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Politics and government of
The Scottish Government intends to hold a referendum of the Scottish electorate on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom in the autumn of 2014 using powers granted by Westminster using a Section 30 Order. The Referendum Bill, setting out the arrangements for this referendum, is likely to be put forward in 2013. The question asked in the referendum will be "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
After failing to obtain support from other parties for a referendum on independence during the 2007–11 Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Party (SNP) again pledged to hold an independence referendum and won an overall majority in the 2011 Scottish election. On 10 January 2012, the Scottish Government announced that it intends to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014. An agreement was signed on 15 October 2012 by David Cameron and Alex Salmond which provides a legal framework for the referendum to be held. The principal issues in the referendum are economic policy, defence arrangements, continued relations with the UK and membership of supranational organisations, particularly the European Union.
A proposal for Scottish devolution was put to a referendum in 1979, but resulted in no change, despite a narrow majority of votes cast being in favour of change. A Labour backbench MP successfully inserted a clause that the number voting 'Yes' had to exceed 40% of the total electorate. No further constitutional reform was proposed under the Conservative Thatcher and Major governments between 1979 and 1997. Soon after Labour returned to power in 1997, a second Scottish devolution referendum was held. Clear majorities expressed support for both a devolved Scottish Parliament and that Parliament having the power to vary the basic rate of income tax. The Scotland Act 1998 established the new Scottish Parliament, first elected on 6 May 1999.
A commitment to hold a referendum in 2010 was part of the SNP's election manifesto when it contested the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. As a result of that election, it became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament, the devolved legislative assembly first established in 1999 for dealing with unreserved matters within Scotland, and formed a minority government led by First Minister Alex Salmond. The SNP administration accordingly launched a 'National Conversation' as a consultation exercise in August 2007, part of which included a draft of a referendum bill, as the Referendum (Scotland) Bill.
After the National Conversation was concluded, a white paper for the proposed Referendum Bill was published on 30 November 2009. The paper detailed four possible scenarios, with the text of the Bill and Referendum to be revealed later. The scenarios were: No Change, Devolution per the Calman Review, Full Devolution, and Full Independence. The Scottish Government published a draft version of the bill on 25 February 2010 for public consultation. The 84 page document was titled Scotland's Future: Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper and contained a consultation document and a draft version of the bill. The consultation paper set out the proposed ballot papers, the mechanics of the proposed referendum, and how the proposed referendum was to be regulated. Public responses were invited from 25 February to 30 April.
The bill outlined three proposals: the first was full devolution or 'devolution max', suggesting that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for "all laws, taxes and duties in Scotland", with the exception of "defence and foreign affairs; financial regulation, monetary policy and the currency," which would be retained by the British government. The second proposal outlined Calman type fiscal reform, gaining the additional powers and responsibilities of setting a Scottish rate of income tax that could vary by up to 10p in the pound compared to the rest of the UK, setting the rate of stamp duty land tax and "other minor taxes", and introducing new taxes in Scotland with the agreement of the UK parliament, and finally, "limited power to borrow money." The third proposal was for full independence, stating that the Scottish Parliament would gain the powers to be able to convert Scotland into a country which would "have the rights and responsibilities of a normal, sovereign state".
In the third Scottish Parliament, only 50 of 129 MSPs (47 SNP, 2 from the Scottish Green Party and Margo McDonald) supported a referendum. Due to the opposition from the other main parties, the Scottish Government eventually opted to withdraw the bill after failing to secure their support.
The Scottish National Party repeated its commitment to hold an independence referendum when it published its election manifesto for the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election, in which it won an absolute majority for the first time. In a television debate days before the election, First Minister Alex Salmond stated that the referendum would be held in the "second half of the parliament". Salmond stated that this was because he wanted to secure more powers for the Scottish Parliament via the Scotland Bill first. The SNP gained an overall majority in the election, winning 69 of the 129 seats available, thereby gaining a mandate to hold an independence referendum.
In January 2012, the UK government offered to legislate to provide the Scottish Parliament with the specific powers to hold a referendum, providing it was "fair, legal and decisive". This would set terms of reference for the referendum, such as the question(s) asked, the electorate used and which body would organise the referendum. The Scottish Government then announced that they intended to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014. Negotiations continued between the two Governments until October 2012, when an agreement was reached.
The Scottish Government intends to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014. Some media reports have speculated that autumn 2014 was chosen by the Scottish Government because it was in the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, although these claims have been denied by Alex Salmond. (despite the anniversary actually occuring in June). Other reports have suggested that the date was chosen because Scotland will host the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2014 Ryder Cup in the months prior to the vote.
Under the terms of the 2010 Draft Bill, the following people would be entitled to vote in the referendum:
The Scottish Government is proposing to reduce the voting age for the referendum from 18 to 16, as it is SNP policy is to reduce the voting age for all elections in Scotland. As part of the agreement between the Scottish and British governments, it is likely that 16 and 17 year olds will be allowed to vote in the referendum. People in the United Kingdom are allowed to work and pay taxes when they are 16 or 17, but in England and Wales parental permission is required for marriage or serving in the armed forces.
In January 2012, Labour MSP Elaine Murray led a debate arguing that the franchise should be extended to Scots living outside Scotland, including the circa 800,000 Scots living in the other parts of the UK. This was opposed by the Scottish Government, who argued that it would greatly increase the complexity of the referendum and cited evidence from the United Nations Human Rights Committee that a referendum based on criteria other than residence would be queried by other nations. In the House of Lords, Baroness Symons argued that the rest of the United Kingdom should be allowed to vote on Scottish independence, on the grounds that it would affect the whole country. This argument was rejected by the British government, with Lord Wallace pointing to the fact that only two of 11 referenda since 1973 had been across all of the United Kingdom.
The Edinburgh Agreement states that the governments have agreed to promote an Order in Council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 in the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments to allow a single-question referendum on Scottish independence to be held before the end of 2014. The Order will put it beyond doubt that the Scottish Parliament can legislate for that referendum.
Until the agreement was signed, there were discussions as to whether the Scottish Parliament had the power to legislate for a referendum relating to the issue of Scottish Independence without a Section 30 Order. According to the BBC, under the current system of devolution, the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to unilaterally secede from the United Kingdom, because the constitution is a reserved matter for the parliament of the United Kingdom. However, according to the Scottish Government, the proposed referendum is an "advisory referendum on extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament", whose result "will have no legal effect on the Union." In January 2012, the UK government expressed the contrary opinion that the holding of any referendum concerning the constitution would be outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Lord Wallace, the Advocate General for Scotland, said that private individuals could successfully challenge a referendum bill passed by the Scottish Parliament.
The UK parliament could temporarily transfer legal authority to the Scottish Parliament to prevent this, but the Scottish Government had objected to the attachment of conditions to any referendum by this process. However, the Edinburgh Agreement allowed the temporary transfer of legal authority to be made.
According to the Edinburgh Agreement, the Electoral Commission will be responsible for overseeing the referendum, with the exception of the conduct of the poll and announcement of the result, and the giving of grants. In its role of regulating the campaign and campaign spending, the Electoral Commission will report to the Scottish Parliament. The poll and count will be managed in the same way as local elections, by local returning officers and directed by a Chief Counting Officer.
Based on the 2010 Draft Bill, for each specific proposal outcome that can be campaigned for, there would be allowed to exist one 'designated organisation', permitted to spend up to £750,000 on their campaign, including expenses, but they would also be entitled to one free mailshot to every household or voter in the poll. Political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament would be limited to a campaign budget of £100,000 including expenses, in addition to any activity through affiliation with one of the designated organisations.
The proposed limit on political party spending was revised to £250,000 in 2012. The Electoral Commission suggested, however, that the two campaigns should be allowed to spend £1.5 million each (twice as much as proposed) and that the political parties should be allowed to spend up to £1.5 million each, with their individual limit determined by performance in the 2011 Scottish election. This proposal would have given the No campaign a significant financial advantage, as the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Conservatives could also spend £900,000 each. When the Electoral Commission published their report in January 2013 it was proposed that the yes campaign should have a slight financial advantage, using another formula based on results in the 2011 Scottish election.
According to the Scottish Government's consultation paper published on 25 February 2010, the cost of holding the referendum was "likely to be around £9.5 million", mostly spent on running the poll and the count. Costs would also include the posting of one neutral information leaflet about the referendum to every Scottish household, and one free mailshot to every household or voter in the poll for the 'designated organisations' (See Campaign funding). There is to be no public funding for campaigns, which would also be subject to spending limits.
The Edinburgh Agreement states that the wording of the question will be for the Scottish Parliament to determine and will be set out in the Referendum Bill to be introduced by the Scottish Government. Under the terms of the agreement, the Scottish Government referred the proposed referendum question and any preceding statement to the Electoral Commission for review of its intelligibility.
Alex Salmond stated that his preferred question would be "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?". This formulation was criticised by some, who believed prefacing the question with "Do you agree" was intended to garner a positive response. After consultations by the Electoral Commission, the question was amended to "Should Scotland be an independent country?".
Salmond also stated that if those parties who want Scotland to remain in the union would like to propose a second question about increasing the amount of powers in a devolved settlement, then he would allow it to appear on the ballot paper as well. The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who have long supported Britain instituting a federal structure, questioned the possible outcomes of a referendum where both questions receive a majority but the "2nd question" regarding devomax/federalism had a higher majority. However, the UK Government insisted on a single question, and the Edinburgh Agreement clearly states that there must only be one question.
The campaign in favour of Scottish independence, Yes Scotland, was launched on 25 May 2012. Yes Scotland is being led by Blair Jenkins OBE, formerly the Director of Broadcasting at STV and Head of News and Current Affairs at both STV and BBC Scotland. The campaign is supported by the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party. Its launch featured a number of celebrities and urged Scots to sign a declaration of support for independence. Alex Salmond stated that he hoped one million Scots would sign the declaration, and on the 30th of November 2012 he announced that 143,000 had done so already.
The campaign in favour of Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom Better Together, was launched on 25 June 2012. Better Together is being led by Alastair Darling, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and has support from the Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats and Labour Party. The campaign works with the digital media company Blue State Digital.
A devomax for a more empowered Holyrood, instead of outright independence, was an option that Salmond and the SNP said could be attractive to Scots. However, it is not clear what that would involve. The BBC suggested that it could mean not having military chiefs and embassies, which would cost the Scottish government more money. Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore said that "devomax is really a brand without a product, a concept of more powers for Scotland without any detail about what that entails". Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron added that, should the vote go against independence, additional discussions on empowering Holyrood would occur. Debate in The Guardian suggested that Scottish independence could benefit England as well as Scotland, while also saying that devomax should not be on the ballot as it could result in cross-voting for those who favour independence but look at devomax as a fallback option.
The SNP is in favour of retaining cultural and other ties with the UK and would apply to join the Commonwealth of Nations. With regard to maintaining the British monarchy in Scotland, Salmond has said the monarchy would be retained and his close relationship with Queen Elizabeth II was seen as favourable towards maintaining ties. However, the Queen was still said to "fear" for the future of Great Britain, but will accept the result of the referendum. Scottish Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie also asked for clarification on the issue, while Holyrood's justice committee convenor, Christine Grahame, pledged to hold a referendum on maintaining a "full-blown monarchy, an edited version or go for a republic."
A principal issue in the referendum is whether or not Scotland would perform better economically as an independent state. Opinion polling has shown that a majority of Scots would vote for independence if it could be shown that the people would be better off. The Barnett formula has resulted in public spending being higher per head of population in Scotland than England. Scotland also produces more taxation revenue per head of population than the UK average, mainly due to the production of North Sea oil.
Given the large budget deficits incurred by the UK in recent years, the credit rating of an independent Scotland is also an issue. Despite these deficits, the UK had, until late February 2013, retained the highest triple A rating, resulting in it having low costs of borrowing to finance its debts. Fitch, a principal credit rating agency, refused in October 2012 to offer an opinion on what rating Scotland would have. The agency explained that it could not yet give an accurate view because the state of Scottish finances would largely depend on the result of negotiations between the UK and Scotland dividing its assets and liabilities. David Cameron has played down the importance of the credit rating after Fitch stated that they would review the UK rating during 2013.
Another economic issue is the currency that would be used by an independent Scotland. The two principal options would be to retain the Pound in some form of currency union with the United Kingdom, or joining the Euro. SNP policy is to retain the Pound, but either option would involve some form of budgetary constraints being imposed on the Scottish state. Alistair Darling, who is heading the Better Together campaign against independence, said that voters in the rest of the UK could choose not to be in a currency union with Scotland and added criticism of Salmond in the mantra "everything will change but nothing will change."
The Royal United Services Institute suggested in October 2012 that an independent Scotland could set up a Scottish Defence Force, comparable in size and strength to those of other small European states like Denmark, Norway and Ireland, at a cost of £1.8 billion per annum, "markedly lower" than the £3.3 billion contributed by Scottish taxpayers to the UK defence budget in the 2010/11 fiscal year. At their annual conference in October 2012, the SNP membership voted to drop a longstanding policy of opposing NATO membership.
The Trident nuclear missile system is based at Coulport weapons depot and naval base of Faslane in the Firth of Clyde area. The SNP objects to having nuclear weapons on Scottish territory. Alex Salmond has stated that "it is inconceivable that an independent nation of 5,250,000 people would tolerate the continued presence of weapons of mass destruction on its soil." British military leaders have claimed that there is no alternative site for the missiles. A seminar hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace stated that the Royal Navy would have to consider a range of alternatives, including disarmament. British MP Ian Davidson cited a UK report[vague] that suggested that the warheads could be deactivated within days and safely removed in 24 months. 
The SNP advocates entry of an independent Scotland into the European Union, but with reservations over keeping control of taxation and currency. The SNP has also argued that Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU and inherit the UK's exemptions, in particular that it would not have to adopt the Euro. Political opponents and some commentators have questioned whether Scotland would automatically gain EU membership and would instead have to apply. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, has implied that an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership. This was then contradicted by Professor Sir David Edward, a former European Court judge, who believes that Scotland and the rest of the UK would be in a comparable position. The European Commission offered to provide an opinion to an existing member state on the matter, but the British government confirmed it would not seek ask this advice on the grounds that it did not want to negotiate the terms of independence ahead of the referendum.
It was reported in The Spectator and The Independent that Spain may object to Scottish membership of the EU, amid fears of repercussion within its own Catalonia and Basque country. These reports were denied by the Spanish Government in January 2012. The Spanish Foreign Minister then changed his position in October 2012, stating that an independent Scotland would have to "join the queue" applying for EU membership.
Yes Scotland accused the UK Government of hypocrisy after David Cameron confirmed he would hold a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union should the Conservative Party win the 2015 General Election. David Cameron was among those criticising the Scottish Government for creating "uncertainty" by scheduling a referendum so far into the future, and for failing to make guarantees about an independent Scotland's EU membership. Yes Scotland added that Cameron's proposed referendum "makes it very clear that the real threat to Scotland's place in Europe comes from an increasingly Eurosceptic Westminster" and that "one of the central pillars of the No campaign's case is now crumbling".
Ireland's Minister of European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, was widely represented by organisations such as the BBC as holding the view that Scotland would have to re-apply to the EU, and therefore would be forced to temporarily leave the EU after its independence. However, Creighton later wrote to Nicola Sturgeon to clarify that her view was "largely in line with that of the Scottish Government", and that she "certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU". Creighton went on to agree with comments from the SNP's Andrew Robertson, who said that "the EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries" and that negotiations could be completed in the two-year period between the referendum in 2014 and the planned independence in 2016. Regardless, members of the Better Together campaign have continued to cite Creighton's original comments on platforms such as Newsnight Scotland and First Minister's Questions. Scottish Labour's Johann Lamont later accused the Scottish Government of "bombard[ing Creighton] with abuse" over her original comments.
There have also been suggestion that the 2014 Commonwealth Games, taking place two months before the election, in Glasgow could be used to showcase Scotland; though the SNP denied and criticised any links between the Games and the referendum, Scott Stevenson, the director of sport at Commonwealth Games Canada, related the Canadian experience with Quebecois nationalism and said:
I'm pretty optimistic there'll be greater interest in Glasgow than some recent Games. I've asked in meetings how we can expect the political issues to play out and that politics won't be put into the Games. Athletes want to come in and compete, unencumbered by politics."
This also came in light of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the last time Scotland hosted the Games, which was boycotted by a majority of countries due to British support for South Africa amidst a backdrop of the sporting boycott of South Africa. The timing parallel with using the Games and the referendum was also made by The Guardian.
Similarly, during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Salmond said that this would be Scotland's last appearance as part of Great Britain at the Olympics before it competes as an independent Scotland in the 2016 Summer Olympics. International Olympic Committee representative Craig Reedie suggested that Scots would have to continue to represent Great Britain in 2016, as international recognition of an independent Scotland would not be immediately conferred after the referendum. He also questioned whether an independent Scotland could support its athletes to the same extent as Great Britain. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pointed to the medal count for Great Britain, saying that it showed the success of a union that included the two nations.
Canon Kenyon Wright, who led the Scottish Constitutional Convention campaigning for a devolved parliament, said that the terms of the election should be governed by Holyrood and not dictated by Westminster. The Yes Scotland campaign was launched with endorsements from internationally renowned Scottish personalities, including Sean Connery. Brian Cox also said that Scotland was under "centralised servitude" and talked of his disenchantment with Labour governments in Westminster, including that led by the Scot Gordon Brown. "The parliament at Westminster can see no further than the end of its own bridge." National poet Liz Lochhead read a poem dealing with the English-Scottish rivalry during the 16th century. Author Harry Reid suggested a rejection vote would depend on the ability of Labour to revive its traditional popularity in Scotland.
Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood expressed support for the Yes Scotland campaign. She also added that British history was at "a hinge point" and that Wales would follow with independence within a generation but continue to be a part of a "neighbourhood of nations." She further said that England is a sister nation with which all three nations have a "common Britishness." 
During the premiere of the Pixar movie Brave, actress Emma Thompson, who lives half the year in Scotland, warned against dividing Great Britain "in an ever-shrinking world," despite recognising relations being strained at times between Scotland and England.
In an article published by Bella Caledonia, Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, said Scottish independence would "promote the cultural unity that the UK state is constantly undermining", suggesting that strained political relationships between Scotland and England were causing tension and harming the two nations' ability to amicably co-exist. He pointed to the example of Scandinavia, saying that "Swedes, Norwegians and Danes remain on amicable terms; they trade, co-operate and visit each other socially any time they like", despite the lack of a single Scandinavian state.
Simon Neil of Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro said "we may as well give Scottish independence a shot" in an interview with NME in January 2013. He added: "Scotland has really good oil money, we've got renewable energy, we have ways of moving forward and we're in a strong position to make it happen. [...] I don't know what we're getting from London apart from a lack of control over our own future. It doesn't mean we don't love England or Wales."
Polls have been conducted in two main formats, either asking a straight yes or no question on independence, or including some form of increased devolution as a third option. The wording of the question has also differed; some polls, attempting to track changing trends, have asked for the past few years the wording originally put forward by the SNP in 2007. TNS BMRB, for instance, continues to ask: "Should the Scottish Government negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state?". This stands in contrast with the current wording of the question, which is: "Should Scotland be an independent country?". The first poll to use that formulation was the Angus Reid survey published on 3 February 2013.
Recent opinion polls have also shown trends of high support for independence among voters between the ages of 18 and 24, and voters in deprived areas. Conversely, voters living in affluent areas or over the age of 55 are most likely to support the Union.
|Date||Polling agency||Support Independence (%)||Oppose Independence (%)||Undecided (%)||Source|
|January 2012||Ipsos MORI||39||50||11|||
|8 February 2012||YouGov||30||54||16|||
|June 2012||Ipsos MORI||35||55||10|||
|19 August 2012||YouGov||27||60||13|||
|8 October 2012||TNS BMRB||28||53||19|||
|15 October 2012||Ipsos MORI||28||52||19|||
|21 October 2012||Panelbase||37||45||18|||
|26 October 2012||YouGov||29||55||14|||
|January 2013||Angus Reid Public Opinion||32||50||16|||
|14 January 2013||TNS BMRB||28||48||24|||
|27 January 2013||Panelbase||34||47||19|||
|1 February 2013||Angus Reid Public Opinion||32||47||20|||
|13 February 2013||Ipsos MORI||34||55||11|||
|Date||Polling agency||Support Independence (%)||Support Devomax (%)||Support Status quo (%)||Undecided (%)||Source|
|1 November 2011||TNS BMRB||28||33||29||10|||
|13 January 2012||ICM||26||26||33||10|||
|14 June 2012||Ipsos MORI||27||41||29||4|||
|26 October 2012||YouGov||23||41||25||11|||
According to the Scottish Government's consultation paper published on 25 February 2010, if there were a 'yes, yes' outcome of the poll, then following the "necessary negotiations" between the Scottish and UK governments, "it would then be for the Scottish and UK parliaments to act on the expressed will of the Scottish people". If there was a yes vote for Proposal 1 (further devolution) but not Proposal 2 (powers for independence), then depending on the measures voted for, they would be implemented by an Act of Parliament, Orders in Council, or a combination of the two.
Irvine Welsh suggested that Scottish independence could further what he described as "the Northern Ireland peace process". On the Bella Caledonia website, he wrote: "If we rid ourselves of the political imperialist baggage of the UK state, new possibilities emerge. For example, it would become feasible for Ireland, as an established sovereign nation, to see itself as part of a shared geographical and cultural entity. This, in turn, brings potential opportunities for the continued development of the peace process in Northern Ireland".