Sunday, 1 December 2013

The White Paper

Was that it?

Over last weekend, in the run up to publication, the length of the White Paper was trailed heavily in the press.

It was to be the most substantial proposal for an independent country ever produced running to 670 pages and covering every possible angle. No one would ever more complain that they did not have enough information.

So I have now read the actual document with something approaching incredulity. 670 Pages with virtually nothing to say.

It is not so much the entirely un-costed wish list of policy promises which even if affordable had no place in what was a Government rather than a Party publication. It is the complete lack of detail on anything of any real importance.

For example, as a lawyer, one of the things I was interested in was how the transitional process to independence was anticipated to happen.

We have plenty of experience of such matters in Scotland in recent times. When local government was re-organised in 1974-75 and again in 1994-95, shadow authorities were set up for a year and then power transferred to them after that period. A similar mechanism was adopted when the current Scottish Government created the National Police and Fire Boards.

Now the importance of such transitional arrangements is this. New institutions need management structures, accomodation and above all, staff. And there needs to be the means of recruiting and remunerating these staff until they take on their responsibilities.

An Independent Scotland would need to create such structures on a much larger scale. We'd need an armed forces, a foreign service, and a revenue and customs for a start. And that's just for a start. We'd need to recruit the leaders of such institutions; we'd need them then to create the structures in which they would operate and we'd then need to hire the personnel or at least work out which they would inherit from the UK. Even where that simply (sic) involves the redeployment of existing civil servants there would still be a massive programme of retraining to be undertaken.

And all of that would cost money. Not the sort of mega money that might or might not be there for a fully functioning Scottish state, just the sort of money that would ensure that whoever is answering the phone in the putative Scottish Foreign Office in February 2016 had some way of getting paid at the end of the month.

Now, this could be done, legally, in one of two different ways. The White Paper would concede that technical sovereignty remained with Westminster until "Independence Day" and contain a proposal that Westminster legislate immediately to give the existing Scottish Government the vires to undertake all this hiring etc. Or it could assert that sovereignty would vest in the Scottish Government on the declaration of the referendum result, giving them, if the rest of the world was prepared to play ball, power to act on their own authority in such matters. And it could be paid for in one of two ways. Either by asking Westminster to lend us the money to be repaid after independence (most likely with the first legal route) or, assuming the markets were willing, by borrowing commercially on a promise to repay from sovereign Scottish revenues in due course. (more likely with the second).

So what does the White Paper say? The Executive summary seems to suggest that the first route is the preferred legal one although the document itself is clear as mud. And on financing? Nothing at all. It does indeed have 670 pages but the transition, after 300 years of integration at every level, from the United Kingdom to a sovereign Scotland gets precisely fourteen of them (337-351), even then full of of references to transitional "agreements", "negotiations" and "shared services" without a word about what the Scottish Government's objectives would be in these negotiations, let alone whether they've any anticipation of the position of the other side. Let alone (at all) how to pay for this. The cynic might think that last failure applies to much of the rest of the document but at least with that they try.

But that's not the only example of fundamental but difficult issues being ignored. Take public sector pensions. You have to jump about a bit to find them saying nothing about the difficult bits here.

First of all we have page 149

"In an independent Scotland, all public service pension
rights and entitlements which have been accrued for fully
or executively devolved or reserved schemes will be fully
protected and accessible."

That seems the very least you would expect. But what about those in the Forces and in the non devolved functions of the UK Government currently discharged by Scots, often in Scotland, such as those at DfID in East Kilbride?

Well then we have page 433

"For pension schemes that are currently reserved, such as civil
service, armed forces and judicial pensions, the Scottish
Government will work with Westminster to ensure an orderly
transition of pension responsibilities to an independent Scotland. "

What does that mean?

For example:

If I retire from DFiD in February 2016 who pays my pension?

If I did serve in the British forces but am already retired, who pays my pension?

If I worked for the Foreign Office but return to work for the Scottish Foreign Service in 2016 and retire a year later, who pays my pension?

If I've worked for the Scottish Office all my life but am now retired and living in England, who pays my pension?

If I worked for the (wholly English even before Devolution) Department of Education but am now retired and living in Scotland, who pays my pension?

None of the questions are answered or even addressed. Oh but here they are! On page 341

[After a Yes Vote]

"Discussion will also cover the allocation of liabilities,
including apportionment of the national debt, the current 
and future liabilities on public sector pensions, civil nuclear
decommissioning and social security benefits."

So that's all right then.

I could choose any number of other examples. The whole document is premised on hypothetical future negotiations in which,(as I've observed before) "The English", having treated us appallingly while we are in the same Country, will prove the soul of reasonableness now we want to be in a different country. But worse than that, it assumes that the separation of a unified state of more than 300 years standing would be simpler than even the re-organisation of a Police and Fire Service! In Eighteen months, not only is the whole infrastructure of a State to be created but any number of subsidiary functions such as a Financial Services Regulator. And where that is accepted to be impossible, the assumption is that the rest of the UK will be happy for us to continue to use theirs. 'Cos we love them really.

The truth of this lies in the proposal for Broadcasting. In the sort of dissonant note that you get from a document written by committee, it is accepted that it would be impractical to establish a State Broadcaster any sooner than January 2017.  Bizarrely however, that notwithstanding, establishing an entirely new state continues to be maintained as an altogether simpler exercise!

You really do wonder if the SNP regard this whole thing as an entirely serious project? Indeed, maybe the truth is that they don't. They're not worried about the incoherence of the White Paper as they're already resigned to the conclusion  that  it has no chance of ever being put to the practical test.

1 comment:

  1. It is going to be YES in September 2014.
    It's already a done deal.
    It would be financial suicide for Scotland to remain within the Union.