Nicola Sturgeon independence finances in doubt as black hole lingers: ‘Serious questions’

Nicola Sturgeon blasted for endless quest for independence

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Questions have been “raised” over the legitimacy of independence in Scotland and the financial plans for it. It comes as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was shut down by the Scottish Labour leader after she suggested independence could pave the way to relieve the country of the cost of living crisis. Anas Sarwar parried Ms Sturgeon’s invitation to join her calls for Westminster to devolve powers that would allow Holyrood to legislate for a windfall tax.

Hitting out at her, he criticised the SNP for failing to back Labour’s plan for a specific tax on oil and gas companies, despite its motion put forward in the House of Commons calling for a windfall tax on any company which benefited from increased profits connected to COVID-19 or the conflict in Ukraine.

Mr Sarwar then accused the First Minister of making the cost-of-living debate about the constitution, and called on her to use devolved powers already at her disposal.

While Scotland’s independence debate has not gone away, it briefly took a back seat amid Russia’s ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

But, with Scottish political outfits addressing their members in conferences last week, the issue of a UK-breakaway has resurfaced.

Scotland currently has a huge deficit, the figure more than doubling to £36.3billion, or 22.4 percent of GDP in 2020-21 — the highest yearly increase since devolution.

Despite this, figures in the SNP, like Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, say the deficit should not be an obstacle to making the case for independence.

But others, like John Lamont, the Scottish Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, say the deficit throws any independence plans into extreme doubt, with suggestions that plans are fully costed “raising serious questions”.

He told Express.co.uk: “They [the SNP] seem to think they can set up an independent country within 18 months if they were to get the outcome of the referendum that they wanted.

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“But when you look at the evidence of the transfer of youth and welfare powers and how they’ve run the Scottish economy in terms of the deficit, it does raise questions about whether they’d be able to do it within that time scale, or indeed be able to do it within any sort of reasonable cost.

“I think the deficit the SNP has run up is around £36.3billion in 2021, which is 22.4 percent of GDP.

“That figure is just eye-watering.

“If they’re not able to take on the extra powers they’ve been given and they’re running the economy in that way it does raise serious questions about what a costed independence plan would look like.”

Last week, speaking during the Scottish Green Party’s conference, co-leader Lorna Slater confirmed that Ms Sturgeon was continuing with her aim of holding a referendum in 2023.

The Greens last year entered a formal agreement with the SNP, referred to as the Bute House Agreement.

It effectively props up the SNP’s pro-independence agenda — the Greens being the only other major political party to support a breakaway.

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Ms Slater also suggested Scotland would be in a better position to welcome Ukrainian refugees if it were independent.

But Mr Lamont said comments like that were “unhelpful” given the wider humanitarian crises, and that the UK was doing all it could in the current situation.

Scotland’s finance secretary suggested that independence was a chance for “having the levers, the full control to manage our fiscal sustainability.”

Late last year, she said: “It is not an obstacle to making the case for independence because deficits across the world have risen exponentially and having the highest deficit in Europe does not seem to be an obstacle for the UK government.

The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report, compiled by Scottish government statisticians showed how public finances were affected by the pandemic, noting that a rise in spending reflected the costs of health and economic interventions.

But opposition parties said the report underlined the importance of staying in the UK.

Scottish Labour highlighted that total spending was equivalent to £18,144 per person – £1,828 per person greater than the UK average, while revenue raised in Scotland was £382 less per head.

And the Scottish Tories calculated that this “union dividend” — the combined value of higher spending and lower revenue — had increased to £2,210 per person.

This week, Tony Blair’s former political strategist, John McTernan, turned attention to the large amount of money Scotland would lose if it were to leave the UK.

Speaking to GB News, he said: “It’s clear the nationalists can’t work out the answer to the question, how can Scotland lose £15billion a year of a fiscal transfer from the UK without massive cuts?

“More is spent on public service in Scotland. There’s raised taxation, they now can’t fill it with oil revenues because the oil is now running out and the SNP is committed to keeping oil and gas in the North Sea.”

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