Uncertainty, oil price volatility, pension risk, public-sector job cuts, a deterioration in Scotland's public finances, the significant costs of establishing a new state: If I was to present any of these arguments as part of my case for resisting independence and promoting devolution I would be accused by the SNP of negativity, I would be attacked for talking Scotland down, I would feel the full wrath of the cyber nats with their post-midnight ruminations.
This week it turns out that the SNP's own Cabinet Secretary for Finance has been sharing all of these points and more with some chosen senior colleagues. In introducing his paper, John Swinney says he "assesses the public finances...from a position of reasonable knowledge and certainty". In other words, he thinks this is the truth. Well for once I agree with him but what I simply cannot comprehend is that if these are the facts, why will he not say so publicly? Does he genuinely believe the SNP will win the independence debate by hiding the truth from us?
For the last two years, I have had to give serious consideration to baseless, often fatuous SNP assertions about life in a post-separation Scotland – from Swinney himself about Scotland being the sixth-richest country on earth, when here he is secretly admitting to colleagues that "debt will be a significant feature of Scotland's budget after independence"; and on the publication of the Gers figures this week that Scotland's "stronger fiscal position... underlines the opportunities independence can deliver", when behind closed doors he is confidentially briefing the First Minister that even counting all the oil, Scotland's deficit will shortly be higher than the UK's.
My vision for life in a devolved Scotland is positively rosy compared to Mr Swinney's bleak forecast for independence, but under either scenario, I believe we are all entitled to hear a realistic and accurate assessment before deciding. Or is that information only to be trusted to a select few?
The Finance Secretary himself seems to see no inherent contradiction between this paper and his own belief in independence. The trouble is, there is a massive contradiction between the picture he paints and the claims the SNP publicly make.
In a particularly damning section, for example, on benefits and welfare, we discover that he is looking at the "affordability" of state pensions and observes "demographics is an important factor within this for Scotland given the ageing profile of our population. At present, HM Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) absorb the risk of growth in demand". Do they indeed! He goes on to state that, "We should be wary of assuming savings can be found quickly". I am staggered that the SNP believe the security of our pensions is simply a matter for the political consideration of their Cabinet rather than something we would all wish to weigh up.
On defence, the SNP's position has moved so often it is difficult to keep pace, but it turns out they're not going to spend anything. "I have made clear to the defence workstream that a much lower budget must be assumed."
I have no argument against the desirability of an oil fund, merely that you can't spend the money twice. Would you believe it, Mr Swinney admits an oil fund " would require some downward revision in current spending". That's cuts to you and me. Perhaps the comment that most bothered me was almost a throwaway line about public-sector jobs in which Mr Swinney talks about constraining increases in public-sector costs "through management of the size of the workforce". So here he is, freed from the supposed shackles of Westminster control and of a Tory government and he intends to press on with the public-sector job cuts.
Yes, I am frustrated, if not infuriated, by having to indulge in this false debate around independence rather than discuss the problems affecting Scots today: joblessness and the grim prospects for young people; households across the country having to cut back; the unfair access to education; and good health.
Honest John? Mr Swinney may have plucked up the courage to be honest in private, but not with the people who voted for him. He doesn't have the courage to stand up to his overbearing leader. He knows this is a government which suppresses all criticism, a leader who bullies juniors into silence and brow beats any dissent from the party line.
If we can't trust the SNP to tell the truth about independence, what can we trust them on?
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