By Martin Kelly
Gordon Brown’s attack on pension provision in an independent Scotland has been described as lacking in all credibility, with the SNP accusing the former Chancellor and Prime Minister of having done more than anyone to destroy the value of people’s pensions.
Yesterday, the former Labour leader re-entered the debate over independence by claiming that the Scottish Government had failed to provide any evidence that pensions would be safe if Scots vote Yes in September.
“The SNP know that they have got a problem – the rising demand for pensions, set against the money that they have, means there is greater volatility in social security spending,” he said.
The Labour MP added: “They haven’t answered the basic problem – you have paid into your pension, into the UK Exchequer all your lives, you’ve paid your national insurance, you’ve paid your taxes so that you have a right to a pension.
“You are expecting, quite rightly, that you will get a British pension – but if there is independence, the British pension stops, the national insurance fund that you’re paying into is broken up.”
However the SNP have ridiculed Mr Brown’s record on pensions by pointing out as Chancellor, he abolished Advanced Corporation Tax (ACT) relief, which is estimated to have cost pension schemes at least £100 billion within a decade, and in 1999 chose to increase the state pension by just 75 pence.
A recent publication by the National Institute of Economic Research showed that Scotland is disadvantaged by having the same retirement age as the rest of the UK, and pensions in Scotland would be six to eight per cent cheaper than the rest of the UK. The paper also demonstrated that under current UK schemes, there will be a transfer from Scotland to the rest of the UK of almost £50 million per year by 2020.
Meanwhile, opinion polling has consistently shown that people in Scotland want decisions on pensions and welfare to be made in Scotland – with the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showing that 63% of people want either ‘devo-max’ – that would see only defence and foreign affairs remain in Westminster control – or independence.
Commenting, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister and SNP Depute Leader Nicola Sturgeon said:
“The last person anyone in Scotland will take lessons from when it comes to pensions is Gordon Brown – the man who destroyed final-salary pension schemes with his £100 billion raid, and insulted our older folk with a miserly 75p increase in the state pension.
“Mr Brown’s track record means that he lacks all credibility on this subject, so it is little wonder that his speech bears little relationship with reality.
“The Scottish Government has set out clearly and unambiguously that people will continue to receive the pension entitlements they have built up – and any attempt to insinuate otherwise is grossly irresponsible.
“Social protection costs represent a lower share of tax revenues in Scotland than for the UK as a whole – meaning pensions are more affordable for Scotland – and academic surveys and polls consistently show that people want decisions on pensions and welfare to be made in the Scottish Parliament rather than by Westminster.
“Just this month the National Institute of Economic Research showed that pensions in Scotland would be 6% to 8% cheaper than in the rest of the UK.
“Scotland is better placed to afford our pensions and welfare than the UK – which is why Scotland’s Future set out our plans to maintain the triple-lock, and set up an independent commission to look at the appropriate retirement age for people in Scotland.
“Where Westminster has decimated pension schemes and is rushing ahead an accelerated timetable that will see the retirement age rise rapidly, a Yes vote in September will ensure we have a pensions system that is right for Scotland.”
Meanwhile, the former Labour leader has raised eyebrows after angrily storming out of an interview with STV after being asked about Labour joining with the Tories to refuse a currency union with an independent Scotland.
Asked if George Osborne’s threat amounted to bullying, the Labour MP angrily stopped the interview and walked off after saying “I think I’ve done enough of an interview.”
Mr Brown’s refusal to answer questions on the controversial announcement from all three UK parties follows a similar episode in Edinburgh when UK Chancellor George Osborne fled in a car after refusing to answer questions on his currency union stance from STV’s Bernard Ponsonby.