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'White Paper' for an independent Scotland

Scotland's desire for independence now has a blueprint for moving forward. The White Paper charts the path a newly-independent Scotland might take. But it leaves many questions unanswered, critics say.

An independent Scotland would be a European Union member, have no nuclear weapons, a new national broadcasting service and a 'revolution' in childcare, according to a blueprint for Scottish independence unveiled by the Scottish government on Tuesday (26.11.2013).

"This is the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published, not just for Scotland but for any prospective independent nation," First Minister Alex Salmond said at the launch of the White Paper at the Science Centre in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city.

The nearly 650-page paper, titled "Scotland's Future: Your guide to an independent Scotland," includes proposals on everything from immigration and pensions to transport and education - provided Scotland votes "yes" in a referendum to end the union with England in September 2014. Scotland would aim to join the EU as a full member on the day it becomes independent, but would not adopt the euro currency or the Schengen agreement.

The list of policies would help address the "damage caused by the vast social disparities which have seen the UK become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world," Salmond said. "Unless we are independent, we won't be able to make these choices."

Still a minority

The Scottish National Party leader and his supporters hope the White Paper's publication will give the independence cause a much-needed boost. The "yes" side has struggled to gain traction in opinion polls. A poll published on Sunday showed 38 percent in favor of independence and 47 percent against.

The Scottish government has already set March 24, 2016, as "independence day," giving it around 18 months to negotiate separation from the rest of the United Kingdom.

While Salmond spoke of "a revolution in employment and social policy for Scotland," most of the attention will be on the economic arguments made in the White Paper, especially in relation to currencies and the share of the UK national debt that an independent Scotland would inherit. Scottish nationalists have said they intend to keep the sterling and enter into a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom after independence.

Both the sterling and the Bank of England, Salmond argued, are partly Scottish assets and Scotland is entitled to continue using both after independence.

"The pound is Scotland's currency just as much as it is the rest of the UK's," the White Paper notes.

Scotland's first minister also said that under a currency union, the rest of the UK would benefit from the effect of Scottish oil and whiskey exports on the balance of payments.

Better together?

Not everyone is convinced. Alastair Darling, head of Better Together, the official campaign to keep the Union, said the White Paper failed to give reliable answers to fiscal questions.

"What currency would we use? Who will set our mortgage rates? How much would taxes have to go up? How will we pay pensions and benefits in future?" the former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer asked just hours after the launch of the White Paper.

A young girl wrapped in a blue-and-white Scottish flag. Photo: GRAHAM STUART

Can Scottish Nationalists convince skeptics that their party can ensure a better future for all Scots?

"It is a fantasy to say we can leave the UK, but still keep all the benefits of UK membership," Darling said. "The White Paper is a work of fiction, it is thick with false promises and meaningless assertions."

Darling added that instead of "a credible and costed plan, we have a wish-list of political promises without any answers on how Alex Salmond would pay for them."

The Scottish National Party promptly responded to Darling's remarks by pointing to an interview with BBC Newsnight earlier this year in which he said a currency union with an independent Scotland would be "desirable" and "logical."

Economics, unsurprisingly, have emerged as a key battleground in the independence campaign. On the eve of the White Paper launch, the Treasury in London issued a statement saying that independence would cost Scots £1,000 (1,192 euros) a year in increased taxes.

That figure was based on a report released last week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a London-based think tank . The report, "Fiscal Sustainability of an Independent Scotland," claimed that an independent Scotland would need to cut spending or raise taxes.

'A turning point'

The White Paper dismisses claims that taxes would have to be raised or that spending would have to be cut in an independent Scotland.

"As Scotland's public finances are healthier than those of the UK as a whole, there will be no requirement for an independent Scotland to raise the general rate of taxation to fund existing levels of spending," the paper says.

A politician smiles while holding a white report in his hands. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell

The White Paper is a source of pride for Salmond, but one that could backfire politically

While Salmond and the Scottish National Party are banking on the White Paper tp provide compelling answers to persuade Scots to vote for independence next year, observers warn about offering such a detailed vision for an independent Scotland.

"The SNP may regret placing such emphasis on the White Paper," said political journalist James Maxwell. "Nationalist credibility will suffer if it fails to live up to expectations, leaving the Yes campaign with a mountain to climb in 2014."

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