When it comes to uncertainty, it isn’t just currency of course; there are many details of the implications of independence which will remain unclear at the time of the vote on 18th September (and although the implications of continued union are actually no clearer over the medium to long term, humans psychologically attach greater uncertainty to an obvious and visible change). That is both completely clear and entirely inevitable, and the only alternative to a lack of clarity would be to have conducted the detailed negotiations before holding a vote – a commitment of effort which the UK Government would never have been prepared to make without knowing whether the Scots actually wanted to be independent.
Without sorting out such detail in advance, the vote on 18th September could only ever have been about the principle rather than the details, although the efforts to which the Scottish Government has gone to try and set out the implications as clearly as it can in the face of intransigence from the other side is commendable. The ‘no’ side are more responsible for any lack of clarity that the ‘yes’ side, who’ve done their best to set out their aspirations – the ‘no’ campaign has spent more time rubbishing that than on setting out any vision for a changed union. But a decision in principle has been the normal way by which countries gain their independence, so it’s not exactly a unique situation.
On the specifics of the currency, there can really be little argument with Salmond’s position that if Scotland wants to go on using the £, then the RUK Government couldn’t actually stop them. As Salmond said: “There is literally nothing anyone can do to stop an independent Scotland using sterling, which is an internationally tradable currency”. Just as some countries use the dollar, or the euro, without formal currency union, so countries can, if they choose, use the pound sterling.
Whether doing so without a formal agreement on a currency union is a good idea or not is another matter entirely; there are upsides and downsides to so doing, as there are with all the options facing Scotland. But as a simple statement of fact, Salmond is unquestionably right to say that Scotland can keep the £ if it wishes. The only question which causes uncertainty is the terms under which it continues to do so; and the biggest problem in relation to that is the intransigence of people like Darling, who knows as well as anyone else that the ultimate outcome will be a negotiated agreement of some sort.
Whether Salmond is wise to continue to reject any suggestion of a Plan B is another question. Being right in fact isn’t always the same as being right in terms of a political campaign, and I can well understand the call by Jim Sillars last week to start talking about Plan B, a Scottish pound pegged to the value of sterling, probably as the precursor to Euro entry. (The fear of talking about the Euro is understandable, but the currency continues to expand. A fortnight ago, the final terms for Lithuanian entry on 1st January 2015 were agreed – the subject isn’t a no-go zone for discussion everywhere.) No doubt a change of tactic at this stage would be portrayed as flip-flopping – it’s a bit of a no-win situation for Salmond. The real question is whether Scots will see through the unionist bluster on the subject.