Review – Currency in independent Scotland

Andy Anderson, Currency in an independent Scotland, Anderson Publications, pp146 pages, 0992828422

‘Cometh the event so cometh the book’ or some such faux biblical utterance might be appropriate here as Andy Anderson can only have written Currency in an independent Scotland at a time when a second referendum was a reasonably vague hope for, at best, some point in the next decade, generation even. Yet another referendum last June, resulting in a victory for the ‘narrow nationalism’ that our newly anointed Prime Minister, Theresa May, apparently finds so distasteful, has overtaken political events so rapidly that a second referendum on Scottish independence is not only talked about but has been set on its legislative path by the Scottish Government and, thus, this book has appeared at exactly the right time.

Andy Anderson is unequivocal in his analysis of the failure of the 2014 referendum: ‘As we suspected, one of the big mistakes, indeed according to one influential poll by far the biggest mistake, was the currency issue. This issue alone lost the referendum for us but of course it was a link to other issues like savings and pensions …’. This reviewer has no doubt that this view is correct. The currency issue was the handbag that all too many of the ‘yes’ campaigners danced around, thereby, giving that darling man from Edinburgh, fronting for those footnotes of history, Cameron and Osborne, the opportunity to scare the fiduciary bejesus out of a significant section of the population.  20-scots-pence

Their message was a petted-lipped assertion than the pound belonged strictly south of the border and no one was to be allowed to play with it. As Anderson puts it: ‘To some of us who have an understanding of the role of money in the economy, the whole thing appeared as some sort of childish playground game … It seems all very immature and laughable but it was not that at all. It was a dangerous and undemocratic exercise on behalf of the UK Government, designed to instil fear and concern among the Scottish people, especially the elderly and the vulnerable.’

This time round we better have a viable, coherent and above all comprehensible answer to the currency question. Comprehensibility is of the utmost importance because very few of us actually understand money. I don’t. The closest I got to dealing with the semi-mystic notion of currency was by showing my students a genuine 200 million mark bank note dated September 1923. I assured them that in September 1913 this amount of money would have provided everything that their little Beckdashian hearts might desire. Then I turned the note around and asked them what they saw. Nothing. Hyperinflation meant that it wasn’t even worth printing on the back of it. There are few social groups more aghast at money, like, losing its value than a teenage audience but they appreciated that the undermining of the currency could lead to social dislocation and a loss of trust in democracy. And that’s fine as far as it went.

Andy Anderson is attempting to simplify the fearsomely complex matter of what currency actually is and how a newly independent Scotland could create a viable currency and for this I commend the book. Anderson admits that tethering a new distinctive Scottish currency to sterling is his least favourite option but that in the short term it is a perfectly viable course of action. The snag, it seems to me, is the prerequisite that negotiations have to be approached with a considerably greater degree of political maturity than was evident in 2014.

With May, Davies, Fox and Johnstone et al. looking to their political careers I wouldn’t hold my breath. Anderson next sets out the construction and maintenance of a wholly separate currency primarily using assets such as the value of the currency printed by the four Scottish banks. It had me convinced but at this point my brain began to hurt. Still, even if I don’t agree with all of the politics or much of the historical analysis of Currency in an independent Scotland I am somewhat wiser and that’s the point. Currency is a complex issue and we should all try to make more sense of it rather than not worry our pretty little heads and fear the worst … again.

Donald McCormick is a retired history teacher, anti-ideologue and a grumpy optimist.