SNP members fear the absence of a coherent policy on currency could sink the Yes movement and accused the party of failing to properly equip them to answer voters’ basic policy questions.  

At a meeting of the party’s trade union group on Sunday, members heard criticism of the SNP’s currency plans from speakers including Professor Robert Mochrie, of Heriot-Watt University and Tim Rideout (below), the chair of the Scottish Currency Group.

The National:

Members expressed concern they were under-equipped to deal with questions and concerns from voters on the doorstep about currency – with one activist accusing the party of failing to give out fact sheets which would make their jobs easier.

Lisa Clark, from the Leith SNP branch, said activists could be struggling to give good answers on the currency question because of “confusion between Scottish Government policy and SNP policy”.

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Officially, the SNP stance is to introduce a new Scottish pound as soon as practicable after independence, but restrictions set out in a Scottish Government white paper published earlier this year mean the country would be using sterling indefinitely – putting a barrier to EU membership and leaving the Bank of England in control of key economic levers.

Clark added: “My experience of activists, normal party members going out and knocking on doors, is that they’re still asked the question about currency and the question about pensions, as if we’re in a 2014 loop on this one.

“And at the moment, maybe it’s because of confusion between Scottish Government policy and SNP policy, they don’t know what to say.

“It’s not that they’re saying the wrong thing… they just don’t know what to say.

“And there’s a lot of confusion about that.

“They can’t answer the questions around the economy.

“How can we get information that they will understand into the hands of activists so that they can answer the worries and concerns of people that they’re canvassing?”

Another member said: “We’ve repeatedly had this in Angus South constituency association and the Arbroath branch meetings, our members are crying out for a fact sheet that they could [use to] answer the basic questions and it is a failure of our party’s communications department that it doesn’t dish out a simple sheet with frequently asked questions with answers that ordinary members can give to people in the street.

“I don’t think that the public are going to want a lecture on political economy or international finance, but [activists] would like at least something that they can say that sounds convincing.

“We are not supplied as ordinary party members with fact sheets which help us to answer these questions.”

'A failure of leadership' 

Rideout called the disharmony of SNP and Scottish Government policy on currency a “failure of leadership”.

He added: “They just don’t know what the official answer is. I do not understand why after eight years we haven’t got the answers.”

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Simon Barrow, the national secretary of the SNP trade union group, added: “In order to persuade people, you need a settled position you’re arguing from.

“The situation we’re starting from at the moment is we’re still having that argument and needing to persuade the Scottish Government particularly to move to a bolder position."

Craig Dalzell, of the pro-Yes Common Weal think tank, said the Scottish Government’s current policy of using sterling in the interim while setting up a new currency would leave Scotland more of a “rule taker” in monetary policy than it is within the Union.

Rideout told the audience at the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Bridgeton, Glasgow, that using sterling gave the UK Government an effective veto which could sink the Yes campaign.

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He said: “The Chancellor will go on the BBC and he will say: ‘You citizens of Scotland are voting in two months’ time in the independence referendum and your plan says that you’re going to use sterling. Well, I can tell you that you are not. I had a meeting with the Governor of the Bank and I told him that at one minute past midnight on independence day Scotland is to be disconnected from the UK payments network and the accounts of every Scottish bank will be frozen – so where’s your Plan B?’

“And you’re sunk, completely sunk as it was in 2014. It just doesn’t stand up in the campaign.”

Buying time 

Mochrie said: “To make a distinction, there’s a Scottish Government paper and there’s SNP policy. SNP policy is quite clear: Move to a Scottish currency as soon as practicable. Scottish Government policy: [nonsense sounds], maybe.”

But he expressed hope that the delay to an independence vote caused by the Supreme Court ruling would buy time for those in the movement calling for more urgency on the currency issue.

He added: “At least in one sense, I’m very happy with the Supreme Court decision because it’s going to give us enough time that we can get to a decision and have a sensible policy in place … [sterlingisation] is something that can be attacked by an English government in advance and it’s something we’ve not thought about clearly enough in the independence movement.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “The SNP policy on currency in an independent Scotland was debated extensively by SNP members and backed overwhelmingly by conference delegates.

“The SNP government’s detailed economic prospectus sets out how - as soon as practicable - Scotland would move to a new currency, the Scottish pound.”