The UK Government has now taken to using publicly a clear line about the independence referendum. A Yes vote, and Scottish independence, will lead to Scotland leaving the United Kingdom (despite semantic objections from the Yes side). That means an independent Scotland will also cease to be part of UK institutions. It can’t expect to be able to maintain participation in such bodies as the Bank of England (as emphasised by the row over currency union), the BBC (illustrated by Maria Miller’s comments in Oxford), and others. The European Union is another of these. Lord Wallace’s impending speech makes the point vividly clear. Expect to see the research councils added to the list over the coming weeks, as another body where an ‘independent’ Scotland would seek to share arrangements with rUK. There may be some hard choices to be made about a common travel area and its security implications. The ground for both of those has already been laid in the Scotland Analysis papers. And expect arguments about such detailed matters as the organ transplant ‘pool’, which currently operates on a UK-wide basis.
None of this should be a surprise. It’s been implicit in the UK Government’s position since the beginning of the Scotland Analysis programme. Remember that that kicked off with an analysis of the international legal issues, concluding that (r)UK would be the successor state in international law and Scotland would be a new state. The line of argument now emerging is simply the logical fulfilment of that.
This is also perfectly consistent with the strategy of the Unionist side in another respect. Since the May 2011 Scottish election result, and David Cameron’s prompt acceptance of the need for referendum and stipulation that it be ‘legal, clear and decisive’, the UK Government has pursued an excluded-middle Continue reading
Nicola Sturgeon’s lecture for the Constitution Unit on Thursday evening, 13 February, was a rare opportunity for her to speak to a London audience, and for a London audience to see her. What they heard was a very slick presentation of the SNP’s case for ‘soft independence’, carefully tailored for the audience, and predicated on advancing Scottish self-government rather than breaking up the UK. Her key arguments were that Scotland could be independent, and was well-prepared for that because of the development of devolution; that Scotland could and should become independent, because Westminster’s politics and policies were at odds with those of Scotland; and that independence would be a firm basis for good relations with all the nations of the British isles. She emphasised that Scottish independence was ‘emphatically not separatist or insular … [n]or … driven by antipathy towards or resentment of our neighbours in the rest of the UK.’ Indeed, she said she was sure independence could be achieved without any lingering sense of resentment in the rest of the UK. She added that the debate was not about ‘identity’ and that the SNP were not asking people to choose their identity as part of the process which may come as a surprise to some observers). Rather, it was about the best form of self-government for Scotland.
Much of this was familiar to those who have heard the SNP in recent years, and much could be strongly contested. The line that Scotland’s politics were different to those of England was undermined by arguing that Scottish independence would not doom the rest of the UK to unending Conservative governments, for example. Sturgeon made a good deal of how important it was for Scotland to have control of such issues as economic management, defence and foreign affairs from Westminster – even though an independent Scotland’s room for manoeuvre under its white paper blueprint would be limited, and even though there is little sign from polling that these issues are key in voters’ minds. Continue reading
The heavy trailing of an announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and Danny Alexander and Ed Balls) that the UK Government is not prepared to establish a currency union with Scotland for use of the pound in the event of Scottish independence (see also BBC News coverage here) is a serious blow to aspirations of the SNP for a form of ‘independence lite’. The logic of this was that it would avoid disrupting many key symbolic and economic ties between an independent Scotland (iScotland) and the remainder of the UK (rUK), so comforting swing voters about the limited scale of the risks of independence. Those risks are real; think of how attractive Scottish investment trusts and insurance companies look if the complexities and exchange-rate risks of using a different currency are introduced into the equation, for example. But this shift in the ground also emphasises a number of key issues about the implications of a Yes vote, and what would happen after it.
The first problem – which is particularly the case with the idea of a currency union, but applies to many other important issues – is the asymmetry of interest. A currency union is central to the way the SNP has formulated its model for independence. (That view can be contested, of course – whether by the likes of Jim Sillars on, essentially, autonomy grounds, or by Angus Armstrong and Monique Ebell on economic ones, relating to the flexibility of economic policy instruments and the implications of a debt burden.) But it is of marginal interest or benefit to rUK at best, poses a serious risk at worst, and concluding that the risks of it from an rUK point of view exceed the benefits is a reasonable judgement to come to. This isn’t the only issue where iScotland has a strong interest in something of limited concern to rUK, either. In bargaining situations, iScotland has got to have something convincing to offer to rUK – and other than staying in the UK, or the Clyde nuclear bases, it’s hard to see what that might be. Continue reading
There has been remarkably little public discussion of what would happen if there were a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum. The widespread assumption seems to be that negotiations would be swift and straightforward, and Scotland would readily become an independent state. The Scottish Government’s position (previously set out in the February 2013 paper Scotland’s Future: from the Referendum to Independence and a Written Constitution, but repeated in the independence white paper) remains that May 2016 would be when Scotland would become independent. That is a very simplistic approach; negotiations would be complex, possibly protracted, and gravely complicated by the May 2015 UK general election. Considerations about timing, and the impact of the referendum vote would affect the strength of the various negotiating positions, as well.
Nick Barber of Oxford University has now written an exceptionally good post about the implications of Yes vote. I don’t wholly agree with it, but it should be read by anyone thinking seriously about these issues. It can be found on the UK Constitutional Law Association’s blog, here.
In a separate but related development, the Lords Constitution Committee at Westminster has announced an inquiry into the implications of a Yes vote. There’s news coverage from the BBC here, and details of the inquiry and its call for evidence here. The closing date for submissions is 28 February 2014.
UPDATE, 27 January: There’s also a Lords debate on Thursday about ‘The implications for the UK of the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum’. Details are here.
The SNP’s silence about the constitution of an independent Scotland in recent years has been resounding. It adopted a draft constitution for an independent Scotland in 2002 (hard to find online, but a copy is here), following work led by the late Neil McCormick. In more recent times it has been silent on the point, and the only work on the subject has been done by an independent group, the Scottish Constitutional Commission, which led to the publication last year of a ‘model constitution for Scotland’ by W. Elliott Bulmer. (Details of that are here, and the Constitutional Commission’s website is here.) In a speech in London on Monday, available here, Alex Salmond weighed into the issue, and proposed that an independent Scotland should have a written constitution, to be drawn up by a constitutional commission to be convened in 2016 following a Yes vote in the independence referendum. The Scottish Government ‘s news release regarding the speech is here, and there’s coverage of it from BBC News here, the Scotsman (quoting me) here, and discussion in the Guardian (quoting this post) here.
Including social rights in constitutions is always problematic. This is proposed in Bulmer’s Model Constitution as well as now by Salmond. No matter how one qualifies it – a common formula, followed by Bulmer, is to refer to a right ‘as implemented by law’, with the intention of subjecting the safeguard to the policies determined by the legislature (but also making the Continue reading
I’ve a piece in today’s Guardian Comment is Free following the close vote at the SNP’s conference in Perth in favour of an independent Scotland joining NATO. The text of the resolution proposed by Angus Robertson MP and Angus MacNeil MP is here (but not, it seems, on the SNP’s own website). The vote has been accompanied by declarations – by Alex Salmond on the Andrew Marr Show, and by a vote due at the party’s next National Council meeting – that not only would an independent Scotland be non-nuclear, it would positively outlaw nuclear weapons. This is a problematic policy for the SNP, as NATO is innately a nuclear alliance. Its ‘strategic concept’ emphasises that, ‘as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.’ Membership of NATO would necessarily mean sheltering under the Alliance’s nuclear umbrella, through its mutual defence guarantees, and that would mean those weapons would be on NATO vessels that might sail in Scottish waters (or perhaps fly in Scottish airspace) even if they were never based in Scotland. Then, of course, there are the issues relating to the UK’s nuclear bases on the Clyde.
The Guardian piece – available here - discusses the vote at Perth and wider issues about nuclear weapons, both for an independent Scotland and in relation to referendum campaign strategies.
It’s also worth noting that the Royal United Services Institute published a paper A’the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland by Stewart Crawford (a former British Army officer and SNP candidate) and Richard Marsh, an economist, last week. The paper considers the defence needs of an independent Scotland, and what its defence policy might look like. There’s a news release here, and the paper itself can be found here. It’s part of a wider programme of work by RUSI on Scotland and defence, which can be found here.
In his speech to the SNP conference in Perth (available here), Alex Salmond has suggested that there will be a ‘paving bill’ for the independence referendum. The principal reason for this is the need for a separate electoral registration process to enable 16 and 17 year olds to vote, as they are would not be included in the register produced by the usual electoral registration process. That bill, the First Minister says, will be introduced ‘in the next few weeks’. (I pointed out some of the practical problems with producing a register of under-18s so they could vote in the referendum HERE.)
The idea of a paving bill is a shift in the proposed timetable and programme for the referendum, which has only ever talked of a single referendum bill and not a preliminary paving measure. It’s a practical step, as otherwise work on this difficult area would have to be postponed until the main referendum bill is passed. As that is planned to be October 2014, only 12 months before the planned referendum date, that is about when the register would need to be compiled. Similarly, if those aged 16 and over are to be eligible to vote at the referendum, the register will need to include not only those aged 15 at the date it is compiled, but also some 14 year olds in order to catch those who qualify immediately before the day of the vote. All this is a task of some administrative complexity – and some cost.
The agreement publicly reached between David Cameron and Alex Salmond for the holding of a Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 marks the end of a long, and unduly protracted, process. (There’s an account of the latter stages of that by Alan Cochrane of the Telegraph here which strikes me as well-informed if incomplete.) The agreement itself (with the draft section 30 order at the end) is here. The news story about it from Number 10 is here, and that from the Scottish Government is here.
The deal itself is a good and necessary one, if not particularly surprising in its content given the various leaks and rumours about it over the last few weeks. It is also one which delivers each government its key requirements, so in that sense it is a good deal for both sides. And, of course, it confirms that a referendum will indeed happen.
How we got here
It’s worth remembering how we got to this point. The SNP fought the 2007 election on a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum if elected, and to publish a white paper on independence before then. That commitment meant that a vote for the SNP would not necessarily be a vote for independence as such, which helped boost support for the SNP so it was able narrowly to win a plurality of votes and seats at that poll, because the election turned into one about ‘valence’ and competence not high-level ideology. In other words, the Continue reading
There have been indications – leaks, rumours and even official statements – for some time now that agreement on the section 30 order to confer power on Holyrood to call a referendum on independence was near (see BBC News from the last few days here and here, or Severin Carrell in the Guardian in early September here and on Wednesday here). Indeed, I was on BBC Radio Wales’s phone-in yesterday to talk about the supposed agreement, to find that the latest news was that Alex Salmond was keen to emphasise that a deal had not yet been done, which led to the over-reaction that the deal was off. In any event, there is to be a meeting between Salmond and David Cameron on Monday, supposedly to sign off the section 30 order. (The SNP seem to have won a protocol struggle here, with Salmond succeeding in putting himself on the same footing as Cameron, while more junior ministers such as Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Moore do much of the sherpa-ing for the premiers’ summit.)
The order will, apparently, permit a single-question referendum, to be held not later than 2014, and regulated by the Electoral Commission. The single question and the regulation are points on which the UK Government (and Labour) have been determined since May 2011, and have been conceded by the Scottish Government; the date has been chosen by the SNP, but was initially resisted by the Unionist side. However, the question of who can vote in the poll has now become an area of controversy, because of the SNP’s desire to ensure that under-18s can vote. This was a focus of the debate around a private notice question in the Lords on Wednesday, asked by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (and available here), and again on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Thursday morning.
I was asked by the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent, Severin Carrell, to write something about José Manuel Barroso’s remarks about ‘seceding’ states becoming members of the European Union, which suggested that the EU would not automatically accept Scotland as an EU member as a ‘successor state’ to the current United Kingdom. A statement by the Commission President is clearly not determinative of what might hypothetically happen in a few years’ time, let alone what view other EU institutions might take – membership issues will fall ultimately to the European Council to decide. However, Barroso’s statement raises the stakes, raising legal issues (as the ‘state succession’ issue is only part of the legal argument about Scottish EU membership, the other part arising from EU citizenship), as well as political ones. In it, I try to explain the two lines of legal argument, how Barroso’s statement is unhelpful to the SNP’s referendum strategy, and how it seems to reflect a rather narrow view by the Commission of what the EU is about that would seem to be at variance with other activities of the Commission.
The piece has appeared on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site, and can be found HERE. To judge from the volume of comments, it has excited a good deal of interest.