LAST weekend in Inverness, the SNP fired the starting gun on the referendum campaign to deliver an independent Scotland.
As Angus Robertson, the party’s campaign director made clear on the last day of our annual conference, it will be a campaign totally unprecedented in Scottish political history, in its scale, scope and ambition.
The SNP’s activists and growing membership are ready to play their part – but this will be a campaign that stretches far beyond the ranks of our party, to incorporate all sections of Scottish society.
The decision on independence will, of course, be one for the people. And in order for them to be properly informed about the choices that lie before them, it is crucial they are properly informed of the facts.
Facts are something that have been sadly lacking from the anti-independence side in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future over the years. Myths, fantasy dressed up as fact, and downright falsehoods have been allowed to permeate the discussion on how Scotland would fare as an independent country.
Thankfully, the people of Scotland are increasingly seeing through these attempts to talk down their own ability to make a success of themselves, their communities and their country.
To take one of the most repeated, pernicious and damaging myths head-on, there can no longer be any doubt that Scotland more than pays its own way in the UK. The latest Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) reports shows that Scotland has run a current budget surplus in four of the five years to 2009-10, while the UK was in current budget deficit in each of these years, and hasn’t run a current budget surplus since 2001-02.
Scotland accounts for 8.4 per cent of the UK population, but in 2009-10 contributed 9.4 per cent of overall UK tax revenue - £1,000 extra for every man, woman and child in Scotland. The international comparisons also bear out the fact that Scotland is more than capable of paying its way. Our ratio of debt to GDP as an independent country would be lower than the EU and G7 averages.
One of the reasons, of course, for that healthy position in comparison to other leading industrialised nations is that Scotland has a trillion pound asset base in the form of our remaining abundant North Sea oil and gas reserves. And here we run into another myth – the suggestion that Scotland’s oil wealth is fast dwindling, nearly depleted and not worth factoring into future economic assumptions.
As recent announcements have shown, nothing could be further from the truth. It is calculated that more than half of the total value of North Sea reserves have yet to be extracted. BP’s recent announcement of its major investment in the Clair Field west of Shetland even prompted David Cameron to admit that Scotland’s oil will be flowing for “many, many years” to come – and it is imperative that it is Scotland that benefits from the next 40 years of offshore activity rather than another four decades of Scotland’s wealth pouring into Westminster coffers.
The Unionist case has now resorted to claims that, even with its North Sea wealth, an independent Scotland would have had a £41 billion deficit between 1981 and 2010, and is therefore dependent on a generous Tory Treasury. The truth is the opposite. What Scottish Secretary Michael Moore neglected to tell people when he recently recycled this attack previously used by Labour’s Jim Murphy was that the UK ran a deficit of more than £715 billion over the same period. In other words, Scotland is in a far, far stronger position than the rest of the UK – actually in surplus relative to the UK as a whole to the tune of £19 billion - and by the Unionist parties own risible logic, Britain could not possibly afford to be independent.
One of the most preposterous myths peddled about an independent Scotland is that we would not continue to be members of the European Union. For a start, we are already an integral part of the EU – and as an independent state would be in exactly the same position as the rest of the UK as a successor state.
Legal and constitutional experts, including Eamonn Gallagher, a former director general of the European Commission, and Lord Mackenzie-Stuart, a former President of the European Court of Justice, both confirmed that an independent Scotland would continue in EU membership. And how could it be otherwise, when Scotland has such a massive share of the entire continent’s energy reserves, including oil and renewables? The fact is that the last major EU expansion in 2004 saw 10 new countries join – six of them smaller than Scotland and six of which have become independent since 1990.
Allied to the other EU myths is the canard that an independent Scotland would be forced to set up border posts and customs barriers. The reality, in 21st century Europe, is that you can drive from the Arctic Circle to the shores of the Mediterranean without encountering a single border post, and Scotland would be no different.
It is in the international sphere that we find some of the most insulting myths about Scotland’s capacity to contribute fully as a member of the global community. And one of the worst examples of this came last week when Michael Moore suggested that an independent Scotland would not have been able to participate in the recent UN-approved, NATO-led Libyan mission.
The fact is that 17 countries took part in the operation to protect the people of Libya from Gaddafi’s regime, including a range of smaller nations such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway – and non-NATO countries including Sweden. Denmark, a country of almost identical size to Scotland, undertook almost as many air sorties as the UK.
Scotland’s ability to make its own way in the world should not be doubted, nor should our ability to take the best decisions in our own interests.
The referendum when it comes will allow people to make their own minds up on what kind of future we want. And it is essential, when that time comes, that the myths about independence are scotched once and for all.