Monday, 3 March 2014

Debating Scots referendum impact on the North with SNP on BBC Radio Newcastle at 8.50am tomorrow

I have a radio debate at 8.50am with a SNP rep, and then will be in the House of Commons at 9.30 on the impact of Independence on the North East. I am working with my Labour colleague Phil Wilson on this. The question for me is twofold.
Firstly, as everyone knows I have been campaigning strongly for months for the Scottish people to remain part of the United Kingdom; my hope is that they say an emphatic “No” in the referendum this September. Last year I went to Scotland to knock on doors, and make the case in over 10 public meetings, or events, that we are Better Together. I will do this again this summer.

The second question is how does this affect Hexham and the wider Northumberland community?
It is vital that we south of the Border, who do not have a vote, should understand what is at stake. But more importantly we also need everyone in Northumberland to call, write or visit their Scottish friends, neighbours and families and make our Scottish brethren understand that over 300 years of union should not be thrown away lightly.

Our case is made on two grounds:
- the first is with the heart,
- the second the head.

Speaking for myself, I love Scotland, its people, its wild places, its whisky – this I cannot deny - and so much more. I love the fact that, as one united country, we have defeated everyone from Napoleon to Hitler. I love our United Kingdom, and the successes that we enjoyed – whether it is at the Olympics or celebrating Andy Murray’s historic Wimbledon win. To lose all of this would be tragic.

But whilst this point needs to be made, it is the matters of the head, and the financial consequences of separation, that may sway the day. And this will have a significant impact on us here in Northumberland.
Between now and September it is important that the people of Scotland know exactly what an independent Scotland will look like.

I speak as a Brit, a mongrel Englishman, an ancestor of immigrants myself, a lover of Scotland and a Northumberland MP whose constituency borders Scotland. Were there to be Scottish independence, I have no doubt that tourism and trade would continue, but it would be niave not to accept that cross-border business would be affected. That is not a Northumberland Member of Parliament speaking: that is the opinion of the chambers of commerce, local authorities and business groups I have spoken to on both sides of the border.

The Currency impact will be huge. On what basis would Scotland get to keep the pound? If we do not agree to a formal currency union would it be used informally, just as some Latin American countries, Greece and Montenegro all use other currencies? Why would the Bank of England take notice of Scotland in setting monetary policy? After independence, surely the Governor would only owe his position to a rest-of-UK appointment system? At that stage, Scotland would be the competition not our ally – and we would set our banking and interest rate policies accordingly. The counter - arguments that have been put forward by the SNP are, respectfully, a farce.

These arguments on fiscal regulation might appear dry and unexciting, but they are key to the future prosperity, not only of the whole existing United Kingdom, but especially of an independent Scotland. Such aspects of fiscal regulation - how a bank would function; how a currency would be managed; what sort of interest rates would be managed; who is in charge of such matters - are totally unaddressed by the SNP.
On any economic interpretation independence would be very bad news for Scotland, and would affect the rest of the UK, particularly Northumberland. I urge everyone to phone their Scottish friends and family: tell them to stay with us.

On trade issues there would need to be new trade agreements. Tax rates may differ. Payment systems would clearly differ. All of these things will impact on business and jobs. This cannot be overstated. A single market presently exists between Scotland Northumberland – to lose this will have an impact, and it will not be good.