LONDON – Escalating the fight against secession, the British government warned Thursday that Scotland would lose the right to continue using the pound as its currency if voters there say yes to a historic referendum on independence this fall.
“The pound isn’t an asset to be divided up between two countries after a breakup as if it were a CD collection,” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said. “The people of the rest of the U.K. (United Kingdom) wouldn’t accept it, and Parliament wouldn’t pass it. … If Scotland walks away from the U.K., it walks away from the pound.”
Osborne’s stark warning, delivered in a speech in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, represented a new willingness by unionists to take a hard line in persuading Scottish voters to shun independence in a September plebiscite. Passage would end Scotland’s 307-year-old marriage to England and cause the biggest shake-up in the British Isles since Ireland split nearly a century ago.
Scottish nationalists have insisted that their country, if independent, would retain the pound and other symbols of British identity.
In a reflection of the high stakes involved, Osborne, a Conservative, was immediately backed by his counterparts in the opposition Labour Party and in the Liberal Democrat party, the junior partner in Britain’s coalition government. The unusual show of unity was intended to put Scots on notice that, no matter which of the parties holds power in London after an election next year, none will support the use of the pound by Scotland if it secedes.
Advocates of independence dismissed Osborne’s warning as an empty threat, evidence of a panicky effort by opponents to sow fear and bully Scottish voters into voting no.
“If there was to be a different currency between England and Scotland, that would cost English businesses hundreds of millions of pounds in transaction costs,” said Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister of Scotland’s semiautonomous government.