Independence Debate

On Tuesday night, I was party of a panel that debated the motion "Independence is the greatest threat to Edinburgh" at the National Museum of Scotland, sponsored by Brewin Dolphin.

Before proceedings began 119 members of the audience agreed with the motion that ‘Independence is the greatest threat to Edinburgh’, 27 disagreed and 36 did not know what they thought. Two hours later opinion had hardened: 169 for the proposition, 19 against and only 6 undecided.

You can listen to the entire debate here: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/06/spectator-debate-independence-is-the-greatest-threat-to-edinburgh/

Or you can read my contribution here:

Can I start by thanking the Spectator for organising this sold out event and to Andrew Neil for chairing.

Let me talk about Edinburgh and answer whether “Independence is the Greatest Threat to Edinburgh?” I think it is.

My colleagues tonight will talk about the international dimension and widen the debate but I want to talk about my City.

Your vote on the 18th September will be the most important decision that anyone in this room will take. We all want to know the consequences for our City and I believe a yes vote would be hugely damaging to Edinburgh.

As someone who was born, brought up, went to University, set up businesses, worked and now represent a seat in Edinburgh I think I’m quite qualified to say that this is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world.

Edinburgh as a City has benefitted from the Union and devolution more than anywhere else. Can you possibly imagine what the Edinburgh economy would be like today if the banks had not been saved by the UK economy? The consequences for the tens of thousands of jobs alone in the financial sector would have been catastrophic. That bailout represented the best of our union: mutual trust, shared bonds, looking out for every family in all of the UK. The Best of Both Worlds - a strong Scottish parliament with the promise of more powers on the way and the strength, security and stability of the wider UK.

That financial sector may be under threat again with uncertainty of independence and what that would do for the Edinburgh economy, for jobs, and opportunities for young people?

I want to use my time this evening to look at two arguments specific to the union’s strength for Edinburgh: the economy and education.

Let me use an example the highlights the economy - We have already heard Standard Life setting out in stark terms the landscape of a post independent Scotland.

The reality - Standard Life has already started work to establish additional registered companies to operate outside Scotland.

Standard Life is not just the UK's biggest provider of defined contribution pensions and self-invested pension plans but Edinburgh’s top employer for young people.

So why are they do they share the concerns of many Edinburgh employers?

Well they have no certainty over currency and would have to seek a lender of last resort to support their business.

-      The Pound is about so much more than just the notes or coins in our pockets. It determines the cost of mortgages and credit cards and without it there would be a big impact on jobs, savings, pensions and benefits. These are the everyday things that are more secure and affordable in Scotland as part of the UK and that my constituents care about. The confusion over currency is dereliction of duty by those who propose to leave the UK. With no currency union, no central bank, no lender of last resort, no control of the very levers of power the yes camp say they need – then it is little wonder my constituents whose jobs depend on answers to these questions are concerned.

-      Let me tell you my mortgage story – pay back in £s.

-      The next substantial issue for SL is EU membership and what that means for cross border defined benefit pension schemes. They would have to be fully funded. E.g. Croatia asked for a derogation and was not only refused but was fined. .

Standard Life highlights that the economics of separation do not add up. We should not be risking jobs and livelihoods on empty promises that are not even the Scottish Government’s gifts to deliver.

Edinburgh is the economic powerhouse for the rest of Scotland. If Edinburgh sneezes the rest of Scotland catches a cold. That is why the effects of Independence on Edinburgh are critical for the rest of Scotland.

And it is not isolated to the financial services sector. A recent survey showed 70% of small and medium sized businesses in Scotland did NOT believe Indy would be best for the country and that they would lose business. That means fewer jobs and also less tax take for a Scottish Govt to pay for public services.

Then there is trade - an essential part of the Edinburgh economy. We sell twice as many goods to the UK as the rest of the world combined. Edinburgh businesses benefit from the single market economy in both goods and jobs. As the world is shrinking and bringing down barriers we should not be putting them up. Barriers cost trade: that’s simple economics.

It is clear that on currency, pensions, public services and taxation that pooling risk and sharing of resources across the UK is best for Edinburgh.

It’s a funny kind of independence which argues for the rapid dismantling of everything the UK stands for followed by an equally rapid resurrection of everything we have just dismantled.

Except with one big disadvantage.

When the big decisions on monetary policy, on inflation targets, on the cost of borrowing and the level of spending, on financial regulation and lender of last resort would be made without any Scottish voice in the room.

So last week, when the Bank of England was looking at interest rates they had to look at the effect on the whole of the UK. It’s simple: if Scotland is part of the equation our interests are considered otherwise they are not.

Secondly, I want to turn to Education. Edinburgh is the city of enlightenment and we have a proud history of education pioneers. World class universities such as Edinburgh, Heriot Watt and Napier (to name but 3) employ tens of thousands of people and supports over 80,000 students in this City alone. These institutions are the reason Scotland has more universities in the top 200 per head of population than any other country in the world.

This is because of the union, not despite it.

That spirit of enlightenment continues today. Edinburgh is the most successful City in the UK for spin out businesses developing world-leading technologies, creating more jobs and investment in the city.

Education encapsulates the best of both worlds. A devolved policy with responsibility at Holyrood but the sharing of resources across the UK which means more funding to cutting-edge research for scientists and inventors.

An astonishing statistic is that Edinburgh University gets more R&D funding than the entirety of the country of Wales.

And that is recognised by former Uni Principals last week who said that the risks and uncertainties of leaving the UK would be considerable to the university sector.

Edinburgh is a vibrant and wonderful capital capital. Our city isn’t perfect but we must resist the arguments of those who will say that independence is a fix-all solution. Independence would threaten the success of this City.

We are getting to the business end of the referendum campaign and that requires a much more realistic and, if I may say, honest appraisal of what the SNPs plans mean for a potentially independent Scotland.

A criticism of those plans is that there isn’t enough detail and fact to back independence. But we know what we need to do to help our city grow and thrive:

Keep our currency and keep the pound, so we must vote no

- Keep our membership of the EU, so we must vote no

- Keep and strengthen our relationship with the rest of UK, so we must vote no

- Retain our shared tax and regulatory environment, so we must vote no

- Avoid the set-up costs of a new Scottish state, costs we will only find out after the referendum, so we would be better to vote no.

I hope you will join me in voting no both this evening and on 18 September to protect and grow the City we love.

 

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