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Scottish Independence: Currency Union

Volume 752: debated on Wednesday 12 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have made any assessment of the constitutional, political, financial and economic implications if there were to be a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom; and, if so, whether they intend to publish it.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government assessed these issues in the recent paper Scotland Analysis: Assessment of a Sterling Currency Union. This is the analytical basis on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he could not recommend that the other parts of the UK share the pound with an independent Scottish state, because it would not be in the economic interests of either the continuing UK or of Scotland.

Does my noble friend agree that the sure way for Scotland to keep the pound is to vote to stay in the UK, which I hope it will? If it were to vote to leave the UK and any future Westminster Government were ever to be minded to enter a currency union with Scotland—or, for that matter, with the eurozone—would that not require a referendum so that the people could decide?

My Lords, before you got to that point, it would require the rest of the UK Government to wish to recommend such an outcome. It is worth quoting the conclusion of the official Treasury study, which says:

“On the basis of the scale of the challenges, and the Scottish Government’s proposals for addressing them, HM Treasury would advise the UK Government against entering into a currency union. There is no evidence that adequate proposals or policy changes to enable the formation of a durable currency union could be devised, agreed and implemented by both governments”.

As a result, I do not think we will get to that point.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in the event of there being a yes vote for independence, it is in the interests of business not only in Scotland but in the rest of the United Kingdom that there is a parity and stability of currency? How would the Government provide that?

It is always in the interests of all Governments to have a stable currency. The question for the Scottish Government is how they think they would provide that. If they opted to keep the pound outside a currency union, they would face very serious problems in managing their budget and the economy of Scotland.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the position of the UK Government on this issue is now crystal clear, as indeed are the positions of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and it is now for the Scottish Government and the SNP to do the explaining, as their policy position looks increasingly incredible, unclear and completely unconvincing?

My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. It is highly irresponsible of the Scottish Government to have no plan B, when it has been made absolutely clear that the kind of currency union that they want is simply not on the cards. They have other interesting questions to answer in this respect. As the Governor of the Bank of England pointed out yesterday, Scotland, as a new EU applicant, would have to agree at some point to join the euro. I think at one point Mr Salmond was in favour of that; I am not so sure what his policy is on it now.

My Lords, does my noble friend not think it extraordinary that Alex Salmond has had 40 years to think about how to answer this question and is unable to do so? Furthermore, does my noble friend not think that this is the height of irresponsibility, given that we are not discussing some abstract economic concept here, we are talking about the amount that people will have to pay on their mortgages and the future of Scotland’s families? What advice would he give to the leader of the Scottish separatists at this point?

My Lords, I have many burdens in your Lordships’ House but, fortunately, advising the leader of the Scottish National Party is not one of them. I will point out, however, that on all the available analysis, the likelihood is that were Scotland to adopt the pound, the interest rates that would be payable in Scotland would be significantly higher than they are here—possibly up to 1.65% higher. For an average Scottish mortgage holder, that works out as an extra £1,700 to pay.

My Lords, many people in Scotland, including myself, appreciate the fact that UK Ministers have come forward and explained the difficulties of separation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of them. It is a nonsense for the First Minister to say that whenever a UK Minister comes forward to talk about the difficulties, that is bullying and bluffing. I say to the noble Lord from Plaid Cymru that the worst thing that could happen is to say to the Scottish people, “Vote yes and the following morning we will do a deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer because he is only bluffing”. That is absolute nonsense and it shows the type of irresponsibility that exists within the Scottish Government.

My Lords, one thing I find slightly surprising, at a bit of a distance from this debate, is that any aspect of independence that is tricky seems to be met by the response from the Scottish First Minister that, “No, it’s not tricky. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine”—often with zero evidence to back it up. I hope that colleagues in my party and other parties in Scotland will carry on pointing out to the Scottish people the hollowness of many of his assertions.

My Lords, the establishment of a single currency between a separate Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom would require negotiations with a trusted partner. There would be great difficulty in trusting Mr Salmond, the First Minister, who only last year described the pound as a millstone around Scotland’s neck. Where is the trusted partner there?

My Lords, at what point will Her Majesty’s Government assess the amount of trade in goods and services from the rest of the United Kingdom into Scotland? Will they also look at the trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Yes, my Lords. Proportionately, the amount of trade from Scotland to the rest of the UK is much greater than it is from the rest of the UK to Scotland. About 70% of Scotland’s trade is to the rest of the UK and only about 10% of the rest of the UK’s trade is to Scotland. There is therefore a big imbalance in the importance to the two parties of the trade between them.