Townsfolk in Montrose were given the chance to pick Finance Secretary John Swinney’s brains on the SNP’s campaign for an independent Scotland when he visited the town.
Around 60 people turned out to the event at the Park Hotel last Wednesday (March 5) to ask him questions and air their concerns in the run up to the referendum vote on September 18.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has given a commitment that over the next nine months people across Scotland will be able to put their questions directly to him and his Cabinet colleagues.
The Finance Secretary’s visit to Montrose was the first of these question and answer sessions in Angus and only the second Mr Swinney has conducted.
He said: “This is one of a series of events across the country where ministers are making themselves available to address issues around constitutional debate and points raised in the Government’s white paper, which sets out all the details around the proposal for Scottish independence.
“It’s an important part of our campaign that we are involved in dialogue directly with communities.
“This is an opportunity for people to put forward their points and to ask ministers questions. Given that this is such as significant issue for the people of Scotland we’ve got to have that open dialogue.”
Mr Swinney said that the events had been received “very well” by members of the public.
Issues raised by townsfolk at the Montrose session included youth employment, how assets and the current debt would be divided between Scotland and the rest of the UK and pension schemes.
Currency was a hot topic at the Park Hotel with several members of the audience asking Mr Swinney if an independent Scotland would stick with the pound or opt for a new currency.
Mr Swinney told the audience that in an independent Scotland the SNP would keep the pound sterling to ensure companies trading between Scotland and the rest of the UK could do so “without interruption”.
He also said that Scotland would take its “fair share” of the debt which has accumulated over the years in the UK.
Mr Swinney dismissed fears that multi-national companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Montrose, would be put off from doing business in an independent Scotland.
He said: “Discussion around the referendum has been very active since 2011 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to Scotland and said companies were put off investing in the country because of talk about a referendum.
“Since then we’ve had two consecutive years of Scotland emerging in a leading position in the Ernst & Young investment attractiveness index.”
He added: “An independent Scotland would be a country that would have to operate a very dynamic economy.
“GSK has an excellent relationship with Scotland today and their site at Montrose is one of the magnets for investment in the company, which they would be able to develop in an independent Scotland.
“The company tell me they could not be more happy with what is being achieved by the workforce in Montrose.”
Mr Swinney said that GSK’s decision to make investments into the Montrose site, such as the £25 million expansion which was announced in November, was a testament to the staff at the plant in the town.
The Finance Secretary said that support for Scottish independence has been growing from around 38 per cent in November to 43 per cent in February and that he was confident that the SNP would get a majority vote in the referendum.
However, he encouraged everyone in Scotland to vote in September, even if they wanted to say as part of the United Kingdom.
He concluded: “This is a mega issue and I think we need to have a clear outcome and to have a clear outcome you need a majority for one side of argument and high levels of participation in the referendum.
“I would encourage all of the electorate, regardless of how they are going to vote, to vote, and to participate in events like this.”