Scottish independence: Currency clash over Scotland's future

From Democracy Live: Alex Salmond clashed with Labour's Johann Lamont on currency

Scotland's first minister has clashed with Labour leader Johann Lamont over whether Scotland would be able to keep the pound if it were independent.

Ms Lamont raised reported comments by Alex Salmond's strategy chief that such an arrangement could not be guaranteed.

But Mr Salmond said the SNP's policy on the issue was "definitive".

The row came as the Scottish government prepared to publish its detailed case for independence, in the form of a White Paper, on 26 November.

The SNP has said that, in the event of a "Yes" vote in the independence referendum on 18 September next year, Scotland would retain sterling as part of a "currency union" with the rest of the UK.

During question time at the Scottish Parliament, Ms Lamont referred to comments attributed to Colin McKay, the head of the Scottish government's strategy unit, that "we cannot assert as an a priori fact we can achieve a currency union with the United Kingdom".

The Labour leader said the comments, reported in The Herald newspaper, were made at a conference earlier this week.

She argued they were at odds with a statement made by a spokesman for the first minister in March that "the cast-iron position is an independent Scotland will continue to use the pound".

If Alex Salmond were to turn to the language of ancient Rome, he might say that such a currency union would make sense, a posteriori.

That, in the event of a Yes vote in the referendum, it would be in the interests of rUK to maintain a stable arrangement with the newly reformed state to the north.

He might say that if there is a general desire for economic stability then, a fortiori, there would be a case for an agreement on sterling, once independence was an endorsed prospect, a pending reality.

The response from Mr Salmond's opponents will be that there can be no certainty that such a sterling zone would be viewed as suiting rUK.

Ms Lamont said: "The first minister's chief strategist is clear - no cast-iron guarantee can be given. Even in Alex Salmond's world it cannot possibly both be true that you can have a cast-iron guarantee and not have one."

She asked: "Given this rare moment of candour, can the first minister now tell us what his plan B is, if he is unable to negotiate successfully a currency union with the rest of the UK?"

But Mr Salmond claimed the nature of the way Mr McKay's comments were reported was "wrong", and insisted the plan for a currency union was still Scottish government policy.

He said: "I can assure Johann Lamont, when the White Paper comes up, it will be definitive about the policy choices of the Scottish National Party on the currency and on other matters.

"So if Johann Lamont will contain herself, wait and see. The White Paper will, I think, give her the information that she desires."

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