Scottish independence: will there be another referendum?
After the SNP's crushing election victory, Scottish independence is back on the political agenda
The Scottish National Party's sweeping victory in the general election has reopened the debate about Scottish independence, which last year's referendum was intended to settle.
Scotland voted against becoming an independent country by 55 per cent to 45 per cent last September. But just eight months later, the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats north of the border.
During the campaign, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said repeatedly that the 2015 election was not "about independence", but she is yet to rule out a second referendum after the Scottish elections in 2016. The morning after the election she announced that the "tectonic plates" of Scottish politics had shifted.
"It hasn't happened overnight, not even in the last seven months since the referendum, although that's accelerated the process, but Labour has been losing the trust of people in Scotland now over a period of years," she said.
Scottish independence: how the debate has changed
The 2014 referendum was meant to settle the question of Scottish independence for a generation, but despite the comfortable victory of the Better Together campaign, Scotland's future within the Union remains uncertain. Whether through increased devolution, wholesale reform or another referendum on Scottish independence in years to come, it is clear that the UK constitution is in for substantial change.
When did Scotland become part of the UK?
The acts of union between Scotland and England were passed in 1706, taking effect on 1 May, 1707. On that day, the Parliament of Great Britain was formed.
Why did each side agree to the Union?
The English were keen to make sure Scotland didn't choose a different monarch from the one sitting on the English throne. Meanwhile, the Scots were seriously "cash-strapped" after an "economically disastrous scheme to attempt to colonise the Isthmus of Panama in the late 1690s", says the Daily Telegraph.
Was the referendum result a surprise?
The No campaign was sitting on a clear lead until the last few weeks of the campaign, when the race suddenly tightened. The Yes campaign took the lead for the first time two weeks before the vote, and although subsequent polls put the No vote back in front, they all showed the narrowest of margins. Nevertheless, bookmakers had installed the No campaign as a clear favourite and British financial markets appeared relatively confident that independence would be rejected.
What has changed since?
A great deal. Far from crushing the SNP, defeat in the independence referendum has spurred the party on to new levels of support, and it now dominates the Scottish political landscape. Its rise has come at the expense of Labour, which lost all but one of its Scottish seats at the general election, and subsequently lost its leader too. The Scottish Conservatives and Lib Dems have one Westminster seat each, and the SNP has the rest: 56 out of 59.
How would Scotland vote if there was a new independence referendum now?
Despite the huge surge in SNP support, the most recent polling does not reveal a seismic shift in attitudes towards Scottish independence. According to a poll conducted two weeks after the election, 47 per cent of people said they would vote for indepenedence, with 53 per cent saying they would vote against it. That compares with a 55 to 45 vote in favour of the union at last September's referendum, but analysts suggest that voters are more likely to express support for major upheaval when they're speaking to pollsters than they are at the ballot box. It's therefore far from certain that a significant number of Scots have changed their mind since the referendum.
Does the election result make independence more likely?
With a narrow Conservative majority in the Commons, the SNP will not hold the balance of power at Westminster, as had looked likely before the election. But some claim another Tory government might work in the nationalists' favour. "Although Ms Sturgeon has hotly denied this, many nationalists reckon that they have a better chance of achieving independence if they have a right-wing government in London pursuing policies that would be unpopular in Scotland," says Alan Cochrane, the Daily Telegraph's Scottish editor. Lord Strathclyde, the Conservatives' Scottish election strategist, is already urging the next Westminster government to find new ways of "bringing the people of the United Kingdom together". He has suggested twinning English and Scottish schools and creating a Britain-wide Premier League to create greater unity.
Will there be another referendum on Scottish independence soon?
Nicola Sturgeon has refused to be drawn on when she would like to see the question of independence put to the Scottish people again. During the election campaign, she ruled out a public vote immediately after the election, but raised the prospect of another referendum following the Scottish parliamentary election in 2016. "That is another matter," she said, "we will write that manifesto when we get there. I will fight one election at a time." Her comments were met with boos from sections of the studio audience, with one person shouting: "The people have spoken – they said they didn't want independence."
What question were voters asked at the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence?
There was one question with a yes or no answer: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Why was the vote held on 18 September?
The all-important date was chosen – after much deliberation – by Alex Salmond, who was then the leader of the Scottish National Party. The BBC says the chosen day took into account factors such as Scottish winter weather, the UK party conference season and public holidays. It notes that 2014 is the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Salmond may have been hoping Scottish republicanism would be stirred by commemorations of Robert the Bruce's famous victory over the English army.
What side were politicians backing?
It won't surprise you to learn that the SNP wanted independence. The Scottish Greens also wanted to break free from the UK. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all wanted to maintain the Union (although the Scottish-born Labour MP for Leeds East, George Mudie, had said he would vote Yes if he were eligible to take part).
What about foreign politicians?
Barack Obama was the most high-profile foreign leader to enter the fray, saying that the United States wanted to see the UK remaining "strong, robust and united". While Obama went out of his way to say that the decision was up to Scottish voters, he left no doubt about his position. "I would say that the United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us," he said. "From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well, and we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner."
Many European leaders, particularly those facing separatist movements within their own countries, were openly hostile towards Scottish independence. With one eye on Catalan nationalists, the Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy insisted that an independent Scotland could not expect automatic membership of the EU. "It's very clear to me, as it is for everybody else in the world, that a country that would obtain independence from the EU would remain out of the EU," he said. "That is good for Scottish citizens to know and for all EU citizens to know."
And what about celebrities?
Prominent Scots turned out on both sides of the debate. Sean Connery, perhaps the most celebrated supporter of independence, said: "As a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss." On the unionist side, JK Rowling donated £1m to Better Together. "This separation will not be quick and clean," she said. "It will take microsurgery to disentangle three centuries of close interdependence, after which we will have to deal with three bitter neighbours." An announcement from Andy Murrary that "No campaign negativity" had "totally swayed" his view became the most retweeted tweet on referendum day, with more than 18,000 people sharing his message with their own followers.
What was the immediate effect of the no vote?
"This referendum may have ended one debate in Scotland – for now. It has, however, lit the touchpaper on the explosive question of where power lies in the UK," says the BBC's Nick Robinson. Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all pledged to devolve more powers to Scotland and the focus has now turned to potentially major changes to the UK's constitutional structure. Cameron today committed himself to offering Scotland new powers, but made clear that this would depend on the next general election and a settlement that would exclude Scottish MPs from voting on many issues confined to England. Robinson suggests that this would create two classes of MP with the possibility of a government having a majority to pass certain laws but not others.
The pros and cons of Scottish independence
Below is a summary of the questions asked during the Scottish independence referendum campaign – and which would have to be revisited in any future debate about Scotland's position in the union.
Would an independent Scotland keep the Queen?
At least in the short term, the Queen would remain Scotland's head of state, as she is in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, many Scottish nationalists are also republican, so it is possible that a future independent Scotland would also vote to end the monarch's reign as head of state. Before the referendum, the Daily Mail suggested that, in the event of Scottish independence, the Queen would forced to appoint a Governor-General to represent her north of the new international border.
Would Scots retain British citizenship after a Yes vote?
Precise citizenship laws would need to be negotiated, but precedent suggests that most Scots would lose their British citizenship in the event of independence. "Citizens of newly independent countries do not in fact retain citizenship of the country from which they have become independent, with the exception of a small number of potential dual citizens who qualify under the citizenship laws of both countries," writes immigration barrister Colin Yeo. Scots born to British parents (ie those from what remained of the UK), or who were born in England, Wales or Northern Ireland would probably qualify for British citizenship, but others would not. Likewise, it is probable that Britons born in Scotland or to Scottish parents could apply for citizenship of an independent Scotland.
Would an independent Scotland keep the pound?
Alex Salmond was "pilloried" for the assumption that Scotland would be allowed to keep sterling, and currency became one of the most divisive issues of the campaign. Westminster insisted that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to join a formal currency union, and that if it decided to use sterling unilaterally it would have no control over the currency. This is an issue that would have to be resolved before any future campaign for Scottish independence.
What about the euro?
The currency issue was further complicated by the desire for a newly independent Scotland to join the EU, but opt out of the Euro. Salmond had said there was "no prospect" of Scotland joining the Euro, but experts believed that it may have been forced to use the European currency. Professor Jo Murkens, an expert on Scottish independence and European constitutional law, told the Scottish Express: "Every new applicant state has to commit themselves in law to adopting the euro. There have been no opt-outs. It is a condition of membership."
How would the UK's national debt be shared?
Another thorny issue that was never resolved was how much of the UK's £1 trillion national debt that will be inherited by Scotland. Before the vote, the Treasury said that it would stand behind all existing UK Government debt, regardless of how it might be shared between an independent Scotland and the rump UK, but that guarantee may not apply if the issue was resurrected.
How would an independent Scotland defend itself?
Scotland's defence policy would probably involve a modestly sized military force that would largely operate within international alliances. It would "not attempt to have full-spectrum capability", according to the Scotsman. With an annual defence budget of £2.5 billion, Scotland would have a total of 20,000 military personnel. Its army would be made up of 3,500 regular and 1,200 reserve personnel and the country would have four frigate warships and 16 Typhoon jets. Former Nato Secretary General and British Defence Secretary Lord Robertson had criticised the size of its proposed defence force, telling the Scotsman: "to pretend Scotland would be defended is a dangerous fiction." Nationalists have accused Lord Robertson of scaremongering and dismissed his comments as unionist propaganda.
What else would change in an independent Scotland?
Under an SNP government, an independent Scotland would almost certainly take a step to the left, especially in social policy. The party's White Paper set out a broad range of social and political changes, including:
- Thirty hours of childcare per week in term time for all three and four-year-olds, as well as vulnerable two-year-olds.
- Housing benefit reforms, described by critics as the "bedroom tax", to be abolished, and a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit.
- Basic rate tax allowances and tax credits to rise at least in line with inflation.
- A "triple-locked" pension system designed to guarantee income keeps pace with the cost of living
- Minimum wage to "rise alongside the cost of living".
But what of the bigger picture? The concept of Great Britain would be threatened by Scottish independence, according to the BBC's Andrew Marr. In an interview with Salmond before the referendum, he suggested independence would mean the end of Great Britain. Salmond hit back, saying: "The state we currently live in is not Great Britain, it's the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 'Britain' won't disappear as a geographical expression any more than 'Scandinavia'."
More on Scottish independence:
Scottish independence back on the agenda? Sturgeon hints at 2016 referendumScottish independence: five key questions for TV debateWhat would it cost to divide the UK?Standard Life warns it could quit an independent ScotlandCameron and Salmond to hold rival North Sea oil meetingsDavid Bowie spots the danger: Scots' Yes vote gathers strengthBoE's Mark Carney wades into Scottish independence debateSalmond: end of Scottish pound would cost UK £500mScottish independence: Osborne rules out currency union