In Depth

What happens if Scotland votes for independence?

In ten days' time, Scotland could vote for independence. Here's what would happen after that momentous decision

If Scotland votes against independence in the coming referendum, not much will immediately change. The country will remain a part of the United Kingdom and Scots will continue to be a part of British economic, cultural and political life – although Westminster's main political parties have committed to handing more power to Scotland.

If, on the other hand, the country votes Yes, the ballot will unleash a complicated sequence of negotiations to determine how Scotland will become an independent country. Here is how it will play out.

The pros and cons of Scottish independence

What is the timetable for independence?

If Scotland votes Yes, the Scottish Parliament will immediately begin negotiations with the aim of the country becoming fully independent by 24 March 2016 – a date chosen by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. In the even of a vote for independence, Salmond would be expected to confirm his "Team Scotland" negotiators within a week of the vote.

The negotiation team would work towards a full constitutional settlement with the UK government. Once all matters are resolved, that agreement would be finalised and ratified on Scotland's day of independence in March 2016 by both the UK and Scottish governments.

After March 2016, Scotland would also have to reach an agreement on its continued membership of both the European Union and Nato. All 28 EU states are expected to meet at the end of 2014 to open debate on Scotland's future. The discussions around how the country will continue within Nato and the EU are likely to be both "complex and protracted," The Guardian says.

The first parliamentary election in an independent Scotland would take place on 5 May 2016. The parliament will continue to have 129 members and will be located in the existing Scottish parliament building at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Which issues may be difficult to resolve?

Defence will be one of the most problematic policy areas to agree upon. The SNP has indicated that it wants to get rid of Britain's Trident nuclear missile programme currently housed in Clyde naval base on Scotland's west coast. The current suggestion is that the entire programme could potentially be relocated to Plymouth, but critics argue that the costs involved in moving both the submarine base and the nuclear warhead depot at Coulport would be exorbitant.

Defence is a big employer for Scotland. The Scottish government proposes that it would seek to build a total force of 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel in the ten years following independence (up from 7,500 regular and 2,000 reserve personnel at present).

It would also hope to build its own maritime capabilities, including air and sea-based patrol, and specialist forces. The government proposes to set a budget of £2.5bn for all defence and security spending.

Scotland's future financial arrangements are also riddled with complexity. For one thing, Scotland's share of the national debt will need to be agreed. Currently, Salmond is threatening to default on Scotland's share entirely if the rest of the UK does not enter into a currency union with Scotland, a proposal David Cameron describes as "chilling". Scotland's continued use of the pound has proved one of the most divisive issues of the campaign, and will have to be settled before agreement can be reached. Also at issue will be Scotland's share of the UK's £1,267bn of net assets, including buildings and overseas missions of the Foreign Office.

What powers will the Scottish parliament gain that it doesn't currently possess?

Once independent statehood has been declared, Scottish parliament will gain full autonomy over policy areas currently determined by Westminster including defence, foreign policy, internal taxation, international development and social security.

What organisations would Scotland hope to establish and rejoin? 

Scotland would have to create its own postal system, which it proposes to introduce in public ownership. The country would no longer have a stake in the BBC, even if it could still access broadcasts and services, so it would set up its own Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS), also in public ownership and financed by a licence fee, MSN reports. Scotland would have to apply to join the World Bank Group, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

What will the impact of independence be on the 2015 UK election?

UK government legal advisers have warned of "constitutional crisis" for Britain if Scotland votes for independence. The 2015 general election will be "thrown into turmoil," the Daily Telegraph says. An election is currently scheduled for 7 May 2015, but by then Scotland could be preparing to separate from the union. In a memorandum to the House of Commons, Professor Alan Boyle, a specialist in international law at Edinburgh University, outlined two possible ways the election could still proceed. Either emergency laws could be passed ahead of May to ban the 59 Scottish constituencies from taking part in the elections or the election could take place as usual, with all Scottish MPs ejected from the Commons once Scotland became independent. According to the Guardian, David Cameron will face calls to take the "unprecedented step in modern peacetime" of postponing the election by 12 months to avoid the prospect of a Labour government that depended on Scottish MPs taking office.

For a balanced, in-depth discussion of the historical context of the current debate about Scottish independence, read The Week's ebook, Independence for Scotland?, available now from Amazon.

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