Category Archives: Implications of Scottish independence

Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ piece on ‘What happens after a Scottish independence Yes vote?’

Drawing on my Belfast lecture, I’ve a piece in the Guardian‘s ‘Comment is Free’ section on what would happen following a Yes vote in September’s Scottish independence referendum.  I argue that the difficulties with a long transition are very great indeed, and that there are compelling reasons to ensure Scotland becomes independent by the time of the May 2015 UK general election if there is a Yes vote.  That  would be formidably difficult – not only are there are tough and complicated issues to be negotiated and resolved  between the governments, but also legislation needs to be passed by both Scottish and UK Parliaments (and the UK Government would need to pass a paving bill too).  But the problems caused by a longer transition are even more formidable, in my view.

The CiF piece can be found here.


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Filed under Implications of Scottish independence, Publications and projects, Referendums, Scotland, Scottish independence, Westminster, Whitehall

Lecture in Belfast on what happens after the Scottish referendum

I’m giving a public lecture at the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus on 15 May, on what happens following September’s Scottish referendum.  It will take place in the Conor Lecture Theatre at 5 pm.  The poster, with more details, can be downloaded here.  Please email Zoë Lennon on to confirm your attendance if you’d like to come.



Filed under Events, Implications of Scottish independence, Referendums, Scotland, Scottish independence

After a Scottish independence referendum Yes vote

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.


Filed under Implications of Scottish independence, Referendums, Scotland, Scottish independence, SNP, UK elections, Westminster, Whitehall

Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ piece on the SNP, NATO and nuclear weapons

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.

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Filed under Implications of Scottish independence, Intergovernmental relations, Policy issues, Referendums, Scotland, Scottish independence, SNP

London conference on ‘Scottish politics explained’, 3 July

I’m taking part in a conference organised by Holyrood Magazine conferences, taking place in central London on 3 July 2012.  It’s got an impressive line-up of speakers, including Henry McLeish, Jeremy Purvis and Jim Mather, MPs including Stewart Hosie, Margaret Curran and Danny Alexander, as well as a clutch of academics.  The aim of the event is to survey the current shifting ground of Scottish politics, as the independence referendum comes seriously onto the agenda.  I’m taking part in a panel discussion about economic and financial issues, along with Brian Ashcroft of Strathclyde University, Drew Scott of Edinburgh University, and Jeremy Purvis, the former MSP now involved in Reform Scotland’s Devolution Plus initiative.

Details of the event, including booking arrangements, are here.  It should be a good event, though it’s also rather expensive.

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Filed under Devolution finance, Events, Implications of Scottish independence, Scotland, Scottish independence, Westminster

Edinburgh seminar on intergovernmental relations and Scotland’s Constitutional Future

I took part in a private seminar on ‘Scotland’s Constitutional Future’ in Edinburgh on Friday, organised by Stephen Tierney from Edinburgh Law School and Tom Mullen from Glasgow Law School.  I’m happy to out myself as taking part, as I thought my presentation might be of interest to a wider group than those who were present in the splendid setting of the University’s Playfair Library.  It can be found HERE.

In my presentation, I start by sketching four reasonably plausible outcomes from the Scottish debates: the status quo, including implementation of the Scotland bill still before Parliament; ‘Devolution Plus’ (whatever that is); ‘Devolution Max’; and Scottish independence.  I then outline some of the key effects of those for intergovernmental relations.  Each, I argue, creates a significant and increasing amount of need for governments to co-ordinate their policies with each other, and to create adequate and effective machinery to do so.  That is as much the case to make the Scotland bill arrangements work as for more extended forms of devolution, and also remains true for independence.  For forms of ‘Devolution Plus’, involving (as I see it) signficant fiscal devolution and at least a measure of devolution of welfare benefits, that would raise major questions about how tax collection and administration of ‘Scottish’ benefits might work, which would imply very extensive changes for HM Revenue & Customs and the Benefits Agency.  Devolution Max would imply major changes relating to macroeconomic and monetary policy, and to European Union matters.

One big question here is whether the UK Government has the will and capability to embark on such large changes, given its reluctance to make even minor ones in the wake of devolution so far.

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Filed under Devolution finance, Implications of Scottish independence, Intergovernmental relations, Scotland, Scottish independence, Westminster, Whitehall

A grand constitutional convention for the United Kingdom?

Carwyn Jones’s intervention in the constitutional debates has been to decry the extent to which they have focussed on Scotland, and to suggest a grand ‘constitutional convention’ to agree a future for the United Kingdom.  This is an idea that has been around in Welsh, particularly Welsh Labour, circles for some time (see, for example, this piece on WalesHome by Mick Antoniw AM).

Such a proposal is rather a doubtful one, particularly at this time.  A convention would run huge risks of running into the ground, and might well undermine the very goal Jones is trying to achieve.

There are three specific problems with it.  The first is the question of who would take part in such a convention.  Would it be the devolved and UK Governments?  What about AMs, MLAs, MSPs and MPs?  How would delegations from the various institutions be chosen?  Who would speak for England, as a whole or its various parts?  It’s far from clear how one would constitute such a convention, and what their mandates might be.   And, if the purpose of a convention is to keep the UK together (or even widen the debate beyond a bilateral Scottish-UK) one, how is the  SNP to be included in that process?  It’s impossible to see how it could or why it should do so in the run-up to an independence referendum, especially if the remit of the convention is to continue to secure the integrity of the UK.  It was wording of precisely this kind that excluded the SNP from the Calman Commission, after all.  Political nationalism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is as valid a current of politics as any other, and must be included in the process, however uncomfortable that might be for unionist politicians, and however much it complicates already-difficult processes.

The second problem is that it’s premature at this stage to try to address these issues.  What are the interests of Wales here?  Jones may have a clear sense of the interests of Welsh Labour here (though others in the party may not necessarily share his view).  But there’s more to Wales’s interests than those of one party.  If there is to be some sort of grand convention, there needs to be much greater, cross-party consensus about what these might be, so that they can be taken into that convention.  That of course is a complex matter – there are great differences between the parties (and other actors with an interest) in these questions.  Until there’s some clear position, it’s hard to see how any convention can be established.

If those questions are problematic for Scotland or Wales, they’re much more difficult in England.  How can one identify the various units to be involved, and the relationship between them?  One of the several problems with England is precisely the lack of certainty about that.  Again, many currents of opinion within England need to be included, and many of those remain inchoate or developing.

The third problem follows from the second.  It’s pretty evident that what might be appropriate for Scotland is not for Wales, and the same for each other part of the UK. That is a long-standing problem, faced very notably by the Kilbrandon Commission in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which in effect came up with three positions on each major issue (the majority position, the minority position, and the Crowther-Hunt/Peacock dissent).  (See Wikipedia here for more details).

In reality, however, the problem now is even greater.  So far as the Union in the twenty-first century constitutes a bargain between its various parts, the bargain is different in each case.  What is vital for Wales is of much less importance in eastern England.  To the extent there is a ‘Scottish’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘north-east English’ interest in the Union, each of these is different.  Trying to set up a convention to resolve these issues without being clear about what the interests of the various groups are, and how they relate to each other, will be impossible.  The asymmetric nature of that bargain means that the first step in any process of trying to refound the Union has to be work out the interests of the various parts, in the hope that these can be reconciled.

Jones’s proposal resembles David Cameron’s moves regarding a Scottish independence referendum in one major respect.  It’s an attempt to abbreviate a process, and move straight from one of the first moves in the sequence to one of the last.  Constitutional politics becomes very dysfunctional if one does that.   The process is an important part of the substance; it becomes the means by which areas of agreement and disagreement are identified and resolved.  A big-bang approach cannot resolve such complex questions in any sort of stable or lasting way.

If the goal is to ‘refound the Union for the twenty-first century’, a better approach would be to start by staging that wider-ranging assessment of Wales’s interests for the foreseeable future, and see where consensus across Wales’s parties, civil society and public at large lies.  That would be far from easy, but it’s the unavoidable first step on the path Jones seems keen to tread.  That would, however, face two major problems of process.  One is the overlap with the work of the Silk Commission, which perhaps could have been the forum for this had the Welsh Government not tried to limit what it can and cannot look at through the terms of reference.  The other is the fact that the agenda for that assessment would need to be very open, in contrast to all the reviews that have taken place since devolution.  The terms of reference for the Richard Commission, the All Wales Convention and now the Silk Commission were all tightly constrained.  Those were not strictly observed in practice by either the Richard Commission or the AWC, but the restrictions showed an intention and still had some effect.  (It’s less clear if the Silk Commission feels similarly constrained; Paul Silk said they did not when he gave evidence to the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee last Tuesday).  If the goal Jones has set out were to be achieved, there could be no similar limit on a later Welsh commission – problematic though that might be.

The alternative approach – for politicians at UK level, rather than in other places – is to start to emphasise the many dimensions of the UK and its multi-national character.  It has so far suited the SNP to depict the relationship as purely a two-way affair, and unionist politicians in Scotland and at Westminster has gone along with that.   The lead in that has to come from the UK level, not Wales or Northern Ireland.  The Coalition has not been keen to articulate its overall vision for the UK, however.


Filed under Implications of Scottish independence, Wales, Westminster, Whitehall