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Ten questions about Scottish independence that demand an answer

Ten questions about Scottish independence that demand an answer

🕔18.Sep 2014

Scottish voters will decide today whether their country should be granted independence. But the referendum won’t be the end of the matter. In the third part of our Scottish series this week, Chamberlain Files chief blogger Paul Dale poses ten questions that need to be answered:

1. Is it legal?

If Scotland votes yes, negotiations about independence will begin almost straight away. But expect the law suits to fly just as quickly. The House of Lords Constitution Committee has queried whether the Scottish Government has the legal competence to negotiate for independence and has suggested that in order to provide a clear legal basis for negotiations, a Bill should be introduced to the UK Parliament which would establish the negotiating team for the rest of the UK and devolve power to the Scottish Parliament to establish a negotiating team for Scotland.

Scotland would remain part of the UK until Westminster legislation granted formal independent status. However, the UK Government has suggested that it would cease to represent the interests of Scotland immediately after the referendum, leaving Scotland in a limbo.

It is assumed that any resultant negotiation agreement would require the UK Parliament to pass primary legislation to formally recognise that agreement and to deliver Scotland’s independent status by dissolving the Treaty and Acts of Union that created the union in 1707.

2. Will Parliament be recalled?

Whatever the result – whether it’s devo-max or independence – there will be agitation from MPs to debate the Scottish issue. If it’s a ‘yes’ then the prime minister may have to bow to pressure and recall Parliament either this Saturday or next week during the Labour conference.

3. Will Cameron fall on his sword?

The prime minister has insisted he won’t resign if Scotland decides to leave the Union. However, his almost tearful performances while campaigning north of the border suggest that anything could happen. In any case, the matter may be out of his hands. Under Conservative party rules a leadership election would be called if 46 MPs write to the chairman of the 1922 committee demanding a vote of no confidence in the leader.

4.  What about a snap General Election?

Under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, an election can be triggered if a motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty’s Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed.

5.  Could the 2015 General Election be delayed?

Scottish independence would not be granted until March 2016, assuming the tight 18-month negotiation timetable can be met. This would leave ‘lame duck’ Scottish MPs sitting in the Westminster parliament for eight months after next year’s election. Some MPs have suggested delaying the General Election until 2016, but this would require an Act of Parliament and is thought unlikely to happen.

6.  Could an independent Scotland use the pound?

This is bound to be an early flashpoint in any independence negotiations. The Scottish government would seek a currency union with the rest of the UK while remaining in charge of 100 per cent of their tax revenues and borrowing. Currently Scotland shares the pound which is backed by the Bank of England as a lender of last resort, with the Bank also setting interest rates.

The UK government, with support from the Labour party, has vetoed a currency union saying “it would not be in the interests of Scotland or a continuing UK”. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has also rejected a currency union, pointing out that Scotland would no longer have a lender of last resort. Mr Salmond insists Scotland would continue to use the pound and that the British government would be forced to find a way to make this happen in order to avoid turmoil in the markets and financial meltdown.

7.  Who owns the oil?

A tricky question that will sit at the heart of independence negotiations. The Scottish government has estimated North Sea Oil revenues of about £8 billion to 2016-17 and in the event of independence will seek to make sure all tax revenue goes to Holyrood. This is another matter that could end up in the courts.

8.  What happens to the UK nuclear deterrent?

It has been SNP policy to pursue a nuclear free Scotland in the result of a yes vote. As a result, negotiations would aim to remove Trident missiles from Faslane naval base.

The Scottish government has said it will have an annual defence budget of £2.5 billion and that 10 years after independence it would seek to have a total force of 15,000 personnel with 5,000 reservists across land, sea and air. An independent Scotland would also seek to become a member of NATO, although its defence budget would have to increase.

9.  Could an independent Scotland join the EU?

Scotland’s membership of the EU would be an important part of the independence negotiations. An application to join would have to be approved by all EU member states.

Former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s comments that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU suggest that the process will be a far from smooth one. It has been suggested that Scotland could plead a special case and ask for EU treaties to be amended to allow a fast-track membership within 18 months, but this seems unlikely.

10.  What happens if Scotland votes no?

We can expect the Government to press ahead quickly with bestowing wide-ranging devolved powers on to the Scottish parliament. Work would begin on drawing up new legislation almost immediately after the referendum. A white paper could be tabled by the end of November and in January 2015 a new Scotland Act would be published.

Demands for English devolution in the form of a parliament for England and devolved powers for cities and regions are bound to grow, but the Government as yet has no firm proposals for any changes to the governance of England. Watch this space….

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