Scottish currency proposals get qualified welcome

Leading figures across the pro-independence movement have given a highly qualified welcome to Scottish National party proposals that an independent Scotland would establish its own currency within the first few years of leaving the UK.

The party’s deputy leader, Keith Brown, revealed on Friday that he has tabled the significant policy shift along with the SNP’s finance secretary, Derek Mackay, to be voted on by members at the party’s spring conference next month.

Brown claims that clarity over the question of currency “will maximise support for an independent Scotland”. He proposes that the country would retain the pound during an initial transition period, but that the independent Holyrood parliament would decide within its first term when to introduce a separate Scottish currency.

The veteran independence campaigner Lesley Riddoch, who led a grassroots speaking tour during the 2014 campaign, believes the proposal has arisen from hostility among party activists toward a report from the SNP’s sustainable growth commission, which was published last May and intended to offer a more realistic and convincing economic case for independence.

The report attracted a wave of criticism for what many saw as an overly cautious and market-driven approach, including its plans to keep sterling for an indefinite period, and was heavily criticised at the national assemblies that were convened to discuss it among SNP members. Riddoch said: “Ten years of sterling was massively unpopular with activists.”

The SNP MP Joanna Cherry, a key critic of the growth commission, said: “I welcome the proposal for a quicker transition to a Scottish currency than was proposed in the growth commission report. This is what many party members including myself have been calling for.”

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In a thinly veiled criticism of the current growth commission agenda, which will also be debated at the April conference, she added: “There is still an important discussion to be had about the very different economic path SNP members would expect an independent Scotland to take in contrast to the austerity economics we have endured under a UK government. Inclusive growth, a consideration of the modern European industrial strategy and the benefits of EU membership will be vital parts of that discussion.”

Jonathan Shafi, the campaigns officer for the grassroots-funded thinktank Common Weal, which has produced five reports on the potential of a Scottish currency, dismissed the announcement as rhetoric.

“The motion that the leadership of the SNP is putting to SNP conference is entirely unacceptable and is quite at odds with what it is telling the public and its own party,” he said.

“Far from offering a currency in the early years of an independent Scotland this motion does no more than make it an option for future politicians and then places enormous barriers in their way. This must be opposed. The SNP must adopt a confident, positive and unambiguous case for a Scottish currency in an independent Scotland. That is certainly not what is offered in this motion.”

Uncertainty about future currency options is widely believed to have put off many voters in 2014. The Scottish government’s white paper on independence proposed that Scotland would share the pound in a formal currency union with the rest of the UK after independence, but this was subsequently ruled out by the then chancellor George Osborne.

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Margaret Young, the national convenor of Women for Independence, said that, from her own campaigning experience, questions about the economics of independence were not focused on currency. “For the women we speak to, the issues that matter are more about unpaid care, unequal pay, childcare, and the provision of properly resourced public services in an independent Scotland,” she said.


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