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15 July 2014
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Scotland's Big Question

Why a ‘no’ to independence in September could have untold consequences for the country’s infrastructure pipeline
Plenty has already been written on the future of Scotland in the event that its people should vote for independence on 18 September this year. Whether it be warnings of economic oblivion or freedom from tainted institutions (see the current MP sexual abuse scandal, phone-hacking, but not the financial mayhem wrought by the likes of RBS and HBOS), everyone has a view.

A lot less has been written, however, on what happens if a ‘no’ vote proves to be the winner. To a certain extent, there is an assumption – particularly south of the border – that it will be business as usual and things will carry on as if nothing has happened.

That will not be the case. Apart from anything else, there are already provisions in place to give Scotland increased devolution in the future. In February this year, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced that the Westminster government will allow Scotland to raise and issue its own bonds for capital projects from 2015-16, assuming the country stays in the Union.

Some argue such a move is a sop to encourage people to vote against independence in September, but either way these enhanced powers could significantly increase the ability of the Scottish Executive to launch and deliver infrastructure projects.

The bigger question, though, is what will happen to Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party. After all, the whole rationale of the organisation is to secure independence from England and Wales: if it is defeated in that aim, will the party lose support? Will Salmond be accused of failing in his task and face a coup from within his own party? At present the Scottish First Minister looks pretty unassailable, but things can change rapidly in the aftermath of a defeat – particularly if it were to be a heavy one.

It could even result in a change of governing party at the next Scottish elections, as disillusioned nationalists drift away from the failed cause.

This, in turn, could have a huge impact on the infrastructure sector in the country, which has been thriving under the nationalists’ NPD model in recent years. Any new government would be unlikely to want to continue the model that has been such an important political tool for Salmond and his team, meaning the model could follow the same path as PFI once Labour was ousted from Westminster.

What other options would that leave for an incoming government? PFI, or PF2? Even an incoming Conservative or Lib Dem government would probably want to differentiate themselves from their Westminster colleagues, leaving a search for a new model the most likely outcome.

Admittedly, such conjecture is getting ahead of ourselves given what is yet to come – and of course the Scottish Futures Trust may well find a way to keep things moving under any new government. But it is another reminder of how closely the private finance model in any part of the (existing) UK is tied to political fortunes.

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Why a ‘no’ to independence in September could have untold consequences for the country’s infrastructure pipeline

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