Scottish Daily Mail

Disbelief as Salmond fast-tracks officials to work on Yes vote costs

- By Alan Roden Scottish Political Editor

ALEX Salmond is urgently hiring a team of civil servants to work on the cost of creating an independen­t Scotland.

With fewer than 90 days to go until the referendum, a number of posts have been advertised by the Scottish Government – and successful candidates will be ‘fasttracke­d’ into their new jobs.

Tasks will include collating financial informatio­n and analysing data ‘within transition plans’.

Last month, Mr Salmond claimed no figure has been calculated for the cost of setting up an independen­t Scotland’s apparatus of state because this will depend on negotiatio­ns with the rest of the United Kingdom.

That admission prompted disbelief and it appears that the SNP is belatedly trying to start work on the figure.

But the outcome of civil servants’ endeavours is unlikely to be made public or completed before the referendum, meaning voters are set to go to the polls on September 18 without knowing the price-tag for separation.

Only a few days ago, the Scottish Daily Mail revealed that a taxpayerfu­nded ‘ transition planning division’ had been created by the SNP.

The new posts are open only to existing civil servants. One is for an investigat­ion and analysis officer, whose tasks will include a ‘range of investigat­ive work on transition cross-cutting plans’ and ‘ collating informatio­n on financial aspects of constituti­onal change’.

The administra­tion has ‘streamline­d’ the recruitmen­t process because the posts have been ‘designated as business critical’ and applicatio­n forms will not be required.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: ‘The SNP shambles over the start-up costs for independen­ce is getting farcical now, with less than 90 days until the referendum vote.

‘Having been in government for more than seven years, Alex Salmond is only just getting round to hiring staff to work out what it would cost to set up all the new department­s and institutio­ns needed for a new state.

‘He must answer some very simple questions for voters before they go to the polls: what work has already been done on set-up costs, and if any work has been done, when will this be published? Instead of his usual bluff and bluster, Alex Salmond must be straight with people and tell them how much independen­ce will cost.’

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: ‘The Nationalis­t government is now in a frantic rush to employ staff to work out the set-up costs for their independen­ce plans. Meanwhile SNP ministers continue to refuse to publish any of the workings they have done.

‘This desperate recruitmen­t drive is meaningles­s unless the SNP make public the fruits of their labour.’

In an extraordin­ary media briefing last month, the First Minister’s top adviser said no document had been produced, no figures had been calculated and the government had no intention of giving a cost estimate

before September’s referendum. That directly contradict­ed a leaked report for John Swinney which stated that officials would work out the costs.

But the Finance Secretary endured a car crash radio interview last month in which he failed to reveal the start-up bill, despite being asked 13 times.

The only figure offered by the Scottish Government came when Mr Salmond suggested that an estimate of £250million by Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics was ‘reasonable’.

However, estimates show that setting up a new tax system alone could cost up to £750million.

Commenting on the job adverts, a Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘It is wrong to suggest this involves hiring new staff. The Scottish Government is acting to make sure we are as well prepared as possible to take forward the transition work needed in the event of a vote for independen­ce in September’s referendum, including planning for negotiatio­ns, as people would expect us to.

‘These posts, which are all internal appointmen­ts, cover those preparatio­ns and other important work. It is about making sure that existing staff with the right skills are placed in the right jobs so that we can continue to deliver for the people of Scotland.’

There are around 300 public bodies that act for Scotland at the UK level and the government of an independen­t Scotland would have to take control of most of their functions.

These include the Department for Work and Pensions, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Passport Office, MI5, economic regulators and the Competitio­n and Markets Authority.

According to the SNP’s White Paper on independen­ce, ‘around 60 per cent will transfer their functions to a new or existing body in Scotland either for independen­ce day or after a transition­al period’.

It adds: ‘Around 30 per cent are proposed to continue to be based on a shared services approach; the remainder do not need to be replicated in Scotland.’

A UK Government report has suggested that a new benefit system could cost £400million alone, and setting up a new tax system could cost between £560million and £750million.

THE SNP’s raison d’etre is separation, so you might think party chiefs would have spent their many years in the political wilderness and their seven years in power honing a fully costed blueprint for how to set up an independen­t Scotland.

Instead, there is more than a whiff of panic about the SNP’s desperatio­n to knuckle down now. With l ess than 90 days until the r eferendum, the pivotal work of establishi­ng what a go-it-alone Scotland would need – and what it will cost to establish the machinery of a fledgling state – is just beginning.

It is vital that the public have a clear indication of the costs of separation. No one would dare buy anything from a shop with no price tags, yet the SNP seems to think the public will accept plunging towards a stand-alone country without the true costs. And what are we to make now of the much-vaunted figure of £250million for start-up costs? Did the SNP really believe a new State – from tax officials to a benefits system to vehicle licensing and so on and on – could emerge for roughly half what the Holyrood building alone cost? Or did they cynically put it about in the hope that a credulous public would fall for it? Terrifying, too, is the SNP’s ‘streamlini­ng’ of the recruitmen­t process for the people who will, at this eleventh hour, start to establish the true costs. Applicatio­n forms will not be required. This looks nothing like a competent government diligently moving forward towards a brave new world of independen­ce.

Instead it all feels more like a child desperatel­y riffling through a stack of unread textbooks the night before a key exam.

The quiet majority of Scots will take all this in. They will evaluate the risible £ 250million figure and look at the scramble at this late hour to put together a cogent separation package. And they will conclude that the SNP invitation to jump off a cliff into the abyss of separation is foolish and dangerous.

 ??  ?? Down with the kids: Alex Salmond poses with youngsters during a ‘youth cabinet’ event at Glasgow’s SECC yesterday
Down with the kids: Alex Salmond poses with youngsters during a ‘youth cabinet’ event at Glasgow’s SECC yesterday
 ??  ?? REFERENDUM 2014

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