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Can Scotland afford to go it alone?

With a referendum on Scottish independence 10 months away the Scottish government has unveilled the potential economic gains of going it alone.

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The Scottish freedom fighters faced overwhelming odds, their forces divided and unsure, victory against the English an unlikely result. But then, under a charismatic leader…

Tuesday was the ‘Braveheart’ moment for the Scottish National Party and its First Minister Alex Salmond, as he brandished a hefty 649-page, 170,000-words blueprint for an independent Scotland, and tried to rally his countrymen to the cause.

Ultimately there is one question, do the people of Scotland believe we are the best people to make decisions about our future? 

Polls show a ‘No’ vote is the most likely outcome at next September’s referendum, with the Scots worried about the consequences for their hip pocket and social services should they leave the United Kingdom.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond presents the White Paper for Scottish independance at the Science Museum Glasgow on November 26, 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland.

He's got a plan: Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond presents the White Paper for Scottish independence at the Science Museum Glasgow. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell

However, Mr Salmond promised Scotland would start “from a position of strength” if it voted yes.

He said it was the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published, and laid the foundations for a “wealthy and fair nation” that would end the “legacy of debt, low growth and social inequality bequeathed to us by Westminster control”.

“Ultimately there is one question, do the people of Scotland believe we are the best people to make decisions about our future?” he said. “Scotland’s future is now in Scotland’s hands.”

The launch of the white paper “Scotland’s Future”, at the Science Centre in Glasgow, began with an upbeat video set to music showing mountains, castles, fields and industry.

Then it was straight into the nitty gritty of the plan which would be put into place in the 18 months between a ‘Yes’ vote and independence on March 24, 2016.

Scotland would retain the pound sterling under the Bank of England, and would negotiate with the UK to assume its share of assets and public sector debt.

The Trident nuclear weapons would be removed from the Clyde by 2020 – a popular policy driving the yes vote - and Scotland would be a member of NATO and have its own defence force.

Mr Salmond said Scotland would also be a member of the European Union, though he said negotiations on the terms of that membership had not yet begun.

And Scotland would have a migration policy aimed at growth, with free travel between England, Ireland and Scotland, as well as the EU, and more generous visa regulations to encourage immigration from all over the world.

The white paper also answered less weighty questions posed by Scottish people – reassuring them their season tickets would still be valid, and there would be no effect on who could play for Scottish rugby and soccer teams.

And, trying to quell a scare campaign over the loss of Doctor Who, Mr Salmond said BBC Scotland would be transformed into a Scottish Broadcasting Service that would carry popular BBC shows such as Doctor Who, Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later told the Scottish parliament – which will debate the blueprint on Wednesday – that the case for independence rests on the pillars of “democracy, prosperity and social justice”.

“Decisions about Scotland should be taken by the people who care most about the future of Scotland - those of us who live and work here,” she said. “It is better and right that decisions are made here in our democratically elected parliament and not by Westminster governments that are very often in government despite having lost the election in Scotland.”

The “ability to access our own vast resources” would help grow the Scottish economy faster, she said, and help fund Scotland to design a new social safety net.

Scotland’s oil reserves are on the wane, but not predicted to run out for another 50 years – and by some estimates the value of the oil left untapped is equal to the value of all the oil so far extracted.

Aberdeen, the city at the centre of the North Sea industry, has boomed in the last five years with house prices soaring, hotels packed with workers on the way to the oil rigs and roads jammed with traffic.

Mr Salmond said Scotland would claim all the oil and gas within its territorial waters.

However, critics of the white paper said it was a wish-list of “ifs and maybes”.

Former UK Chancellor Alistair Darling, head of the no-vote “Better Together” campaign, called it a “work of fiction”.

“The nationalists have ducked the opportunity to answer any of the big questions about our country’s future,” he said. “They promised us facts. What they have given us is a wish list with no prices attached.”

The white paper did not answer fundamental questions about the currency, mortgage rates, taxes and benefits, he said.

Michaella Drummond, from the Better Together campaign, said there was not enough in the blueprint to reassure people about concerns over pensions and the currency.

She said polls showed the Scottish people had already made up their minds that they preferred the security and certainty of the status quo.

“We have the best of both worlds, we have a Scottish parliament but we are also part of a wider United Kingdom,” she said.
Mr Salmond said he expected a long list of “dreadful things” and cries of “doom, gloom and negativity” from anti-independence campaigners, but he believed people would vote for a positive vision.

“My view in politics is that positive beats negative,” he said. “We will win this referendum.”

It wasn’t exactly “fire from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse” but time will tell whether it was enough to reassure his compatriots that Scotland would flourish alone.