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Independence Refreshed? The Growth Commission Reports

Liam Hainey

Refresh buttons across Scotland were at risk of failing due to overuse this morning. The promised ten o’clock publication time for the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission report came and went as a nation held its breath. That’s perhaps an exaggeration, and those of us who were desperate to pore over the contents didn’t have to wait long.

As with some blockbuster movies the hype is as important as the product. The SNP has steadily built the anticipation for this report and so simply releasing it into the wild ensured it, and by proxy independence, would shoot to the top of the political agenda. Whether the report succeeds in convincing more people independence is a good idea remains to be seen but, for now at least, that may be secondary to having the public simply consider the possibility anew.

It is a weighty tome, coming in at 354 pages, and will no doubt be contrasted to the lack of detail provided by the Leave campaign ahead of the Brexit vote. But its fastidiousness may prove as much a blessing as a curse for Yes campaigners. Parts of the vision for an independent Scotland set out in the report could prove as unpalatable among those who voted Yes in 2014 as it does to No voters.

For starters, the currency issue will not have been addressed in the way that some may have hoped. The Commission’s recommendation that the currency of an independent Scotland should be the pound sterling, albeit only for a “possibly extended transition period”, will surprise some (not least David Coburn who only days ago was wringing his hands over plans for a “barmy crypto currency!”). Though acknowledging a separate currency as an ambition, therefore reigniting the debate on its name, it is unlikely to be substantial enough to deflect concerns raised in 2014. The Yes campaign was dogged by currency questions then. Supporters of independence would argue those questions were robustly answered but the fact they were consistently asked suggests it remains a live issue.

This is a product of the SNP and its recommendations reflect that. Some of them are unlikely to sit easily with independence supporters further to the left, who made up a significant chunk of the Yes campaign’s ground troops.

The report talks about “celebrating and rewarding the best outcomes and efficiencies” in the public sector and targeting £1bn in savings from “inherited UK spending programmes”. It also explicitly acknowledges that higher taxation may not lead to higher revenues due to behavioural change. For many on the left this is anathema. They will read words like “savings” and “efficiencies” and in their heads they will hear “cuts”.

There is succour for the left, particularly regarding migration policy. In keeping with the “inclusive nationalism”, which was a central part of the Yes movement’s identity, the report recommends encouraging and expanding immigration. Calling for a “Come to Scotland” strategy, the report argues tone is as important as policy with regards to welcoming migrants and puts clear water between the SNP and the Conservatives.

Though there have been false starts before, most notably in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, it is impossible to escape the sense that today marks the unofficial start of the second campaign for independence. The report has already succeeded in its aim of renewing a discussion (or argument/rammy depending who you ask) on Scotland’s potential outside the UK. However, Nicola Sturgeon will have an immensely difficult task in winning round her opponents, and indeed many of her allies, to the vision presented today. The future is therefore as unclear today as it was yesterday and there are politically exciting times ahead. As Scotland’s former Makar, Edwin Morgan, wrote: “unknown is best, it beckons best…”

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