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.
This article appears in the latest issue of the British Politics Review, published by Norway’s British Politics Society, in a special issue on Euroscepticism in the UK.
You wait for ages, and then suddenly two come along at once. What’s true of London buses also applies to constitutional referendums in the UK. Despite its apparent enthusiasm, the Labour UK government in office between 1997 and 2010 made only limited use of the referendum – in Scotland and Wales for devolution in 1997, in the North East of England for regional government in 2004, and in various localities for having elected mayors. Since 2010, there has been a mad flurry of referendum activity. The first was in Wales in March 2011, which approved increased law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales by nearly two to one. That was followed by one on the Alternative Vote (AV) system for UK Parliamentary elections in May 2011, rejected by more than two to one. Two more are looming – that on Scottish independence in September 2014, and another about the European Union proposed by Conservatives and under consideration in Parliament for 2017. There are some odd parallels between the two, and some important interactions between them too.
The Welsh powers and AV referendums were both slightly awkward exercises in constitutional deliberation. The Welsh referendum was legislated for by Labour, in the Government of Wales Act 2006, which created two systems for defining the law-making powers of the National Assembly. The differences between them were real and significant, but not easy to explain to the general public – one was a system of conferring legislative power on the Assembly incrementally, the other a grant of wide legislative powers affecting the same 20 subject areas. The real reason for holding the referendum was the impact of the Westminster Coalition, and the poll was held at the first practicable date. While advocates of a Yes vote include politicians from all parties, the biggest problem was the lack of an official No campaign – and with that, the lack of access to referendum broadcasts on radio and TV.
The Conservative Party has been getting very excited about an EU referendum, perhaps in the term of the current parliament, following Lord Lawson’s piece in the Times calling for UK withdrawal and reinforced today by news of a Commons vote next week. David Cameron, of course, has promised a ‘proper choice‘ at such a poll , but that would appear to be for the next Conservative manifesto. Such a vote would need more than Conservative support to get it through Westminster – another 19 votes, at least. The Lib Dems are unlikely to vote in favour, but there have been suggestions that Labour might support one after the next election – and it might enjoy putting the Conservatives in a difficult position for tactical reasons. So, while it’s unlikely, there is an outside chance of a UK-wide referendum on the EU, before that on Scottish independence.
I’ve addressed some of the implications of that, and the interaction between the two referendums, in a post for the Spectator‘s ‘Coffee House’ blog. That can be found HERE.
I’ve given Scotland on Sunday a preview of my IPPR report on devolution finance ‘Financing Devo More’ and they’ve given it generous coverage. There are news stories here and here, a comment piece by Guy Lodge and me regarding the wider politics of what I propose here, and an editorial here.
The paper should be available on Thursday, and we’re launching it at an event in Edinburgh on Friday. I’ll be writing more in due course to explain what the wider ‘Devo More’ project is about.
UPDATE, 22 January: Monday’s papers included coverage of the report’s implications for Wales in the Western Mail, available here. The Scotsman‘s coverage (here) included suggestions by David Mundell, Minister of State at the Scotland Office, that the unionist parties would have a collective ‘enhanced devolution’ position come the autumn, the first time he’s made any such suggestion.
The Herald had responses which included a general welcome from Alistair Darling of Better Together, and a dismissal of the proposals by Nicola Sturgeon. That’s available here. Sturgeon’s dismissal of the proposals is remarkable as the report not been published yet and so she can’t know its details. Despite the SNP’s earlier suggestions that it would have welcomed an ‘enhanced devolution’ option on the referendum ballot, it would seem determined to resist any actual proposal to deliver that.
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 gave evidence last Thursday to the Scottish Parliament’s Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee, which is considering the section 30 order that forms part of the ‘Edinburgh Agreement’ between the UK and Scottish Governments as a preliminary to the Referendum Bill proper. (My earlier post on that is HERE.) I appeared with Professor Aileen McHarg from Strathclyde University; Michael Moore, the Secretary of State, followed us.
My memorandum can be found here, and the transcript is available here. I can even be watched giving evidence on the BBC’s Democracy Live website, here.
My appearance, and remarks about the role of the Electoral Commission, led to coverage in the Herald on Thursday here, and in the Scotsman, leading page 1 on Friday, here. The other slightly surprising issues to come up in questioning were the role of the Civil Service and 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.