotiate on. The SNP is trying to put as many issues as possible out of the negotiation box and into the “will not change” box. That is why we will keep the Queen, although MSP Christine Grahame wants Annie Lennox to be the Head of State in Scotland.
The unintended consequences that the hon. Gentleman raised were touched upon last week in a speech by the leader of Sinn Fein when he said that the United Kingdom hangs by a string. Is that not a very worrying statement that shows how important the referendum is for everyone in the United Kingdom?
Absolutely. We have been in this Union for 307 years. It has served us well, and I want to make sure that it continues after 18 September 2014. We have loads of statements about what will not change and all the contradictions: we have the Queen and we have NATO; we want to be a member of NATO, but we do not want nuclear weapons. We had the fiasco over Europe: we will waltz in—presumably a Vienna waltz—and we will keep our rebate, and be delighted when everyone welcomes us in as a member of the European Union.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Scottish Government said that universities in Scotland will be better off under separation, but the EU education commissioner has confirmed today that their proposed policy on tuition fees for students in the rest of the United Kingdom is illegal. Does my hon. Friend believe that yet again they have been proven unsuccessful?
Absolutely. It is a significant nail in the case for separation. All those things make a mockery of the debate, because people in Scotland want a truly open and honest debate with all the big issues discussed, flaws and all, but we do not get it. It reminds me of the quote from Groucho Marx, who said:
“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”
Alex Salmond says that he has to set the rules before he decides to join the NATO, European Union or currency clubs. In terms of what happens in the street and what people talk about, we should simply retrace our steps in the currency debate.
Alex Salmond’s first position on the euro made a lot of sense when he presented it, because we would leave the United Kingdom, become a separate state, apply for membership of the EU, and, as part of applying for membership as a new state, we would have to accept the euro as our currency. However, as we know—my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) exposed the argument cruelly—the debate on the euro currency caved in when the crisis came. The arguments have been well set out by my hon. Friend. The SNP then brought us back to the pound as our currency, which, as has been mentioned, Alex Salmond had described as a millstone round Scotland’s neck.
If Scots vote for independence, there will be massive uncertainty, because negotiations will be required on all those issues. At the moment, we have the pound as our currency. The Bank of England is our lender of last resort, which means that when we pool and share risk, interest rates will be the same in Land’s End as in John O’Groats. We know that the SNP proposed that we have the currency of a foreign state and we know that there will be no political and fiscal union, so, in the event of separation, Scotland then becomes—this is really important for the man and woman on the streets of Scotland—a higher risk. As a result, our interest rates will increase, which means that we will have to spend more money on mortgages, loans, and credit cards. The cultural nationalists will accept that, because they will pay any price for separation, but most canny Scots will not.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on securing this important debate. The choice of which currency to use is perhaps the single most important economic decision a country can take. That is why Scotland is asking, as we close in on the independence referendum in September, why the yes campaign does not seem to know what currency it wants. We hear that the SNP wants and favours a currency union with the rest of the UK, keeping the pound. However, the other members of the yes campaign want either the euro or a new currency altogether. This leaves us in Scotland very confused and worried. What currency does the yes campaign want for Scotland?
The people of Scotland want a straight answer about the currency from those who support separation, with a guarantee of which currency we would use if a yes vote should transpire in September. But today all we have on currency from the nationalists is a wish list at best, wrapped up and qualified with ifs, buts and maybes. We now know that keeping the pound in a currency union would require the agreement of the rest of the UK; but what if agreement could not be reached on that? What is plan B? Even if a separate Scotland wanted to continue to use the pound, and agreement was reached with the rest of the UK, it would mean that there was no control over our interest rates and how much Scotland could tax and spend. I do not believe that even the nationalists would accept that as independence.
Is not the bottom line the fact that there is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the yes campaign—that on one hand the SNP and the yes campaign want national sovereignty to be transferred to Edinburgh, but on the other hand they want to give it away almost immediately in a currency union?
The right hon. Gentleman makes the point clearly and we have been highlighting that throughout the debate on Scotland’s future.
If Scotland carried on using the pound regardless, we would have no control over our economy and we could lose our central bank, which acts as the lender of last resort. The nationalists are now suggesting that Scotland should default if they do not get their way on a currency union; the Deputy First Minister has said that Scotland might not take its share of national debt if it is not agreed. That is wildly irresponsible and would jeopardise an independent Scotland’s creditworthiness. The people of Scotland have every right to worry about the future of the money in their pocket, when they hear bullying threats, such as the threat of reneging on our share of the debt. What tone would that bring to other negotiations about separation? It is hardly the way to make friends and impress people.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Scottish Government cannot default on the debt, but can only refuse in the negotiation to take their share; the debt is already underwritten by the UK Treasury. What I do not understand about that position is that all the cash collection systems operating in the UK—Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, benefit systems and all the rest—will continue to be operated centrally. It is a mess.
The hon. Gentleman makes some good points; but the main thing is that the Scottish Government believe they can do anything they want.
Losing the pound would mean a higher cost of living, with higher mortgage repayments, higher credit card and store card bills and more costly loans, because Scotland would start out as a separate state with no credit rating. There would also be an unnecessary threat to jobs: what would the exchange rate be? The cost of changing money every time Scottish firms were to buy from or sell to our biggest customer—the rest of the United Kingdom—would be an issue. There would be deeper cuts or higher taxes as the Scottish Government paid more to borrow money, leading to more debt and lower public spending. There would be risks to benefits and pensions as payments were converted into a different currency. Many people worry about what currency they will be paid in and what their savings will be worth.
There would also be risks to the economy. Without the back-up of the rest of the UK following the world banking crisis, Scottish banks would have gone under and families and businesses would have lost everything. Let us remember that billions were pumped into our banks following the world banking crisis. In my constituency alone, more than 400 jobs were saved. Time is running out for those who want a separate Scotland to give an answer and provide an assurance on currency. The Scottish people cannot be expected to go on any longer with “Don’t worry—it will be all right on the night.” It is not scaremongering to want a direct answer from the nationalists, incorporating a guarantee on currency in Scotland after 2014.
Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, which borders another country with a different currency, can attest to the difficulties with prices and services. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that retention of the pound sterling is essential for the continuation of trade, but also for the continuation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I fully agree. What is scary is the attitude of the nationalists and the yes campaign—an attitude of casually and arrogantly waving off any challenge to their supposed plans. Those plans do not stand up to scrutiny—as we find now on the matter of currency; they would deliver not so much independence as isolation.
The question to the nationalists is simple, but the options are limited. Can they deliver a currency union? All the indications are that the answer is no. Will they go it alone and just use the pound, with the result that they will have no control over the economy? Will they go for a new currency, and will that be pegged or floating? The Scottish nationalists are keen to get closer to the Nordic regions, nations of a comparable size; they always cite Norway, Finland and Sweden, or anywhere in that supposed arc of success, as it fluctuates. In the past 10 years, Norway’s currency, which was pegged against the euro, has fluctuated, and there has been a high degree of movement, and cost implications, as a result. Alternatively, will the nationalists adopt the euro—if and when Scotland can gain entry to the EU?
Those questions are as yet unanswered. Scotland needs to know from the yes campaign what currency—guaranteed—would be used after 2014. We who want to remain part of the UK can guarantee Scotland’s currency after 2014; it will be the pound, and all that is necessary for that to happen is to vote no in September.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) for securing the debate and for his powerful and passionate speech. I also thank the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), who in stating the successful trade statistics between Scotland and the rest of the UK made the case for Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom, not independent.
The currency that Scots would use after separation goes to the heart of the independence debate and cuts to the core deception in the SNP’s argument. There can be few more important issues than the currency in our pocket, the money that our businesses trade in, the cost of borrowing money or, indeed, how much money individuals, businesses and the country have to spend. It is not just a matter of what we spend in shops; it is about what people’s pensions and benefits are paid in, what businesses across the common UK market trade in, and what we borrow more of to buy a house or a car.
The proposals on currency put forward by the nationalists are rooted in assertion and baseless opinion, and in a determination to bluff and bluster their way to 18 September, when every credible expert on the issue has exposed the flaws in their currency union proposals. They used to be very clear about what sterling meant to them. We all remember when Alex Salmond said that
“sterling has been a millstone around Scotland’s neck”
or that it
“is costing Scotland jobs and prosperity.”
However, now that those arguments do not suit the cause, they have been conveniently dropped and he says:
“Retaining the pound under independence is something I believe is in Scotland’s interests”.
The nationalists have made those shameless U-turns and about-faces because they are determined to win the vote on 18 September.
My party shares with the SNP many of those criticisms. They are not about currency but monetary policy: the way that the Bank of England’s monetary policy has been directed towards pushing the financial sector in the south-east of England, rather than promoting the manufacturing-based economies of Wales and Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman fails to realise in making that criticism of how the Bank of England has operated and the effect on Scotland and Wales that the nationalists’ currency union plans after independence would have exactly the same effect. Decisions about the interests of the people of Scotland would still be taken in this place; the choice is whether we should have a voice here at the same time. The hon. Gentleman is undermining that voice.
Scotland’s First Minister wants to frame the debate as him against the elite, but perhaps I can share the views that a voter in my constituency expressed to me in Edgefauld road in Springburn on Saturday afternoon. She said, “If you get the details about the currency wrong, it is ordinary working people like me who suffer the biggest hit.” Is not that right? Is not that what happened in Ireland when living standards declined by 20% between 2007 and 2011, and is not my hon. Friend right to campaign in favour of the pound?
I could not have put it better. Yes, this has an impact on business and big institutions, but the price will always be paid by the poorest and most vulnerable people. I and my Labour colleagues stand shoulder to shoulder with those people throughout the United Kingdom. The nationalists will throw everything into this debate—every assertion, opinion, myth, allegation, contention and baseless claim—so that they can win on 18 September. They do not have any recognition of reality; they are much more the Walter Mittys of Scottish politics. The only thing that they have been clear on is the willingness to hand over control of monetary policy to another country; in the words of the Governor of the Bank of England, they would “cede sovereignty”.
It is important to look at the first letter sent in May 1997 by the then Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), when he made the Bank of England independent. In paragraphs four and five of that letter, the point is made that
“The Bank is there to fulfil the objectives of the UK Government, as set out by the UK Government and not as determined by the Bank.”
So the Bank is there to support the economic policy of the UK, and after Scottish independence, it will be there to support the economic policy of the rest of the UK, not that of the Scottish Government. The Bank of England would go by the political will of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—whether the current Chancellor or the future Chancellor, the current shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). The Bank will follow that remit and not the remit of the current Scottish Government or, indeed, a future Scottish Government.
What does that mean for Scots? If someone has a mortgage, their interest rate will be controlled by the central bank of a foreign country, with no input or influence from Scots, no accountability and no say on inflationary targets or the cost of money supply. Likewise, if someone has a car loan, a credit card or an hire purchase agreement for a new suite or a new washing machine, all those things will be controlled by a foreign Government, with Scots having no say or influence, and with no accountability.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a very passionate speech. In addition to the points that he is making, there are the lessons from the European currency union and the debate within that union about the central bank having pre-budget approval of all the budgets proposed by member states. Can he envisage that applying to Scotland as well if those plans should unfold?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. What I envisage is Scots making a confident and passionate no vote on 18 September and working together with our friends and colleagues in the UK to create the right kind of economy that works for everyone right across the UK.
The reality is that the cost of borrowing money would be in the hands of an institution over which the people of Scotland would have no say—none. If a Scottish business wanted to invest, the cost of borrowing that money would be controlled not by the Scottish Government but by the Government of Scotland’s biggest competitor and trading market. That is like British Airways setting the trading conditions and pricing policy of Virgin Atlantic. There would only be one winner in such an arrangement.
Is it any wonder that business organisations are horrified at these proposals? It is not that long ago that the SNP would churn out press release after press release attacking the UK Government, UK politicians or the Monetary Policy Committee, saying that the interest rates being set were not suitable for Scotland. What on earth does the SNP think would happen after independence?
The reality is that what the SNP is offering Scotland is neither right nor fair for Scots. That is the real democratic deficit on offer in this election. The other reality, and the reason why the SNP does not want to outline plan B, is that it knows that its entire White Paper is based on the assertion that sterling is kept. If sterling is lost, the entire White Paper comes into disrepute.
Thank you very much for calling me to speak, Mrs Riordan. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. I expected more Members to put their names forward to speak in this debate, and I would have liked to have seen more Members from the Scottish National party. I know that they have complained about lack of time, but this is the third debate on Scottish issues in the last week in which the SNP has not put many speakers forward. I have been in this place since 2005—[Interruption.]
I am very grateful to you, Mrs Riordan. As I was saying, I have been a Member since 2005 and I am very aware that, frankly, it is often far easier for a member of one of the minority parties to be called to speak than someone from one of the larger parties, because of the way that the rules in this place operate.
On a point of order, Mrs Riordan, I am very sorry to interrupt the flow of the debate, but it would be helpful if you could clarify something. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has made serious allegations about the conduct of this debate. Could you clarify whether any hon. Members from the SNP asked to speak in it? Have they been prevented from speaking in it? Have they ever even requested a debate on the issue of the currency in Scotland?
The hon. Lady is a fair and reasonable woman, and she has accepted that we have very little time to address the other side of the argument. This really important debate must, of course, be heard in the House of Commons; will she work with us to try to ensure that when we debate these issues in future, we get a more equitable division of the time, so that both cases are made?
Indeed, and we had a debate last Thursday on Scotland’s place in the Union. Those were the kind of events that we should use to explore these issues.
There is a great deal of debate on the subject in Scotland, but the decision taken there in September will have massive implications for the whole United Kingdom. I regret that in the two and a half years that we have been having this debate in Scotland, the quality of debate has not been higher. I hope that getting more people involved in the discussion, and getting more information and facts on the table, will improve the debate’s quality. I hope that today the UK Government will give their perspective on some of the questions, because that is part of what is required to continue the debate, which should be taking place here, in the Scottish Parliament, and communities up and down Scotland.
One of the most important decisions that an independent Scotland would take, if we voted for independence in September, would be on the currency, so I strongly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on his choice of subject for debate, but currency is only one of the many economic issues that will be central to people’s decision making. To be honest, I never believed that I would see a referendum on Scottish independence in my political lifetime. It was not something that many people in Scotland argued for, historically. It is really only as a result of the electoral success of the Scottish National party—we can perhaps discuss the reasons for that on another occasion—that we are in this position. I also honestly do not believe that colleagues from the Scottish National party in this room ever believed that they would have a referendum on independence in their political lifetime.
Many people in Scotland are in the same position: when we go from door to door and speak to people, many genuinely have not finally made their mind up on the issue—particularly, I think, because of the economic turbulence that we have been living through in the past few years. It will not be simply an emotional choice that people make in September. Historically, many people who are sympathetic to independence have made that choice on emotional grounds, and grounds to do with identity and culture, but in the coming months, economic issues will be central to people’s decision-making processes.
I welcome the debate and some of the statements that have come forward in the past few weeks from people at UK level. I am a member of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills; we had the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills before us last week, and he gave some of his views on the issue. We still need to get a lot more information to make decisions.
I have always looked at things from an economic point of view, and considered decisions on the basis of how I think we can improve the democratic accountability of our economy. I have always considered how we can take economic decisions that are more central to how we run our economy in the interests of ordinary people, rather than elites. That will be central as we go forward.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair in this important debate, Mrs Riordan. It has been lively at times, and there has been more heat than light on occasions, but none the less it is about trying to ensure that we have the opportunity to discuss the important issue of currency.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on his superb opening contribution. He laid out clearly and articulately the issues that we have to discuss. We then heard useful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark).
I want to pick up on a couple of points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran, because she articulated clearly that although many people in Scotland may have an emotional attachment to the idea of Scotland being an independent country, they none the less recognise the importance of the political, social and economic union that has existed over the years, and what an important decision this is for the people of Scotland to make in September. The Scottish National party would sometimes have us believe that everything will stay the same and nothing will change, but at the same time it tries to advance the notion that everything will change. That is not so. Increasingly, people are beginning to see through that false prospectus. A number of hon. Members spelled that out in some detail.
Increasingly, people are beginning to realise that the currency issue is important. For them, it is not just about the macro-economics, because some will, perhaps, not take an interest in that. However, they will take an interest in the money in their pay packets and in their pockets, in their ability to pay their way in the world, and in the impact on their mortgages, credit arrangements, store cards and car loans.
My hon. Friend is summing up the debate in her usual excellent fashion. Is she struck by the views of young people, who will live with this decision far longer than any of us, particularly the youngsters in Fife who, having heard my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), voted no yesterday?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable contribution, as always. I recognise that this is of huge importance to young people in Scotland. Obviously, young people aged 16 and 17 are, for the first time, have the vote in an important election. Of course, there are many young people here today in Parliament, including some members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, who are here to lobby on votes for 16-year-olds. I am struck by the intelligent way that young people have approached this debate. When it comes to the independence cause, they have not simply rushed to the barricades, as the SNP may, at one stage, have thought they would. They have thoughtfully debated, considered and put forward the arguments, and will come to their own conclusions, as indeed the rest of the people in Scotland will.
I have to say to the SNP that it is becoming rather tiresome to hear, every time anything is said that is not in agreement with the First Minister or his team, that we are somehow scaremongering. It is right and proper to scrutinise the proposals, including the White Paper and all the policies. [Interruption.] Indeed, the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) is agreeing with me. He is an intelligent and articulate man who takes a close interest in all Treasury, banking and financial services sector issues; I gently say to him that it is rather odd that despite that, he continues to trot out the SNP line the whole time, without giving that degree of scrutiny to the proposals made by his political party.
On that point, Professor John Kay, former economic adviser to the First Minister and professor of economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said:
“If I represented the Scottish government in the extensive negotiations required by the creation of an independent state, I would try to secure a monetary union with England, and expect to fail…So Scotland might be driven towards the option of an independent Scottish currency.”
He also said:
“Alex Salmond has said I think rather stupidly that there is no plan B. The trouble with having no plan B is you don’t have any negotiating power if you don’t have a Plan B. So there has to be a Plan B. And Plan B has to be an independent currency.”
We are not getting that honesty in the debate, as far as the people of Scotland are concerned. That is important.
My hon. Friend is correct to talk about scrutiny, but of course the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research have scrutinised the White Paper and concluded that under any of the possible currency options, the pressure on fiscal policy would mean that taxes would have to rise or spending would have to fall. Would not that create more pressure on public services and the social security system in Scotland?
Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point. Perhaps the Minister will shed light on whether there has been any discussion on these issues. The SNP’s current argument seems to be that, in an independent Scotland, it will not take any of the difficult decisions that go along with that. It is not entirely clear yet what will happen to all the benefits and pensions arrangements, and all the rest of it, for some time into the distance. The idea that it will be all right on the night is simply not good enough, as was said earlier.
People have lined up to criticise the SNP’s scenario, including Brian Quinn, former executive director of the Bank of England, Owen Kelly of Scottish Financial Enterprise, Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, the chair of political economy at the university of Glasgow, and the chief European financial economist, who is from a key financial institution. All those people—I do not have time to quote them—have criticised it.
I was told, although I did not hear it personally and will look closely at the transcript, that the Deputy First Minister implied, on “Good Morning Scotland”, that if an independent Scotland did not get its own way on the currency union, it would simply default or walk away from a debt. My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said that she never thought that she would see a referendum in her lifetime. In all the years I was in the Scottish Parliament, during some of which time I served as a Minister, I never thought I would hear a Deputy First Minister of Scotland shirk responsibility and say that they would walk away from a debt and put Scotland’s economy at risk. I hope that that report from this morning is not entirely accurate. If it is, I hope that the Deputy First Minister now regrets those remarks and looks again at them.
One of the few who is fair. In relation to the assertion that the hon. Lady and many of her colleagues have made about the Deputy First Minister—who, of course, cannot defend herself here—I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree that, if we are talking about negotiating a share of assets, which includes the central bank, we need to talk about negotiating a share of the liabilities, so we can take our responsibility for them. The UK Government and their allies cannot have it both ways. They cannot expect Scotland to take on a share of the liabilities while refusing even to negotiate on a share of the assets. Surely, as a reasonable person, the hon. Lady would agree that that makes no sense.
I have listened closely to what the hon. Gentleman says. Again, I gently suggest that if it is so important to have those parts of the United Kingdom that the SNP seems to want to retain, why on earth are we looking to break it up in the first place? Why are the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament not spending more time looking after the issues for which they have responsibility? Only at the weekend, there were reports about what was happening in the health service in Scotland; about the justice system—we have a proud record of a different legal system in Scotland—being dismantled, bit by bit, by the Scottish Government; and about a range of issues to do with social justice that are simply not being tackled by that Government. It would be better for the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that.
We have had an important debate. There has not been enough time, perhaps, to consider all the issues in detail, as we would have liked. I am sure that there will be further opportunities to do so. I wish to hear what the Minister has to say on this occasion; I am sure that I am more likely to agree with some of it than on other occasions, when I would be looking to put him under the kind of scrutiny that the hon. Member for Dundee East should be under today.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs Riordan. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and it is good to see my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland here today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on securing this debate, on his excellent, thoughtful speech and on giving all hon. Members an opportunity to discuss this important issue. The debate has been lively and passionate. Indeed, it has been the liveliest and most passionate Westminster Hall debate that I have yet seen, which shows how important the issue is not just to the people of Scotland but to the people of the entire United Kingdom.
It is no exaggeration to say that the currency that we use affects everyone every day, whether they are individuals buying food or paying off loans, businesses paying their employees or trading across borders or banks protecting savings or providing mortgages. Currency is one of the most important issues in the Scottish referendum debate. Members may be aware that last April the UK Government issued a comprehensive paper exploring an independent Scotland’s possible currency options. Members will be aware—many hon. Members have referred to this today—that just last week the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, set out his views on currency unions in measured and, as he describes it, technocratic terms. Members may also have read that the Chancellor plans to give a speech on the matter later this week.
In the past few days, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been playing good toff, bad toff with Scotland. The Prime Minister is love-bombing us from London, and the Chancellor will be threatening us on currency in his speech in Scotland in the next two days. Which one does the Minister support—the good toff or the bad toff?
That goes to show that the SNP is not interested in a serious debate on one of the most important issues facing the Scottish and British people. That speaks for itself.
The Government have consistently stated throughout the debate that the current economic arrangement—one currency in one United Kingdom—is in the best interest of everyone. We have also consistently stated that it is highly unlikely that a currency union between an independent Scotland and a continuing UK could be made to work. I will use the remaining time to remind hon. Members of our analysis, which explains why that is the case.
First, the lessons of the eurozone crisis are there for us to see. Currency unions do not work without close political and fiscal integration. As a result of the crisis, those countries that use the euro are moving towards ever greater integration to address the challenges that they face. Scottish independence, though, is all about disintegration and would inevitably mean that the continuing UK and Scotland move further apart. The Scottish Government’s proposal for a currency union without fiscal or political integration lacks any credibility and makes one wonder whether the Scottish Government actually understand what the word “independence” means.
Secondly, we know that the economies of an independent Scotland and a continuing UK would be very different and would diverge over time as a result of different laws, different regulations and different industries. One industry that we know would be important for Scotland is North sea oil. A significant portion of an independent Scotland’s economy would depend on oil revenues. Were a change in oil price to affect the two countries differently, a one-size monetary policy with one currency for two separate nations would simply not be suitable.
Thirdly, despite the Scottish Government’s claim, we do not believe that a currency union would be in the interest of an independent Scotland. Such a union would inevitably constrain Scotland’s own economic policies because the remaining UK, to manage the risks of the union, would need to set interest rates and maintain oversight of an independent Scotland’s tax and spending plans. Indeed, a currency union would also be likely to undermine an independent Scotland’s economic resilience and credibility. If, for example, the financial markets sensed that the Bank of England’s monetary policy did not suit Scottish circumstances, they might doubt Scotland’s commitment to the currency union, which would, in turn, lead to financial market speculation. In such circumstances, if markets were not calmed, there would be a very real possibility that Scotland would be forced to adopt its own currency in a time of crisis. One is reminded of the recent situation in Cyprus when there was plenty of talk of the country potentially leaving the euro. Members will know that that was prevented only after a huge bail out from other eurozone members, which came at a significant cost to Cypriots, many of whom lost up to 40% of their deposits in domestic banks.
Fourthly, just as a currency union is not in Scotland’s interest, it is hard to see how it could be in the interest of the remaining United Kingdom. Such a union would involve the remaining United Kingdom giving up an element of its economic sovereignty, as we have heard from many hon. Members today. The public would feel very strongly about that. It would increase the risk of having to bail out Scottish banks, and the idea of putting the remaining United Kingdom’s economy at risk because of another country’s banks just as we are getting our own banks in order would make no sense.
Before I come to an end, I will address some of the questions that have been raised. I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) and what he has to say on this issue is very important. I agree with the shadow Minister that he is an intelligent person who makes valuable contributions in the House, but from what I have heard today, he does not seem to want facts to get in the way of a good argument.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members mentioned the banking bail outs of 2008. I remind him that the cost of recapitalising the Royal Bank of Scotland was £45 billion, which is the largest banking bail out the world has ever seen, plus an additional £275 billion of state support through guarantee and funding commitments. That sum is more than 200% of an independent Scotland’s GDP.
Presumably, the Minister does not disagree with the Banking Commission that the total cash cost of the entire financial bail out of all the systems was £133 billion. Of the other figures that he talks about, £220 billion was made up of the asset protection scheme, which was a paid-for insurance guarantee. The scheme made the taxpayer a profit and was never called upon; it has since been shut down. Will the Minister confirm that that is correct?
Again, that is a good demonstration of how the hon. Gentleman would like to twist the facts. Just because a guarantee is not called upon does not mean that it has not done its job. The guarantee provided confidence and ensured that the banking system did not collapse. Our analysis shows that Scottish banks, even when we focus only on their assets in Scotland, would have assets equal to 10 times the GDP of an independent Scotland. That shows that it would be difficult for an independent Scotland to give depositors confidence in its domestic banking system.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned trade between the UK and Scotland. The UK accounts for 70% of Scotland’s total trade, whereas Scotland accounts for 10% of the UK’s trade. Scottish trade is important to the UK economy, but it is not clear that it is important enough to risk recreating in the British isles the problems that we have seen in the euro area.
In conclusion, a fiscal and currency union pursued by two diverging nations would put significant limits on an independent Scotland’s economic freedom, and it would put an independent Scotland at severe risk of losing economic resilience and credibility. Such a union would undermine a continuing UK’s sovereignty and would increase the risk of bank bail outs. That is why we have consistently said that it is highly unlikely that a currency union would be agreed and that it is highly unlikely that a currency union could be made to work.