Scottish independence: constitutional implications of the referendum - Constitution Committee Contents

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,[1] and in 1999 the Scottish Parliament was established.[2] 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 referendum.

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.[3] 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 Scotland.[4]

4.  Select committees in both Houses of Parliament have undertaken various inquiries into aspects of independence for Scotland.[5] 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.[6] Debates have taken place in each House on the impact of independence and on "Scotland's place in the UK".[7]

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 becoming independent.

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.

  1. 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

2   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

3   Agreement between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland, October 2012.  Back

4   Scottish Government, Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, November 2013. Back

5   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

6   HM Government, Scotland analysis [various dates and titles], available at: /collections/scotland-analysis. Back

7   HL Deb, 30 January 2014, cols 1361-1450; HC Deb, 6 February 2014, cols 457-506. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014