First of all let me congratulate you on being returned as Scotland’s First Minister. Your party received a lower share of the combined vote than in 2011, you have fewer MSP’s and no longer command a majority - but nevertheless you can rightfully claim a strong mandate to implement your manifesto commitments.
So I’ve been checking the 36 “Next Steps” that were detailed in your manifesto, and see that independence is only mentioned in the very last one.
It would be nice to think that the other steps - things like investing in our NHS, improving our education system and creating a positive climate for business - are indeed more important for you right now than revisiting a debate you so recently lost. But if the headlines1 you’ve been making since the election are anything to go by, the question of independence remains a little higher than number 36 on your actual to-do list.
I’m teasing of course. The SNP’s formal constitution makes clear2 that independence is the first of only two objectives for the party (the second being the rather nebulous “furtherance of all Scottish interests”) - so of course independence is high on your list.
That 36th step in your manifesto talks of ”persuading a clear majority of people in Scotland that independence is the best future for our country".
Whether or not independence actually is the best future for our country is obviously not a question you’re willing to contemplate. You start with what for you is an unchallengeable conclusion and you work your way back from there.
This is hardly surprising. You joined the SNP when you were 16 and became their youngest ever parliamentary candidate as a 21 year-old. It’s probably fair to say you’ve dedicated your entire adult life to the party, that you’re wedded to the cause. In your position you have to show an unwavering belief that no matter the question, no matter the economic context or consequences, independence must be the answer. You clearly can’t ask whether separation from the rest of the UK actually is in our best interests - it’s an article of faith that it simply has to be.
So here’s what you need to understand to persuade people like me, people who don’t do blind faith.
You need to understand that we noticed your economic case relied on £6.8billion to £7.9billion of oil revenues every year3. We didn’t fall for “oil is just a bonus” because we saw that we’d need those revenues (and more) to continue enjoying the high levels of public spending we currently receive. We’ve noticed what’s actually happened to oil revenues, so know your suggested gamble wouldn’t have paid off. Those of us who’ve dug a little deeper also realise that the high extraction costs associated with our relatively mature oil reserves means that even a dramatic oil price recovery wouldn’t see North Sea tax revenues return to their historic highs3.
You need to understand that we know the UK currently transfers over £8bn a year to Scotland3. You know that too of course, because you worked hard to ensure that transfer remained in place when you negotiated the fiscal framework with Westminster. Some of us don’t see this transfer as anything to be embarrassed about either. We know that revenues generated from oil found in Scottish waters allows us to argue that (cumulatively) we’re net contributors to the UK since 19803. You need to understand that people who don’t share your ideological position see receiving funds from the rest of the UK now as the sensible result of neighbourly pooling & sharing of our resources then.
You need to understand that we know why you’ve stopped talking about “full fiscal autonomy”. We know that if we were to pay for our public expenditure with the taxes we raise in Scotland we’d have to find annual savings (or tax rises) of £8billion – 10billion a year just to match the deficit levels of the rest of the UK3. We remember that your own notoriously optimistic White Paper identified just £0.6bn of net savings (primarily from defence cuts) and you will have noticed how unenthusiastically voters reacted to Labour and the Liberal Democrats proposing we pay just £0.5bn a year more in tax.
You need to understand that we’ve also worked out that to raise those taxes simply by growing Scotland’s onshore economy faster than the rest of the UK would, even optimistically, take generations to achieve. We’ve worked that out because we read your Independence White Paper and we did the maths3.
You need to understand that we’ve seen through the barrage of misinformation that’s been spread on social media. We know that England’s costs aren’t unfairly allocated to Scotland in the GERS figures that your government produces. We know that myths about missing whisky export duties or taxes allocated based on corporate head office location are simply nonsense.
So before you look for a fresh set of Nobel laureates to try and come up with a workable currency solution, you need to address this simple truth: many of us have considered the idea that independence might be best for Scotland and have rationally concluded that, whatever the weight of emotional argument on either side, the economic case is overwhelmingly against separation. To be fair I’m sure you understand this way of thinking as as you seem to have grasped it in the context of the EU debate.
Of course you might rightly argue that this is about more than simple economics - but in that case you should have the courage and integrity to be straight with people about the fact that we’d be paying the economic price for independence for many generations to come.
This is the acid test of your faith: are you confident enough in your emotional case to be honest with us about the economic reality?
***1. Recent Headlines
- Nicola Sturgeon: SNP leader rules out Holyrood coalition and vows to build independence case - IBT, 06/05/2016
- Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon says party will seek to 'persuade not divide' electorate on independence - Breaking news, 06/05/16
- Defiant Nicola Sturgeon; I’ll persuade not divide - Herald, 07/05/16
- Nicola Sturgeon vows to keep making the case for independence after failing to win an SNP majority - The National, 07/05/16
- Minority government will not be barrier to second independence referendum - The Press & Journal, 07/05/2016
- Nicola Sturgeon Confirms Intention to Relaunch SNP’s Independence Campaign - Herald, 08/05/16
- Sturgeon says summer independence Drive will go ahead - STV, 08/05/16
- Nicola Sturgeon Confirms Intention to Relaunch SNP’s Independence Campaign - Huffington Post, 08/05/16
- Nicola Sturgeon to launch new Scottish independence campaign - The Scotsman, 08/05/16
2. Extract from SNP constitution
The aims of the Party shall be:
(a) Independence for Scotland; that is the restoration of Scottish national sovereignty by restoration of full powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that its authority is limited only by the sovereign power of the Scottish People to bind it with a written constitution and by such agreements as it may freely enter into with other nations or states or international organisations for the purpose of furtheringinternational cooperation, world peace and the protection of the environment.
(b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests.
I remain confused as to whether the personal statement from Nicola Sturgeon under the "constitution" link on the SNP website has formally been adopted by the party as their new constitution. A very strange formal constitution and a very low-key change if it was3. The Price of Independence