Five steps on the road to Scottish independence

Now the SNP have a majority in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish independence is back on the political agenda.  But there are five steps along the road to independence, and the Scottish government needs to negotiate each one.  The Constitution Unit set these steps out in our book Scottish Independence – A Practical Guide, by Jo Murkens and Peter Jones (Edinburgh Univ Press, 2002).

The first step is that a bill needs to be passed by the Scottish Parliament authorising a referendum.  The referendum would ask the people of Scotland to approve the Scottish government entering into negotiations with the British government.

The next step is the referendum itself.  Opinion polls have consistently shown support for independence remaining at around 25 to 30 per cent.  A vote for the SNP in Scottish elections may or may not translate into a vote for independence come referendum day.

The third step, if the referendum is passed, is negotiations with the British government about the terms of independence.  These will include division of the national debt, North Sea oil, the future of the defence bases on the Clyde, Scotland’s membership of the EU.  The Czech-Slovak velvet divorce in 1992 required 31 Treaties and over 2000 separate agreements.  Their equivalents for Scotland and the UK would take a long time to negotiate.  Once concluded they would constitute the terms of independence, on which the people of Scotland deserve a separate vote.

The fourth step would be legislation for a second referendum, asking the people of Scotland to confirm that they want independence on these terms.  This referendum can only be authorised by Westminster, because it is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament unilaterally to declare independence.  But in formal terms, the passage of the legislation may not prove too much of a stumbling block. Successive British prime ministers have long recognised the Scottish people’s right to self determination.  David Cameron has repeated that he will respect the will of the Scottish people.

The final step is the second referendum, asking the people of Scotland if they want independence on the terms which have been negotiated.  The first referendum, if passed, would give the Scottish government authority to demand independence, and compel the UK government to enter into negotiations.  The SNP have said a second referendum would not be necessary.  But it would give the people of Scotland the opportunity to know the detailed terms of independence before making their final, momentous decision.

5 thoughts on “Five steps on the road to Scottish independence

  1. The two referendums proposal is not workable.

    An initial referendum on negotiation, whether it is a straight question or a preferential three-way choice with full fiscal autonomy also on offer, is relatively simple to administer and produces a clear outcome.

    The second referendum may fail in both of those respects. There only yes voters, those who approve the principle and the terms offered, may signifiy their wish clearly. On a straight yes or no voting paper, however, no conflates those voters opposed in principle to ending the Union with those dissatisfied with the terms. This may be satisfactory to some groups, but for other voters it may instead be reminiscent of the 40% rule. As a consequence, rather than reinforcing the legitimacy of the process, which is the author’s stated intent, this would instead tend to weaken it. Nor is a preferential vote, which would avoid such concerns over legitimacy, practical. Were the outcome to be that the majority of voters were favourable in principle but opposed to the terms on offer, this.would be meaningless unless those voters had a means to express the nature of their concerns. It seems painfully obvious that no such means is likely to be available.

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  3. “David Cameron has repeated that he will respect the will of the Scottish people.” – and you believe him?

    He promised the English something along the lines of English Vote for English Laws as well – so what happened? Nothing. He gave a cast iron promise on a referendum on membership of the EU – so; where is it?

    If you want independence your only guarantee to get it is to open the poll up to the English; last time I looked there was more support South of the border than there was North of it.

  4. Is there any chance that the rest of the ‘United’ Kingdom could be included in the referendum on Scottish independence? I think there would be more chance of a resounding YES if we all got to vote.

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