ANDREW Neil is a forensic and highly capable journalist. His interview technique is a test of endurance, wit, skill and knowledge. It is also a test of the consistency of argument and perspective. His 30-minute grillings of the party leaders will be an important part of this election campaign.

He also performs, as all journalists do at their best, a very important public service. In holding politicians to account for their plans and performance he should keep them on their toes and answerable.

In a world where fake news, brass necks and extremist populism dominate the public discourse, thank goodness for people like Neil. I don’t know how he votes, though I can guess. But this is not the point. What should not be in doubt is that he represents one of the best political tests there is for leaders and their policies. It is grown up.

However, he can also get things wrong. And in this week’s testing of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon he did just that, whether by accident or design. She handled him with an impressive command of the facts and realities.

He was probing on important questions on the case for independence in Europe that will need to be answered. He didn’t have to mislead to get there and the interview was probably a touch less effective as a result.

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He made a few specific points that were inaccurate pertaining to the report of the Sustainable Growth Commission (SGC) and on the economics of public finances, currency and accession to the European Union. It is worth rehearsing those points here briefly, however the most important point for independence campaigners is to learn about these lines of scrutiny and attack.

Many are answered simply, others require nuance and pragmatism because so much of our transition to become independent and to rejoin the European Union will take time and pragmatism.

The Scottish Government and advocates of independence can, in response, choose bluster, denial and sophistry out of the canon of Johnson and Trump. Or they can set out a rigorous plan and tell the truth about what is black, what is white, and what are shades of grey. I think the latter is the only way to win, win big, and sustain that decision through the challenges and transitions that go with it.

The National:

No big choice about the direction of travel for any country comes free and easy and without trade-offs, costs and benefits. Leaving the European Union clearly doesn’t. Nor does changing government, changing policy or changing anything. What we are required to do is choose the future we seek and work towards that. And where that involves international co-operations like the EU it involves a level of diplomatic sophistication that has not yet been required in the Scottish political debate. However, when in doubt? Tell the truth.

Taking the Neil points quickly in turn: Firstly he said that the SGC report argued that it would take five to 10 years to re-join the EU. It didn’t. We argued that Scotland should seek to get back in as soon as practicable. What the timescale quoted referred to was the period required to put the public finances on a sustainable footing while growing public spending ahead of inflation and not assuming huge windfalls from growth. As a result, our estimate could prove overly conservative. But it also may not. It depends on what happens to our economy and public finances throughout.

The acquis on succession pertaining to the public finances does require member states to be subject to the Stability and Growth Pact which requires limits on public finance deficits (the annual balance of revenue and expenditure) and debt (the long-term stock or health). The SGC policy recommendation is to commit to achieving just that and purposefully because it is also in the interests of everyone to get public finances sustainable and our cost of borrowing as low as possible.

Scotland would begin the independence transition with a higher deficit than the other EU member states but with a lower debt position than almost all. The deficit is not as bad as it might first appear and can be dealt with purposefully. It is also a function of the unsustainable UK model. But we can’t deny we want to reform it.

I can see no constraint from this line of attack from Neil at all. And indeed, by re-joining the EU it is likely that our pace of improvement will be greater because of the attendant benefits.

Neil’s second line of attack was confusing and confused. He was probing the requirement to build reserves of foreign currency before launching a Scottish pound so that its value may be defended and stabilised by the Scottish Central Bank.

The point of this test and the other five are to ensure that Scotland keeps the pound throughout the independence transition and only creates its own currency when it is in our own interests. And not before.

But he spent a great deal of time arguing that Scotland had a deficit in the public finances and the balance of payments (our international balances) and so could not run up any reserves. He is right that the UK has the second worst balance of payments in the world and again a price of the UK model would be our starting point. The most sustainable way to fix that and increase reserves would be to grow export earnings in all of their forms which is a core recommendation and focus of the report of the SGC. But there are other tools available also.

However, Neil might also like to have observed that in preparation for a no deal Brexit the UK government has grown its foreign exchange reserves very substantially at the same time as running both a public finance deficit and one of the worst balance of payments positions there is. They rose by $23 billion in the fourth quarter of last year alone.

On currency itself the Succession Acquis is less clear and certainly does not require Scotland to immediately set up its own currency and then plan to join a third currency (the Euro) shortly after. This would be in neither Scotland nor the EU’s interests. But we cannot deny that our transition to both independence and EU membership would provide a unique circumstance for the EU and all the more positive for it.

We would set out in such discussions to promote our own interests and be a positive and contributing citizen of the European Union. There will be trade offs, not least in accommodating the choices made by the ever more extremist government of Brexit Britain. But in all directions our policy and approach will be to pursue mutual benefit, tell the truth and behave properly. This will be the antidote to the Brexit Culture and will be the only way to transition the country towards a better and more sustainable future.

But it will be a choice, it will carry costs and it will carry risks as well as benefits and opportunities. Those choices must be made with full transparency on a rigorous plan and contrast with the realities unfolding in Westminster and Whitehall on a daily basis.

There are still important points in the plan requiring work as a result of Brexit. But I believe that our case has never been more considered, more honest and set out more clearly. It represents the basis to persuade people that it will be worth effort it entails. The alternative could not be more grave.