As Russell urges 'shared vision'...
SNP defies Sturgeon to back Scottish currency plan
Michael Russell: ‘Scotland moving inexorably to independence’ (pic: Terry Murden)
SNP activists today backed a call to introduce a Scottish currency as Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell issued a call for a “shared vision” of Scotland’s future.
The party’s conference backed replacing the pound with a separate Scottish currency “as soon as practicable”, against the wishes of leader Nicola Sturgeon, who prefers a gradual transition.
Members backed plans put forward by the Depute Leader Keith Brown and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay establishing an independent Scottish currency through a transition supported by six key tests – when an independent Scottish parliament chooses to do so.
The conference’s vote came after a Survation poll revealed that 71% of Scots want to continue using the pound and only 12% want to use a new Scottish currency.
A defiant Mr Brown said: “Scotland is a prosperous and successful nation, but we can do so much more by matching the success of other small advanced economies around the world.
“We don’t lack any of the talent or resources that they do, but we do lack the powers of a normal independent country which we need to grow our economy. Without these powers, we’ll always have one hand tied behind our back.
“Today’s vote marked a clear rejection of failed Westminster austerity, and a commitment by the SNP to sustaining Scotland’s finances through growth.
“It is our ambition to move to a new currency – this is a significant and important policy choice. Until this can be achieved, safely and securely, our currency will remain the pound sterling.
The vote drew criticism from opponents concerned about the impact of a separate currency. Pamela Nash, chief executive of Scotland in Union, said: “The SNP has voted to fast-track its plan to scrap the pound and put salaries, mortgages and pensions at risk.
“In a huge challenge to Nicola Sturgeon’s authority, members have snubbed her proposal and voted to complete this reckless act even sooner than she wanted.
“This will be deeply unpopular with the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, with nearly three-quarters in favour of keeping the pound.”
Addressing delegates at the opening of the Spring Conference Mr Russell called for an inclusive approach to building support for independence.
He said: “Scotland is moving inexorably to independence. And we will get there as long as we take the right path in the right way – a path and a way set out by the First Minister on Wednesday.”
Nicola Sturgeon urged all politicians and the wider community to work with the SNP through the new citizens’ assembly to help build a consensus. Her appeal during a debate in Holyrood met a frosty reception from opponents who are firmly opposed to independence.
Mr Russell took up the baton at the EICC today when he adopted the new mood of conciliation in an attempt to build support for separation when opinion polls suggest the idea does not command a majority across the nation.
However, a YouGov poll published today, which was partially conducted after the First Minister’s statement on a future referendum, puts support for independence at 49%.
The poll also finds the SNP with a 25% lead over Labour in voting intentions for the upcoming European election with 40% saying they would back the SNP – up from 29% in the last European election – and 15% supporting Labour. The Tories would fall into fourth place – with only 9% of voters intending to back the party.
Another survey was less supportive of the independence cause with only in five keen on a second referendum in the next two years as Ms Sturgeon promised. Only 21% of Scots would welcome a referendum by 2021 and the most popular choice of response to the Survation poll was that there should never be another referendum, which received 34% backing.
“We need to encourage everyone who lives here to play a part in building our new national story,” Mr Russell said.
“The Citizens Assembly announced by the First Minister on Wednesday is a radical, new initiative. It will allow Scotland to engage with its future in a constructive and thoughtful way.
“Much of what we have as a nation experienced during the Brexit process has been at odds with the values of our wider society in Scotland, We must find ways to ensure that those values and principles are enshrined in our governance. Our fellow citizens can help us to do that.
“And the time is right to think anew and act anew as we approach the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament. That Parliament, long fought for, was itself a result of an exercise to determine options for Scotland’s future.
“The Constitutional Convention was largely a vehicle for those already engaged in civic life or politics in Scotland, but the tradition is important.
“A genuinely inclusive and open-minded Citizens’ Assembly would update that tradition for the 21st century. It will teach us a lot and help our country to come together round a shared vision.”
Commenting on the opinion poll, SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said: “This is a stunning poll to kick off the SNP’s conference, showing an independence vote too close to call and that the momentum is with the SNP.
“Labour and the Tories used to dominate Scottish politics, but they have failed to move with the times and it’s clear they are way passed their sell-by date. They have worked hand-in-glove with Westminster to force a hard Brexit on Scotland against our wishes – and as long as they continue to allow Westminster to do whatever it wants to Scotland, they will continue their slide into oblivion.”
Conference criticised the UK government for introducing changes to pension credit that could see older couples in Scotland out of pocket by £7,000 a year
Currently, if one partner in a couple is over the state retirement age and eligible they can claim pension credit. However, new changes brought in by the Tories at Westminster that take effect on 15 May will remove that provision forcing the working age partner to claim Universal Credit instead – decreasing payments by around £140 a week.
Age UK has supported the SNP’s calls for the UK government to reverse these damaging changes.
Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said: “The Tory government should ashamed – these unnecessary changes will punish Scottish pensioners simply for having a working age partner.
“Universal Credit has been a complete disaster, pushing working families across Scotland into poverty and hardship – now the Tories want to force pensioners onto the same system.
“These changes were snuck in through the back door as the UK government Ministers shamelessly tried to bury the announcement in the middle of their Brexit chaos.
“SNP members have today sent a clear message to Westminster that these changes must be reversed immediately.”
SNP Conference hailed the actions of Scottish school students and campaign groups, and their work in drawing attention to the need for greater urgency in tackling climate change.
A resolution welcoming the action taken by the Scottish government to tackle carbon emissions, and setting world leading targets for reductions was passed at the SNP Conference.
Delegates also called on the UK government to urgently accelerate action to tackle climate change, noting that many powers necessary are reserved to Westminster.
Commenting, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said: “Leaders of all countries, including in the UK, must listen to the voice of the next generation, and play their part in tackling the climate crisis. It is a global issue that needs collective action internationally to succeed.
“Scotland’s emissions have almost halved since 1990 and we continue to outperform the UK, and most western European nations, in delivering reductions.
“The SNP is serious about protecting Scottish communities, meeting our climate change targets and creating a better, greener country for our future.
“We will now seek to maintain Scotland’s reputation as a global leader on tackling climate change – welcoming the school students of the day forcing our ambitions higher, and working with them to reap the benefits.”