LONDON – Scotland may be left in a currency limbo if it votes for independence because it is uncertain if it can continue using the pound or immediately join the euro, British lawmakers warned Friday.
Uncertainty over what currency will be used after independence remains a major campaign issue just days before Scots vote in a Sept. 18 referendum whether to leave the United Kingdom after 307 years of union with England.
Britain’s three main political parties have ruled out a formal currency union, but Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond has said he is confident a deal will be done and that Scotland “cannot be stopped from keeping the pound.”
He has been coy about explaining how Scotland can continue using sterling if it fails to secure a currency union, however, leaving him vulnerable to critics who say he has no “Plan B” for such an eventuality.
In a report that concluded that remaining part of the U.K. is in Scotland’s best economic interests, the British parliament’s Business Select Committee said the uncertainty following a vote for independence would damage Scottish firms.
“Arguments based on aspiration rather than reality do little to advance the cause of Scotland,” said Adrian Bailey, the committee’s chairman.
Separately, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research warned that Scottish financial institutions could not be sure of access to emergency liquidity if Scotland carries on using sterling without Britain’s agreement.
Financial services account for 15 percent of Scottish exports. Some firms have said they will consider moving their headquarters from Scotland after a vote for independence.
NIESR, a leading economic think tank, said all potential lenders of last resort under an informal currency union are likely to prove unacceptable to an independent Scottish government on terms that would make them viable.
The parliamentary committee spoke out as Ed Miliband, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, visited Scotland on Friday and called on Salmond’s pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) to “come clean” about its currency plans.
“What the SNP needs to come clean about is that there are big risks, big instability, whatever currency option they choose in an independent Scotland,” Miliband told BBC radio. “I believe that risk is going to be borne, not by the richest who can move their money around, but by working people. And it is a really important reason why alarm bells should be ringing,” he said.
John Swinney, the SNP’s finance minister in Scotland’s devolved government, countered that Britain will be forced to give an independent Scotland a currency union in return for its taking on part of Britain’s national debt.
If Scotland does choose independence, it will also have to re-apply to join the European Union.
The committee said the EU will require a separate Scotland to have its own central bank and will be unlikely to allow it to be in a sterling zone or to use a “shadow pound.”
“A protracted negotiation over Scotland’s status within the EU also puts into doubt the possibility, in the short term, of adopting the euro. As a matter of urgency, the Scottish government must now spell out its plans for an alternative currency for an independent Scotland,” the report said.
The committee said it will be a “leap of faith” to believe an independent Scotland will automatically remain a member of the bloc or will be re-admitted quickly.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.