Scottish independence: constitutional
implications of the referendum |
CHAPTER 1: introduction
1. On 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland
will answer the question: "Should Scotland be an independent
country?" If there were to be a "yes" vote, the
resulting secession would be the biggest change to the constitutional
structure of the United Kingdom since the creation of the Irish
Free State in 1922.
2. Referendums were held in 1979 and 1997 about
devolution to Scotland. In the latter referendum a "yes"
vote was returned, and
in 1999 the Scottish Parliament was established.
Against expectations, the 2011 election to the Scottish Parliament
returned a majority government; it was formed by the Scottish
National Party, who had long campaigned for independence for Scotland
and whose 2011 manifesto committed them to holding an independence
3. Although the holding of a referendum on independence
was a reserved matter, the UK Government acknowledged the right
of the Scottish Government to hold such a referendum and, in the
"Edinburgh agreement" of October 2012, agreed to accept
as binding the result of a referendum held before the end of 2014.
The referendum date was set in statute by the Scottish Parliament
in the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. The
Scottish Government's November 2013 white paper Scotland's
Future sets out their proposed timetable for independence
to be granted on 24 March 2016, if there is a "yes"
vote in the referendum, as well as the current Scottish Government's
aims in the longer term if returned to power in an independent
4. Select committees in both Houses of Parliament
have undertaken various inquiries into aspects of independence
for Scotland. The UK
Government have published 12 reports in an ongoing series of Scotland
analysis papers "on Scotland's place in the UK and how it
contributes to and benefits from being part of the UK". These
have included papers on defence, security, finance and economics,
borders and citizenship, and devolution and the constitution.
Debates have taken place in each House on the impact of independence
and on "Scotland's place in the UK".
5. This report explores the constitutional implications
of a "yes" vote for the rest of the United Kingdom.
We have looked into this area in order to enhance public understanding
of what would follow a "yes" vote. As this report indicates,
a number of important issues would need to be resolved between
a "yes" vote in the referendum and Scotland actually
6. Our inquiry focused on the known consequences
of a "yes" vote on 18 September: there would be a period
of negotiations followed by secession of Scotland from the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We explored who
might negotiate for the rest of the UK and how they should be
held to account, what principles should underpin those negotiations,
what legislation would be required to facilitate negotiations
and ratify a resulting agreement, and the impact of Scottish secession
on the UK's Parliament, Government and Supreme Court.
7. We found that there were clear answers on
many of these issues and that, even where there was uncertainty,
there were legal principles and precedents upon which actions
should be based.
8. This was a short, focused inquiry, during
which we heard from academic experts, the UK Government and commentators
on Scottish politics. We also received a wide range of written
evidence, including from the Scottish Government. We are grateful
to all our witnesses.
- We hope to secure an early debate in the House
on this report. In view of the timing of the referendum it is
important that the Government make their written response within
two months of publication.
1 There was a narrow "yes" vote in 1979,
but the threshold of 40% of all Scottish voters voting "yes"
was not met. Back
The Scotland Act 1998 conferred power on the Scottish Parliament
and Executive (now Government) to make decisions on all areas
not reserved at Westminster. The Scotland Act 2012 extended the
remit of the Scottish Parliament and Government, though important
provisions in it have yet to be commenced. Back
Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish
Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland, October
Scottish Government, Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent
Scotland, November 2013. Back
For example the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, and
the House of Commons Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees. The
Commons Scottish Affairs Committee has produced 11 reports on
"the referendum on separation for Scotland". The House
of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence addressed
implications of Scottish independence (Persuasion and Power
in the Modern World, Report of Session 2013-14, HL Paper 150,
paras 294-95). Back
HM Government, Scotland analysis [various dates and titles],
available at: https://www.gov.uk/government
HL Deb, 30 January 2014, cols 1361-1450; HC Deb, 6 February 2014,
cols 457-506. Back