Does a 670-page plan for independent Scotland have enough answers?

The Scottish National Party's white paper answers 650 questions about independence, but critics say it won't help Scots make up their minds.

Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond (l.) and deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon hold copies of the referendum white paper on independence during its launch in Glasgow, Scotland, today. An independent Scotland would keep the British pound, the queen and remain in the European Union but have its own defense force and collect its own taxes, Mr. Salmond said on Tuesday.

Scotland's pro-independence movement has launched its blueprint for the country's future, and it's 670 pages long.

"As of today, Scotland’s future really is in its hands," said Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, as he revealed the Scottish Government’s long-awaited white paper on independence in Glasgow Tuesday.

Titled "Scotland’s Future," the document maps out a separate Scottish state joining the European Union, keeping the pound, and getting rid of nuclear weapons.

The white paper includes a raft of policy proposals including generous childcare provisions for young children, a minimum wage tied to inflation, and the scrapping of unpopular housing-benefit reforms (dubbed "the bedroom tax") introduced by the government in Westminster.

"We know we have the people, the skills, and resources to make Scotland a more successful country," Mr. Salmond told a press conference at Glasgow Science Centre. "What we need now are the economic tools and powers to build a more competitive, dynamic economy, and create more jobs."

The white paper also includes answers to 650 questions that have been asked about issues such as the economy, how the welfare system would work, and the implications for defense.

Among other plans are the nationalization of the postal service and the creation of a new Scottish public broadcaster in an independent Scotland.

A boost for the 'Yes' vote?

Salmond and his Scottish National Party are hoping that the document, which out sets both philosophical and practical cases for independence, can reinvigorate a nationalist cause that has struggled to attract widespread support. Most opinion polls suggest the "Yes" side faces an uphill challenge to win next September’s referendum.

Opponents of independence were quick to decry the white paper as "fiction." Speaking just hours after the launch, Alistair Carmichael, Scottish secretary in the UK government in Westminster, said that "the Scottish government have deliberately sought to ignore the uncertainties and difficulties of independence."

"For years we have been promised that all the answers on independence would be in the white paper. The big day has finally arrived and we have 670 pages that leaves us none the wiser on crucial questions such as currency, pensions, and the cost of independence," he said.

Doubts have been raised about whether a detailed, data-heavy white paper is the most effective way for the nationalists to counter the incessant questioning from Better Together, the name of the campaign to stay in the union.

"Many Scots say they haven't enough information to make up their minds about independence. But all the white papers in the world won't produce more than an educated guess on this and other key questions. So Scots in search of unimpeachable certainty may be in for a disappointment," wrote journalist Lesley Riddoch in The Guardian.

David Torrance, a commentator and writer on Scottish politics, feels that the paper adds little new detail and is unlikely to have a significant impact on the Scottish electorate.

"I don’t see this moving anything on. Very few people will actually read this white paper," he says.

Not everyone is so circumspect about the white paper, however. Writing in the Daily Record, Joan McAlpine, an SNP member of the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, argued that the white paper answers "everything you ever thought to ask and some that probably never occurred to you."

"It makes America’s historic Declaration of Independence look like a Post-it note," she wrote.

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