Scotland politics

SNP members change leadership's currency plan

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright PA

The SNP has backed proposals for a new currency in an independent Scotland - although the leadership was defeated over the timing.

The party's conference voted to replace the pound with a separate Scottish currency "as soon as practicable".

This went against the wishes of leader Nicola Sturgeon, who had wanted a more gradual transition to a new currency.

Ms Sturgeon played down the result of the vote, and said the party could "move forward with confidence".

Party members also backed the leadership over six economic tests that will "guide" the exact timescale for a new currency - which some left-wing activists had wanted scrapped.

It means that the SNP's official policy is, for the first time, to replace sterling with a new Scottish currency after independence.

It comes just days after Ms Sturgeon announced that she wants a second independence referendum within the next two years, if Brexit happens.

However the UK government has ruled out granting the Scottish Parliament the consent that would ensure any referendum was legal.

What happened at the conference?

Delegates in Edinburgh were asked to back proposals put forward by deputy leader Keith Brown and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, which were largely based on the SNP's Growth Commission report.

Their motion said that the currency of an independent Scotland "should continue to be the pound sterling" until a separate currency "can be safely and securely established".

The aim should then have been for the Scottish Parliament to take a decision on whether to establish a new currency "by the end of the first term of an independent Parliament".

Pleas from the leadership not to amend the motion were ignored by a majority of party members, who voted by 781 to 729 for a new currency to instead be introduced "as soon as practicable".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A narrow majority of delegates at the conference voted to amend proposals put forward by the SNP leadership

However the amendment, by the SNP's Dalkeith and District Branch, kept the vast majority of the leadership's proposals - including the use of six key economic tests that will "guide" the precise timescale for a new currency.

These were set out by the party's Growth Commission, and include an independent Scotland having a "sufficiently strong and credible fiscal position in relation to budget deficit and overall debt" before a separate currency is introduced.

And there would need to be evidence that the new currency would "meet the ongoing needs of Scottish residents and businesses".

The tests were kept despite activist Timothy Rideout, who spoke for the amendment, describing them as "rubbish".

Mr Rideout also argued that the use of Sterling would mean monetary policy such as interest rates would all be set in London, and that "we would not have real independence".

What has been the reaction of the leadership?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Brown and Ms Sturgeon had urged party members not to amend the original proposals

Ms Sturgeon, who will address the conference on Sunday afternoon, tweeted after the vote that: "We can move forward now with confidence to make the case for Scotland's future in Scotland's hands."

Her deputy, Keith Brown, insisted that the SNP now has a "clear platform on which to campaign and win the case for independence".

He added: "Our party now sees the balance of advantage in a careful, managed and responsible transition to an independent currency.

"It is our ambition to move to a new currency - this is a significant and important policy choice. Until this can be achieved, safely and securely, our currency will remain the pound sterling."

Mr Brown predicted: "This is a winning economic plan to take to the doorsteps - one which will achieve independence for Scotland."

Why does this matter?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Then-UK Chancellor George Osborne ruled out a formal currency union ahead of the 2014 referendum

The policy shift marks a major change from the SNP's stance ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, when then-first minister Alex Salmond said Scotland would continue to use the pound in a formal UK-wide currency union.

This was immediately ruled out by the UK government - with the resulting uncertainty over what currency an independent Scotland would use widely seen as being a factor in independence being rejected by 55% to 45%.

The new plan would see Scotland keep the pound, at least in the short term, but without a currency union - and with a new currency being introduced "as soon as practicable" afterwards.

What have the other parties had to say?

Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw said the vote was an "embarrassing snub" for Ms Sturgeon, who he claimed was "now at the beck and call of an extreme economic agenda within the SNP which would rip the pound from our pockets as soon as possible".

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said it was "imposing a decade of austerity on the most vulnerable, tax cuts for big business and fewer rights for workers is now official SNP policy."

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said it was "no great surprise that SNP members felt the need to defeat their leadership's uninspiring Growth Commission proposals", and that the case for independence needed a "new economic direction" than the "centrist agenda".

And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Ms Sturgeon has "lost control of her party", with the leadership "now committed to a policy they oppose and that will affect pensions and mortgages".