I HAD hoped that Andrew Wilson’s Sunday National article looking back at four years of the Sustainable Growth Commission (SGC) report would have included something more in the way of adjusting to how feedback, critique and circumstances have changed in those four years.

I’ve written extensively about the report (see Common Weal’s policy papers A Silver Chain and Scotland’s Fiscal Future for detailed critiques) and I’m not the only one to have done so. I know therefore that he has received multiple questions about that report over those years but I have so far struggled to find much in the way of answers and unfortunately this article did not break that trend

(However, I must say that someone making a query on the distinction between the Bank of England and the UK Debt Management Office is one that must have passed me by, though I’m more than aware that the Bank of England isn’t the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to central bank structures so it shouldn’t be taken as a given that an independent Scotland should copy it wholesale).

The hot topic of the report was, of course, currency and there are certainly many questions to ask here. Could a Sterlingised Scotland use quantitative easing to get itself out of a crisis like the Covid pandemic or the climate emergency? In my opinion, almost certainly not. Could we re-enter the EU without a specific opt-out on central bank management requirements? Again, almost certainly not – and such an opt-out is almost certain to be denied. How long would it take to launch a Scottish currency if it was deemed necessary to escape being pulled under by a UK financial crisis? (We think it would take about three years to do so in normal circumstances.)

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Of course, currency isn’t the only topic covered by the SGC and there are plenty of other questions to ask there too. The most fundamental being to ask what “Sustainable Growth” actually means. The report itself is ambiguous here, though it implies that it means that Scottish economic growth could be sustained indefinitely.

This is, of course, impossible on a finite planet. The other meaning has a hint of greenwash about it, implying that the growth itself would be sustainable in the climate sense – something which Zero Waste Scotland’s Decoupling Advisory Group explicitly refuted (disclosure: I was a member of the group).

One question many have raised is around the SGC’s approach to settling debts and assets between Scotland and the remaining UK. It has favoured a so-called “Annual Solidarity Payment” which involves paying £3 billion a year to the rUK to subsidise UK debt interest payments.

This would be in lieu of taking on an agreed share of inherited debt but, crucially, would apparently continue indefinitely without any means of ever “paying off” said debt. There are few firm timescales in the report about what “indefinitely” would mean but it did model such payments out to 30 years post-independence.

There are many ways to settle accounts between separating states (see Common Weal’s paper Claiming Scotland’s Assets) but the idea of this kind of Annual Solidarity Payment may be without precedent. I would really like to know how this policy was formulated and why it was agreed.

Linked to the Solidarity Payment is the idea of sharing public services with rUK (by which the report means buying said services from rUK to the tune of £1 billion per year). Little is said about which services should be shared so I’ll leave it as an exercise to readers to suggest which services in an independent Scotland they think the UK should continue to operate for – to quote the report – “a transitional or extended period of time”.

The DVLA perhaps? How about outsourcing social security to the DWP? Or immigration controls to the Home Office? Or perhaps we should begin to build these offices now so that an independent Scotland can run its own public services from Day One?

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The original SGC report was built with limited involvement from wider civic Scotland (a fact now admitted in the failure to engage with the STUC) and, perhaps more importantly, from the wider independence movement. With the Scottish Government in the process of producing a refreshed White Paper, there is still time to reach out and make that engagement.

Our movement is now better informed than it was in 2014 and there is a wealth of knowledge and expertise not just willing to be asked but in many cases actively promoting the work they’ve done despite not being asked. We want to be engaged, not merely be the ones throwing questions back to those descending from the mountain without answers.

We won’t agree on every single policy detail but, as my final question, surely we can all agree that anything built with the movement will be better than anything that one person, party or government attempts to impose upon it?

Craig Dalzell is head of policy and research at Common Weal