Everything you need to know: The third option for Scottish independence

slamond 300x225 Everything you need to know: The third option for Scottish independence

(Getty Images)

As of the Edinburgh Agreement signed last October, Scotland is holding a vote on independence in 2014. Regardless of the result, the polarized referendum campaigns (split between pro-union and nationalist camps) are leaving a gaping middle ground untouched—increased autonomy—which a majority of Scots believe is the next logical step for Scotland’s evolving union with Westminster.

The current debate stymies a more important and relevant conversation about what powers Scotland needs, how those can be accommodated under the current constitutional arrangement, and what is already achieved by the Scotland Act 2012.

On St Andrews Day 2009, the Scottish Government published a white paper, Your Scotland, Your Voice, stating: “Devolution was never intended as a fixed arrangement…Nor does devolution need to be Scotland’s final constitutional destination.”

The paper was based on The National Conversation, a survey launched by the Scottish Government in August 2007. It included the findings of the Calman Commission, an independent body supported by Holyrood and Westminster, charged with assessing “how Scotland’s constitutional arrangement within the UK” could be bettered.

Announcing the white paper in 2009, Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) hoped to hold an independence referendum on St Andrew’s Day the following year; Labour, Tories, and Liberal Democrats all stood against the SNP’s then minority position.

As a concession, Salmond said he was “totally flexible” on the referendum’s wording—so long as the SNP got its independence question. The opposition, particularly Labour who oversaw the Scotland Act 1998, granting Scotland devolution and a separate parliament in its current form, were quick to denounce Salmond and the SNP. Labour MSP Iain Gray, quoted in The Scotsman, criticized Salmond, saying: “The SNP cannot even come up with a straight question for their bogus referendum,” which Scots didn’t want anyway.

Though Salmond abandoned his ambition for a referendum in 2010, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore took the opportunity on St Andrews Day that year to introduce a new Scotland Bill, intended to revise the Scotland Act 1998. After a year of debate, the bill received Royal Assent as the Scotland Act 2012. It comes into force in 2016, implementing “the proposals of the Calman Commission”—a series of measures for increased cooperation between the Scottish and English governments and devolving more legislative power and legal authority to Scotland.

saltire 300x225 Everything you need to know: The third option for Scottish independence

(Getty Images)

Independence was beyond the Commission’s remit and as such, the Scottish Government was a reluctant supporter, concluding the proposed measures “fall far short of the fiscal realities which the Scottish Parliament requires.” Consequently, the campaign for an independence referendum continued. Public opinion polls however consistently show support for increased powers short of independence.

In 2009 Salmond suggested that on a referendum “the opposition parties could propose a question endorsing the Calman Commission,” The Financial Times reported, offering a third option between the status quo and independence.

The opportunity was dismissed, David Maddox wrote in The Scotsman, due “to the hostility of the opposition at Holyrood”.  But the Scottish Parliament put forward the Commission’s recommendations in a question as part of a draft referendum bill on independence in 2010. Warning “the other parities that they would have to answer at the next Holyrood elections in 2011 if they refused to let the people speak,” Mr. Salmond got a referendum after the SNP swept an unprecedented majority of the Scottish Parliament’s seats in those elections.

Although Scots want increased devolution, and the Scottish Government was “willing to include a question about further devolution,” the referendum—finalized by the Edinburgh Agreement last October—will include only one question. Many believe independence and devolution should be handled separately. Your Scotland, Your Referendum, a survey which ran from 25 January until 11 May 2012, found only 32 per cent of respondents approved of a second question for devolution on the referendum.

The UK government’s consultation, Scotland’s Constitutional Future, which ran from 10 January to 9 March 2012, similarly found only 12 per cent approved of a second question.  The vast majority, 75 per cent of those surveyed in Scotland’s Constitutional Future and 62 per cent in Your Scotland, Your Referendum, favor “a single, clear question on independence.”

Choosing multiple questions is more complicated than choosing one. When it came time to negotiate the terms of referendum, Westminster would not accept a second question—possibly an effort to get the SNP’s campaign dealt with and out of the way (though the SNP announced recently it will try again if the 2014 referendum does not succeed), or to avoid a slim victory for independence from a split vote.

Independence also is a constitutional matter: Westminster granted Holyrood legal authority to challenge the constitution (officially this month with a Section 30 order), but a vote on devolution effects the whole UK without every part getting an equal say. Furthermore, Scotland can ask for devolution in certain areas under the current arrangement without needing a constitutional referendum to do so.

scotland 300x225 Everything you need to know: The third option for Scottish independence

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron sign the referendum agreement (Getty Images)

The final wording and hashing out of the referendum’s contentious issues took place primarily behind closed doors in a series of meetings between Alex Salmond’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Surgeon, and Westminster’s Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore. When the resulting Edinburgh Agreement was signed by First Minister Salmond and Prime Minister Cameron, there was officially only one question.

The House of Lords amongst others protested about the lack of transparency. The main opposition parties submitted a referendum question for review, and it was agreed the Electoral Commission would oversee the process, but there is now only one question (“Do you agree Scotland should be an independent country?”) and the debate is whether the wording is biased, not whether it is the right question or if there should be another.

Independence is likely to fail. Popular opinion suggests and pundits agree that the current devolution arrangement is inadequate. Along with the Yes for independence and Better Together campaigns, there are burgeoning ideas for how devolution might improve Scotland’s position after the vote. At the very least, The Scotland Act 2012 guarantees limited tax powers will be devolved in 2016.

DevoPlus, a cross-party group including Lib Dems, Tories, and Labour suggests devolving more tax powers beyond the Scotland Act 2012, as well as “permanently vesting the power to legislate for non reserved matters in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament.” The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) recently published an option termed “Devo More,” another variation of devolving tax and revenue responsibilities, which Labour may eventually push for.  The SNP— before the referendum was narrowed on one question—was amenable to a version called “Devo Max,” or “Independence Light,” giving Scotland full fiscal independence or something near that.

This Friday, MSP Ruth Davidson said it was time Conservatives assess how devolution might benefit Scotland, noting her Tory peers are losing relevance in Scotland backing the Pro-Union campaign. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron agreed, according to The Telegraph, welcoming a “constitutional convention” on the matter after the referendum. Everyone wants a sustainable, positive answer that can resolve the uncertainty the referendum brings on both sides. It is widely held that proponents of the various forms of devolution need to clarify what they offer. The SNP is unequivocal: “independence is what is on offer, it’s the only way.”

Ultimately, The Economist predicted in 1999, it is the SNP’s destiny to hold a referendum—an independence party calls for independence when in power. And now, with plans to keep the Queen as head of state and remain on the Stirling currency, it might seem Salmond’s version of independence is closer to “Devo Max” than real independence.

Thankfully, the Scotland Act 2012 should deliver some power most think the Scottish Government needs. Unfortunately, far from being a pillar of democratic right, as Nationalists have defined it, the referendum may show the dangers of a headstrong government doing as it feels, what it thinks is best, ignoring its people. It is not necessarily a waste of time: the drastic necessity which predicates the vote, though forced, may serve to better inform Scotland of what it really needs from devolution.

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  • creggancowboy

    Saor Alba, at least after Scotland is independent one part of the British Isles will be free.

  • Paul Bethune

    There is still just under 2 years to go, you can’t claim any side to win. If the vote was tomorrow, then yes it would be likely the result would be ‘No’ but that is neither here nor there.

    Your second last paragraph is just a regurgitation of pro-unionist sneering. ROE used sterling for over a decade after independence. Australia and New Zealand – both used sterling without political control from Westminster in their ever evolving independence. Queen Elizabeth II of England is also Elizabeth I Queen of Scots. The Queen happens to also be the constitutional monarch of 16 other sovereign countries. So the only reason for you to add those 2 points on Devo Max is to somewhat belittle the idea of political independence. Shoddy journalism.

    You know what makes this article so rubbish is you talk about more devolution for Scotland being a good thing, yet every major political party in Scotland bar the SNP tried to block it on the ballot paper – and succeeded. And now they give us this whole “jam tomorrow” spiel when they could have had a binding cross-party political agreement to promote more devolution in THIS REFERENDUM.

    The whole reason the SNP argued for 2014 was in their manifesto, it gives them time to build the case in the public eye and blow away the fear tactics used by an ever increasingly crazed unionist media peddling out “surveys” and “polls”; selecting what percentages cater for their arguments, and not releasing where exactly these polls and surveys were conducted. Using so-called experts to spell out the doom and gloom scenario we hear all to often from the likes of that great Westminster puppet Ian Davidson. Under closer examination many of these so-called experts have links to the Labour party. One such being Dr Kelly, who as you well know conducted the most recent panelbase survey and found only 23% support independence! Ye Dr Kelly is a well used Labour party pollster – the very same man who predicted Labour would win the last Scottish election 2 months prior to the SNP landslide win. There is at least 20 months to go before this referendum.

  • Gayle Miller

    “Independence is likely to fail.” There is no evidence for that claim. If you are too lazy to gather the facts to support your claim then keep your opinion out of the article. Scots deserve better than shoddy journalism and blatant bias.

  • Atypical_Scot

    And the Unionists cry ‘what more favouritism?’ not noticing that as they shout it, Westminster tries to make their special arrangement with the EU even more special.

  • Christian Wright

    “Unfortunately, far from being a pillar of democratic right, as Nationalists have defined it, the referendum may show the dangers of a headstrong government doing as it feels, what it thinks is best, ignoring its people. ”

    Give me a break. What on earth is West talking about? The Scottish Government has not forced a referendum, it was mandated by the People in a democratic election that provided the Government the authority to hold it. Opinion polls demonstrate that 80% of Scots want a referendum whether they agree with independence or not. They say it is for the People to decide.

    What is with these hacks who think it just fine to lie in pursuit of their on prejudices? How about a bit of journalist professionalism he West? Stop lying to your readers. Tell the truth. If you don’t know the truth, then you’ve no business writing this bull.

  • Christian Wright

    Well after doing a little research it looks like the author of this article is about 12 years old. It could be that his misstatements are borne of ignorance and incompetence rather than mendacity. I don’t know which is worse.

    Now there are many unemployed wordsmiths in Scotland who are competent and knowledgeable who would jump at a chance to produce an honest article on this subject for a national newspaper.

    But typical of the Gruniad they go for either the incompetent son of some worthy who fancies himself as a journalist, or for the out and out propagandist, or the two wrapped in one “writer”..

    There is simply no excuse for serving-up this sort of shoddy product.

  • Peter A Bell

    There is no third option!

    Talk of devo-whatever is an irrelevant distraction. There is no “more powers” option on the referendum ballot. The British parties demanded that such an option be excluded. The choice now is a stark but simple one. Vote YES for independence with all the powers of devo-whatever and more. Or vote NO and see the existing devolution settlement unceremoniously dismantled.

  • Angus McLellan

    I have to disagree. I’m sure Mr West found ample evidence to support his claim among fellow-students at St Andrews Uni.

  • Aitch-Aitch

    This article does indeed appear to have been written by a 12 year old.
    Uninformed dirge. appalling

  • J. R. Tomlin

    There IS no third option. You and your ilk rubbished the opportunity to have it. Now live with it.

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