By a Newsnet reporter
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has published its report into the implications for the UK of Scottish independence and has criticised the UK government for its lack of planning for a possible Yes vote.
The report, from a committee consisting entirely of representatives from the anti-independence parties, unsurprisingly focusses on what the committee sees as the negative impact of independence on Scotland’s economy.
The Scottish government has dismissed the report as “wrong and out of date”, saying that it was produced by an “unelected, unrepresentative committee”. The SNP also criticise the report, saying that it reflects the “contradictory” position of the UK government who claim they want an informed debate, yet at the same time are apparently unwilling to examine the real consequences of independence.
The report highlights the “pension timebomb” awaiting an independent Scotland with an ageing population. Giving evidence to the committee, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander claimed that that in the UK as a whole, there are currently 25.8 people over the age of 65 per 100 working people. By 2060 it is projected that the proportion of pensioners in Scotland will have increased to 51.71 per 100 compared with just 45.9 for the rest of the UK. Mr Alexander claimed that this meant Scotland would find it especially difficult to pay pensions to its elderly.
However all European nations are facing the same problem, and in fact Scotland’s population structure is less biased towards older people than most other European natons. According to the European Commission’s European Ageing Report, published in 2012, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Austria and the Czech Republic, amongst others, will all have relatively older populations than Scotland by 2060.
The low figure for the rest of the UK is due largely to increased immigration over the past few decades as migrants tend to belong disproportionately to younger generations. The Treasury’s assessment that the rump UK will have a proportion of 45.9 pensioners to 100 working age people depends upon current rates of immigration being maintained. However with increasing political pressure on the UK government to restrict immigration, the figure quoted for the rest of the UK by Mr Alexander in his evidence to the committee is unlikely to prove accurate.
The committee criticises the UK government for its lack of planning around possible Scottish independence. After listening to Scotland Secretary Michael Moore give evidence saying that the UK government would not plan on “hypothetical circumstances”, Labour peer Patricia Kingsmill replied that his answer was “very weak”.
Fellow committee member Conservative peer Christopher Tughenhat made stronger criticism of Mr Moore and the UK government, telling Mr Moore:
“At any one time, the MoD is doing contingency plans on all kinds of variables and hypothetical situations all over the world. If we are looking into what might or might not happen if the eurozone were to break up, then surely to God we are looking into what might or might not happen if the United Kingdom were to break up. If we are not, it is a dereliction of duty.”
Commenting on the report’s publication Stewart Hosie MP, SNP Treasury spokesman said:
“This unelected, unrepresentative committee is wrong and out of date already in what it says about an independent Scotland.
“However, it is right to criticise the intransigence and confusion of the UK Government in the lead up to the 2014 referendum. It is right to question Scottish Secretary Michael Moore’s ‘astonishing’ claim in his evidence that he wants an informed debate, but then contradicts himself by saying that the UK government is ‘not prepared to engage’.
“Committee member Lord Lawson is also right when he says that the UK government’s position is ‘totally unsustainable’ and that the UK government is ‘letting down very badly the people of Scotland’ by not preparing for the referendum.
“The report is also reasonable when it calls on the Ministry of Defence to be ‘much more active’ in making contingency plans after a Yes vote to relocate the UK’s nuclear deterrent from the Clyde. Another peer Lord Tugendhat is right when he describes the UK government’s apparent lack of planning as a ‘dereliction of duty’.
“The Scottish Government are fully committed to ensuring that the people of Scotland have all the information they need to take the positive step of independence on September 18th 2014 , and with the publication of this report we call on the UK government to make the same commitment.”