Politics

Sturgeon insists state pensions will not shrink under independence

NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted pensioners would get the same level of state pension under independence as they do now after her Westminster leader triggered a row on the issue.

The First Minister said people currently in receipt of the pension would “notice no difference” or even get more than at present.

However she did not say the same would apply to future pensioners, leading to Tory claims that the SNP was “all over the place” on the subject.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford this week said the UK “retained an obligation to pay pensions to those who had paid National Insurance”, regardless of the country they lived in.

In an interview with ITV Border, he said: “It’s an obligation on the UK Government to meet the commitment to pensioners who have paid National Insurance contributions.

“They have paid the right to receive that pension. 

“You can argue about the mechanism over how that is transferred, and that will be debated, but it’s right the UK Government meets its right to pensioners, regardless of where they are.”

He went on: “If you or I, as UK citizens, go and live and in another European country then our right to that UK pension remains. Scottish pensioners have that right. They have paid National Insurance over a long period to get that. That will remain.”

The Scottish Government White Paper on independence before the 2014 referendum said only “current pensioners” would get the same cash, not future ones.

It said: “Current pensioners will receive their pensions as now, on time and in full. Accrued rights will be honoured and protected.”

It said those working at the point of independence would have a split pension in future based partly on their “UK pension entitlement accrued prior to independence” plus a Scottish State Pension accrued after it, at a level that would be set after independence. 

But Mr Blackford seemed to suggest the UK would keep paying for pensions in Scotland regardless of the timing.

“You are paying National Insurance as an entitlement to a future pension. 

“That’s the whole point of the principle. You pay into a National Insurance fund, and the UK is responsible for the disbursement of that, but that’s a right to a UK pension – no ifs, no buts, about that.”

There is no ringfenced “National Insurance fund” – pensions are paid out of current state tax revenue.

At FMQs, Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her plan to hold Indyref2 by the end of 2023, Covid permitting, saying it was a chance for people to break away from a “disreputable, discredited Government” at Westminster.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser then asked her if it was “really now the SNP position that pensions in an independent Scotland would be paid by taxpayers in England?”

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Fraser’s remark was a sign the Tories were “really, really nervous” about Scots voting Yes. 

She said: “When Scotland votes for independence, as was the case in 2014, the distribution of existing UK liabilities and assets, including those related to pensions, will be subject to negotiation, and Scotland will fully pay its way in that. 

“However, the key point for those who are in receipt of pensions is what the UK Government minister for pensions [in 2014], Steve Webb, confirmed: that people with accumulated rights would continue to receive the current levels of state pension in an independent Scotland.

“People will notice no difference – or perhaps the difference that they might notice is that an independent Scotland might be able to improve the level of pensions, rather than having, as the UK has, one of the lowest pension levels in the whole of the developed world.”

A Tory MSP shouted out to ask which currency it would be paid in, but she did not reply.

In May 2014, Mr Webb was asked at the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee if people’s pensions would be secure if Scotland voted for independence. He answered: “Yes, they have accumulated rights into the UK system, under the UK system’s rules. 

“Take a Scottish person who works all their life and then retires to France… they still have an accumulated pension right in respect of the National Insurance they have paid in when they were part of the United Kingdom.”

However a week later he added to his evidence: “I would think the Scottish people would expect their Government to take on full responsibility for paying pensions to people in Scotland, including where liabilities had arisen before independence.”

Mr Fraser said: “The SNP are all over the place on their claims that UK taxpayers would keep paying Scottish pensions after independence.

“Nicola Sturgeon resorted to quoting Steve Webb in 2014 – despite knowing he subsequently corrected the record, and the SNP White Paper was clear  the Scottish Government would assume responsibility for paying pensions.  

“The Scottish public want honest answers on the economics of an independent Scotland and no amount of theatrics and bluster will disguise the fact that the SNP have none.

“The economic case for independence has never been weaker. Nicola Sturgeon and her fellow nationalists should stop trying to hoodwink the Scottish public and come clean about the harsh financial realities an independent Scotland would face.”

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