George Osborne delivers a speech at the Point Hotel on February 13, 2014 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Westminster's pledge to deny Scotland the pound has been vindicated

The act was denounced as "bullying" at the time, but Salmond's struggles prove it was the right choice. 

When the triumvirate of George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander pledged earlier this year to veto a currency union with an independent Scotland many questioned their judgement. Such "bullying" tactics, it was said, would backfire and only encourage the Scots to vote for separation. For a period, as the polls narrowed, it appeared the critics were right. 

But the events of the last few days have vindicated Westminster's stance. It was the currency question, more than any other, that had Alex Salmond on the ropes in his debate with Alistair Darling on Tuesday and he has not regained his poise since. With all three of the main parties adamant that there will be no currency union, Salmond is torn between insisting they are bluffing (they aren't) and declaring that Scotland would continue to use the pound regardless (just as Panama and Ecuador use the dollar). 

"It is Scotland's pound. It doesn't belong to George Osborne, it doesn't belong to Ed Balls. It's Scotland's pound and we are keeping it," he said at First Minister's questions yesterday. It is what this would entail that means voters are stubbornly refusing to change sides (the Yes campaign continues to trail by a double-digit margin). Scotland would be left with no central bank, no lender of last resort (the role currently filled by the Bank of England) and no control over its interest rates. 

As Ed Miliband said in Scotland today: "On Tuesday night Alex Salmond didn’t have an answer on the pound. The currency that Scotland uses is crucial for Scotland’s future. Nobody claiming to be a social democrat who cares about Scottish pensioners, Scottish families and Scottish businesses should dare take this risk without a currency plan. If you care about social justice in our country, you can't leave the economics to guesswork. 

"That’s why businesses and families are demanding answers on the currency. Those at the top can move their money across the border and keep the pound. We know that the people who would stand to lose most from making this decision, are those who have the least. It would be working people, small businesses across Scotland who would be left to deal with the consequences of no Plan B."

In desperation, Salmond continues to threaten to default on his country's share of the UK's national debt if the government vetoes a currency union. But any default would render Scotland an economic pariah, destroying its creditworthiness at a single stroke and preventing it from raising the funds it needs on the international money markets. 

For all this, it is hard to see how Salmond could have handled the issue better. The alternatives of a new currency and the euro are even less attractive to voters than his "crossed fingers" approach. But that is only further proof of why it's wrong to raise the question of independence in the first place. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.