Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green Party, on a ten year transition to a new Scottish currency

Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, speaking in the Politicians and Professionals 2017 series on 23 January, challenged the claim by the SNP during the 2014 referendum campaign that Scotland should continue to use the pound and could achieve full independence within 18 months of a Yes vote.

He has asked how he squared his support for independence with the difficult financial position revealed in the Government Expenditure and Revenues Scotland (GERS) figures. Here is an audio recording of the question and answer and, below, a transcript. The full audio recording of the session is at the bottom of the page.

Question

I applaud your passion for dealing with injustice and the role of government, you know, we’ve had a spell when everyone thinks government is useless and fails all the time. But I agree with yourself absolutely that government has a huge role in tackling inequality and shaping people’s lives.

I’m not a supporter of independence and I want to ask an overtly political question about that really, so if one was to take the GERS accounts which I think you could consider a pro-forma set of accounts, a starting point for an independent Scotland, they show a fiscal deficit of something like £10 billion, which is roughly the same amount as we raise in income, so you are looking at I would say as a starting point huge increases in taxes or massive spending cuts, you know, getting on for the size of the health budget.

Now if you agree, I think we both would agree about the role of government in shaping lives, and in improving things, I suppose my question is what’s your answer to that as a starting point then?

You would need developing country levels of growth for decades really to simply get us back to where we started, so what I find difficult sometimes is squaring what you were saying which is really positive stuff to me, about equality, with a starting point for independence that actually has this yawning gap.

I don’t to make a party politicial point but more just a genuine question about how you would deal with that if you are also worried about inequality and people’s lives.  Thanks.

 

Patrick Harvie answers

I think one of the most essential things for the pro-independence movement to come to terms with is to set out a proper proposition of independence that’s based on a lack of ability to make our own macroeconomic choices is almost to pretend that we can run the economy in the way that we run a devolved government. We can’t.

That, to me, has always required the movement toward the creation of an independent currency and I accept that might be a longer-term project, that it might be a ten year transition rather than the eighteen months transition that the SNP proposed in 2014 or in the run up to 2014.

To me, though, the ability to make those macroeconomic choices is the only and the necessary response to the question that you ask about the genuinely serious challenge about moving from a current, apparently weak, position seen within a devolved framework – seen through a devolved government lens – toward the economy which is able to generate the kind of investment that is needed in future prosperity.

The alternative to me has always seemed to be the more chilling prospect, that we not only fail to take to ourselves the ability of make those decisions, but leave those decisions in the hands of those who are already making the wrong choices.

And so I think my own support for independence, as I said, I’ve never felt myself to be a kind of flag waver, being motivated by national identity or patriotism, I think its always been as much about the opportunity to make choices that I don’t believe the UK will ever make.

Something like oil and gas, for example. I believe that an independent Scotland would find itself absolutely forced with the urgency, the urgency, of breaking its dependence on the North Sea oil and gas industry simply because it can’t last for ever, simply because we’re overexposed to an overvalued commodity, an overvalued industry. An industry which is based on the assumption that all existing reserves are going to be turned into economically profitable and viable resources. That can’t happen, isn’t going to happen.

Picture by courtesy of the RSE

Podcast extract from Patrick Harvie’s speech

First, Brexit, climate change and the constitution.

Podcast here:

Full audio recording here: