Pensions are a matter of great concern to many Scots, and as a result the No campaign spends a considerable amount of its time trying to frighten people into believing independence represents a threat to their pension. Yet as with currency, pensions are one of the few aspects of the independence debate about which it IS possible to state the position with certainty.
For example, Labour MP Ian Davidson, chair of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, made these comments in the House Of Commons in May 2014:
“The state pension of any individual in Scotland, in the event of separation, would not be adversely affected [...] they would continue to get the level of state pension, the same as everyone else in the UK… people themselves can be assured that their pensions are secure.”
Mr Davidson was reflecting a statement to the committee by UK government pensions minister Steve Webb, which was reported in the Scotsman the same day:
“State pensions would still be paid after independence, a UK minister has told MPs, despite concerns raised by the Better Together campaign.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, Lib Dem pensions minister Steve Webb said that anybody who had paid UK national insurance would be entitled to their state pension whatever the outcome of the referendum.
The intervention contradicts concerns raised by former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling, the leader of the Better Together campaign.”
And in any event the facts had been well established long before then, with the Department for Work and Pensions having made a similar statement in January 2013:
“If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension, you will continue to receive it just as you do at present.
Anyone who is in receipt or entitled to claim State Pension can still receive this when they live abroad. If this is a European country or a country where Britain has a reciprocal agreement they will continue to receive annual increases as if they stayed in Britain.”
Public sector pensions will be equally safe. In May this year Neil Walsh, the Irish-born pensions officer for the Prospect trade union (which is neutral on independence), conducted a conference call for union members to explain the ramifications of a Yes vote to the union’s members, and others in a similar position.
“If you [are] a member of a public service pension scheme that’s already delivered by a Scottish administration - and that includes the NHS, teachers’ pension scheme, fire authority, local government pensions - then literally I can’t imagine what would be very different under independence because you’re already having your occupational pension delivered by a Scottish administrator.
The responsibility for each and every one of those schemes, NHS, teachers, police, fire and local government, would be taken over by an independent Scotland and continue to be delivered in precisely the same way that you’ve always been used to.”
On the subject of UK-wide public sector pensions, such as those applying to the armed forces and civil service, Walsh noted that negotiation would be required between governments, but that nobody should worry and members wouldn’t notice any change:
“The Scottish Government says the most appropriate way to divide up responsibility is for them on independence to take responsibility for the state and public service pension of anybody who lives in an independent Scotland at that time, the UK Government says that that might not be the most appropriate way.
But I don’t think anybody says no-one will become responsible for your public sector pension after independence. It would be a matter for negotiation behind the scenes, and actually you as a member should just continue on paying your contributions seamlessly if you are an active member or receiving your benefits seamlessly if you’re a pensioner member.”
Private workplace pensions are the only area of uncertainty. EU rules impose funding requirements on pensions operating across national borders, which would apply to any UK-wide scheme.
However, there are numerous options available to circumvent this problem, the simplest of which is for the firms operating the scheme to set up a Scottish office and handle the Scottish and rUK sides separately. The decision as to which solution to adopt will be one for each company to make individually. Unfortunately it’s simply not possible to answer generically or in advance.
(In previous cases affected by these rules, such as between the UK and Ireland, the governments concerned have been able to make transitional arrangements while matters were sorted out. Unfortunately, the Westminster government refuses to discuss such arrangements before the referendum.)
But perhaps more to the point, staying in the UK doesn’t guarantee anything about pensions.
The idea that a No vote provides either security or certainty over pensions is simply a myth. Nobody can say what the next government England elects will do.