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It's the economy, stupid: Swinney says indyref will be settled by voters' wider financial views

The independence debate will turn on where voters believe their best economic prospects lie, Finance Secretary John Swinney has said.

He said people will not be swayed by "crude" numbers, such as the UK Treasury's analysis that Scots will be £1,400 better off each year by remaining in the union.

He was speaking at a conference on Scotland's future in Edinburgh, where he answered questions from members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).

He said: "Clearly the type of programme that we have set out is designed to expand and to grow the Scottish economy. That is fundamental to the realisation of our aspirations and ambitions.

"I think the debate will turn on where people see their best economic prospects lying.

"That is where I think people will make their judgement. It is not crudely about 'do I believe this paper which says I will be £1,400 better off, or this paper that says I will be £1,000 better off'.

"It is about looking at all the information and saying where do I think my country is going to perform and achieve the best."

Mr Swinney faced questions on a range of issues, from an independent Scotland's fiscal position as part of a formal monetary union with the rest of the UK, to his views on recent abuse of public figures on social media.

Asked about the degree of economic independence Scotland would possess if it did manage to negotiate a currency union following a Yes vote, Mr Swinney referred to remarks made by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

Mr Carney said there would be some giving up of fiscal sovereignty to be part of a Sterling zone.

"That to me is a reasonable point," Mr Swinney said. "It was looked at by the Fiscal Commission. They said there would have to be some kind of agreement about levels of debt that a Scottish Government could tolerate, levels of borrowing that we could incur.

"I think these are reasonable constraints we could sign up to as a consequence of becoming an independent country and being in a Sterling zone.

"Once we do that, the framework is there for an independent Scotland to take the economic decisions which are in our competence to do so.

"Those characteristics of such a fiscal framework are not new to me."

Mr Swinney also gave his views on migration, saying the Government would grow the population by a further 5% over the next 15 years, and on the European Commission's decision not to introduce regulations that would have made private pensions cheaper to operate across international borders, benefiting an independent Scotland.

"I think the proposals that were widely expected to be emerging from the EU on cross-border pensions, I suspect, will be resurrected by the incoming commission," he said.

He described the unionist parties' plans for further devolution under a No vote as "incoherent", and on the abuse of public figures on Twitter, he said: "I deprecate that in its entirety."

Earlier during his speech, Mr Swinney also called on those opposed to independence to set out their own proposals to grow Scotland's economy.

He said: "There are no proposals from those opposed to independence to boost Scotland's productivity performance, to bring our investment in research and development up to the level of other European nations or to create more skilled jobs in Scotland.

A UK Government spokesman said: "Thanks to the Government's long term economic plan, the Scottish economy is growing, inflation is down and unemployment is falling.

"The biggest risk to the Scottish recovery is the Scottish Government's uncosted proposal for independence, it would cost every person £1,400 a year and would see Scotland give up the security of the pound."

The conference also heard from Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, who put forward his economic arguments for a No vote.

On a currency union, he said: "The issue about the currency union, on which Mark Carney was very clear, is that in order to have a currency union you need to have behind it a political union and a fiscal union, and it is precisely those things that the whole idea of independence is about dissolving."

Commenting on Mr Swinney's assessment that the UK Government's £1,400 figure was "crude", Mr Alexander said: "It's a very sophisticated figure. It's one that is based on the most in-depth analysis that has been done on Scotland's fiscal position.

"I think what is pathetic is that the Scottish Government's White Paper only has one page of figures in 650 pages, and that was just for one year of independence.

"The idea that that is a sufficient level of information for people to have in order to make up their minds, I think, is totally wrong."

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