Chief Secretary on Scotland's future
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury speaks at ICAS Scotland’s Future Conference
I want to start by saying a word of thanks to ICAS.
Anton – you and your team do an amazing job.
You are a powerful voice for your profession…
… not only in this country…
… but – with almost half of your membership outside Scotland – also in the UK and overseas too.
ICAS also fulfils another very important function.
In the past couple of years, you have been at the forefront of the debate on Scottish independence.
Your expertise in financial and tax issues has shed light on some of the key uncertainties that would face Scotland as a separate state.
Your work, for example, on tax administration or on pensions provision has been hugely relevant and insightful.
I commend you for the very important public service that you have been providing.
Today’s conference is part of that.
It’s very aptly titled “Scotland’s Future”…
… as that is precisely what each and every one of us will be voting on come the 18th of September.
This is the most important vote that will take in our lifetimes.
It is arguably the most important vote in the history of the United Kingdom.
The approach of the UK government has always been one of absolute respect for our right, as the people of Scotland, to make our own choice…
… while also providing all the relevant information needed to support people to make this important decision.
People do want to know the benefits of being part of the UK are and the risks of breaking up are too.
I believe that open, transparent and credible governments should always give people access to the full facts.
You could call our approach – “project fact”.
Because over the past year and a half we’ve published a series of 14 analytical papers.
That’s one and half thousand pages of original analysis…
… with cross-references to hundreds of academic articles and publications.
They represent the most far-reaching and comprehensive study of the relationship between Scotland and the UK ever undertaken.
We have looked at every aspect of the deep, multi-layered relationship which binds our countries together…
… from economics and banking to security and defence – to name just a few topics.
In every one of our studies we have looked at how Scotland and the UK benefit one another.
We have always based our analysis on the best available data…
… utilising expert legal and technical knowledge…
… while also always encouraging full external scrutiny of our findings.
This has been a hugely ambitious analytical programme.
And today I am publishing the final conclusions of our analysis:
Of course, I would urge people to read every one of our reports…
… but if you only have time to read one of them – make it this one.
In contains a wealth of information.
All the arguments and all the facts…
… and quotes from many people – from presidents to business leaders…
… to help us make that important decision in September.
The conclusions are clear and incontrovertible…
… Scotland is stronger, more prosperous, more successful and more influential as part of the United Kingdom.
Nationalism would put at risk so much of what makes our country great.
So today, I would like to set out five key arguments in favour of Scotland staying in the UK.
First – as ever – is the economy.
As you know only too well, the Scottish and UK economies are recovering strongly.
In the past year, the UK has grown faster than any other major industrialised economy.
Faster than the US, faster than Germany, than Canada, Japan, France or Italy.
What’s more, the recovery is balanced across sectors…
… with manufacturing, services and construction industries all growing at a good pace.
We’ve all had to take some tough decisions…
… so that as a country we could live within our means.
That long-term economic plan is working.
Scotland’s economic plan doesn’t have to way until after the referendum.
It’s already working here and it’s working now.
The deficit halved this year, new jobs being created at the fastest rate since records began.
Over the coming year, the UK is expected to grow faster than any other G7 nation.
Britain is bouncing back.
And Scotland is bouncing back too.
So why would anyone want to put the brakes on that?
Our analysis – backed by a wide body of academic research – shows that if you put up an international border between Scotland and the UK, growth would be hit hard.
That economic recovery, which we’ve all worked so hard to secure…
… would be stopped in its tracks.
It’s easy to see why.
By staying together, the Scottish economy can remain fully integrated with the rest of the UK economy.
70% of Scotland’s trade is with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
That’s right – Scotland trades more with the rest of the UK than with every other country in the world combined.
More than 16,000 people commute from Scotland to other parts of the UK every single day.
But, as a separate state, it will be harder to do business.
Over time, laws, regulations and tax regimes will start to differ…
… workers wouldn’t be able to move quite so freely…
.. and the ability to trade with one another would be eroded.
What’s more, by staying together, our economies can support more jobs.
Thanks to your efforts – in companies and firms of all sizes – the private sector has created over 2 million jobs across the UK since 2010.
In Scotland alone, employment has increased by 140,000 since then and has reached at an all-time-high of 2.6 million Scots in work.
And many hundreds of thousands of those jobs are in Scotland’s key sectors…
… like energy, defence, or financial and professional services…
All these sectors thrive – and only can thrive – because we are part of the UK.
Here in Edinburgh, for example, we have a financial and professional services sector which benefits from common regulation and strong links to markets, backed by a state with deep pockets and a strong currency.
A low-carbon industry that benefits from a UK-wide approach to renewable energy…
… with costs supported by 30m consumers across our four nations.
Oil and gas around Aberdeen, benefiting from a larger UK tax base, which provides stability and predictability.
A defence industry where the UK government is the main customer for shipbuilding and technology.
In all those key sectors…
… the UK provides a larger customer base, with greater purchasing power, within a more stable economy.
My second argument is about our currency.
As part of the UK, Scotland uses the pound – one of the world’s oldest, strongest and most stable currencies.
So we can keep that – a currency backed by 31m taxpayers and backed by the Bank of England.
Or we could vote for the unknown…
… because the nationalists still don’t have a workable plan for the currency.
A currency union with the rest of the UK is out of the question.
The Governor of the Bank of England – and many others – have explained in careful detail just how difficult it is to run a successful currency union.
As we’ve seen in the euro area, it simply would not work without a full political, economic and fiscal union, which, of course, is precisely what the nationalists want to dissolve.
Even if Scotland tried to use the pound without a formal agreement… … an arrangement known as “sterlingisation” – a Scottish version of Panama’s currency arrangements…
… it would mean Scotland would not have a central bank to set interest rates…
… or protect financial institutions and pension providers from market instability.
So, on the currency, a vote for independence would open up the flood gates to a sea of financial, economic and market uncertainty.
The nationalist approach to this issue is not only hugely irresponsible…
… it’s deeply inconsistent – for a party which so firmly believes in independence, it seems odd to want to give up control of the most fundamental aspects of economic policy.
The third of my 5 arguments is about public services.
By staying together, Scotland’s national finances will be much stronger.
Because as a bigger economy – a bigger country – we can pool resources and share risks.
It means that we can more easily deal with unexpected shocks to our tax revenues…
… for example, we can deal with what everyone, apart some of the nationalists, knows is the steady and inevitable decline in North Sea oil and gas revenues.
It means that we can use government spending to fund public services according to need not to location…
… for example, we can do more to support Scotland’s more rapidly ageing population.
And, crucially, as a bigger economy we can borrow more cheaply in the financial markets.
Altogether, the long-term benefit of staying in the UK is worth £1,400 per person each and every year.
It is the UK Dividend.
It’s the money that will pay for better public services and a fairer society.
To put it in context.
It’s equivalent to around two thirds of the total National Health Service budget in Scotland.
It’s almost as much as Scotland’s whole education budget.
To offset the loss of the £1,400 UK Dividend, without cutting public spending…
… a new Scottish state would have to increase the basic rate of income tax from 20 to 28%, increase VAT from 20 to 26% and increase duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel by about 40%.
I know the Scottish government want to go on a further borrowing spree to pay for higher spending.
Under their plans – Scotland would have one of the worst budget deficits in the developed world.
So let’s not go there.
By staying together, Scotland’s can have stronger finances and a more progressive society.
The fourth argument is about Scotland’s voice in the world.
As part of the UK, we are more influential and we always have a seat at the top table.
We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
We are a member of the G7, G8 and G20.
We are right at the heart of NATO.
And as one the “big four” members of the EU we are involved in all the key decisions.
We can use our collective power and influence to make the world a better place…
… as the second largest aid donor in the world.
… through disaster relief, work during humanitarian crises, and as part of peacekeeping missions.
We can also use our global reach to support British people and British businesses…
… through our overseas network of embassies and trade promotion agencies.
Contrast – under independence is great.
No permanent seat at the UN.
Not a part of the G7, G8 or the G20.
As a separate state, Scotland would have to apply to join the EU.
That would mean negotiating terms with all 28 EU countries – I can tell you one thing – it would be a very complex and lengthy process.
And now think of the impact that years of uncertainty would have on your work and on your business.
Even if Scotland does, eventually, negotiate its membership of the EU…
… you can be sure it would not be on the same favourable terms that the UK currently enjoys – thanks to our EU budget rebate, worth over £3bn a year…
… as well as opt-outs to keep our own currency, control of our own borders and immigration policy.
Hardly the most auspicious way to set up a new Scottish state…
… as a new country, finding its way in a turbulent global economy.
Instead of that, we can retain the loud and persuasive voice that the UK rightly commands across the world.
My final point is that if we vote to go it alone…
… there is no going back.
Scotland would leave the UK and become a new, separate state.
Separation would be permanent.
And it would have profound implications for life in Scotland – and life in the rest of the UK.
Think of the great institutions which have become part of our national life…
The Met Office
The National Lottery
The Post Office
The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
More than 200 UK public institutions serve the Scottish people…
… and if we vote to leave the UK, we vote to leave those arrangements behind.
To me this illustrates just how irreversible our decision really is.
This can, however, be easily avoided – by voting to stay in the UK.
The UK gives Scotland the best of both worlds…
… the security and stability of a larger entity…
… with a strong Scottish Parliament too.
Meaning we can find Scottish solutions to Scottish issues…
… while remaining part of a stronger United Kingdom.
And this week all three main opposition parties in Scotland – Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives – committed to going even further to enhance Scotland’s devolution settlement.
This is a new settlement, which would mean significant new powers to raise taxes…
… bringing accountability and greater financial responsibility at Holyrood.
Where does all of that leave us?
In my view.
A stronger economy.
A safer currency.
Better public services.
A stronger voice.
And the best of both worlds.
Five arguments, each one based on logic and on reason.
I’m a Treasury minister.
And you’re all in business or finance.
So we all like logic and reason!
But this is about much more than that.
It’s about our place in the greatest family of nations the world has ever seen.
It is a history which has seen British ingenuity and endeavour emerge triumphant time after time.
And over centuries, our four nations have worked together to change the world.
Because of that, come what may, we can now face the future with confidence and optimism.
I am as proud and patriotic a Scot as any nationalist.
I love Scotland.
Because of that, I want the best future for all of us in Scotland.
And that means a United Kingdom with a united future.
Thank you very much.