The five steps to Scottish independence

Professor Robert Hazell, director of the Constitution Unit at the School of Public Policy, University College London, outlines the five steps to Scottish independence.

The Laughing King of Scotland: Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP

Professor Robert Hazell is the Director of the Constitution Unit at the School of Public Policy, University College London

Now the SNP have a majority in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish independence is back on the political agenda. But there are five steps along the road to independence, and the Scottish government needs to negotiate each one. The Constitution Unit set these steps out in our book Scottish Independence – A Practical Guide, by Jo Murkens and Peter Jones (Edinburgh Univ Press, 2002).

The first step is that a bill needs to be passed by the Scottish Parliament authorising a referendum. The referendum would ask the people of Scotland to approve the Scottish government entering into negotations with the British government.

The next step is the referendum itself. Opinion polls have consistently shown support for independence remaining at around 25 to 30 per cent. A vote for the SNP in Scottish elections may or may not translate into a vote for independence come referendum day.

The third step, if the referendum is passed, is negotations with the British government about the terms of independence.

These will include:

• Division of the national debt;

• North Sea oil;

• The future of the defence bases on the Clyde;

• Scotland’s membership of the European Union.

The Czech-Slovak velvet divorce in 1992 required 31 treaties and more than 2,000 separate agreements. Their equivalents for Scotland and the UK would take a long time to negotiate. Once concluded they would constitute the terms of independence, on which the people of Scotland deserve a separate vote.

The fourth step would be legislation for a second referendum, asking the people of Scotland to confirm that they want independence on these terms. This referendum can only be authorised by Westminster, because it is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament unilaterally to declare independence – but in formal terms, the passage of the legislation may not prove too much of a stumbling block.

Successive British prime ministers have long recognised the Scottish people’s right to self determination. David Cameron has repeated that he will respect the will of the Scottish people.

The final step is the second referendum, asking the people of Scotland if they want independence on the terms which have been negotiated. The first referendum, if passed, would give the Scottish government authority to demand independence, and compel the UK government to enter into negotiations.

The SNP have said a second referendum would not be necessary. But it would give the people of Scotland the opportunity to know the detailed terms of independence before making their final, momentous decision.

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  • micoh

    @Modicum You’re absolutely right about Westminster having no more right than Holyrood to legislate for the dissolution of the Treaties of Union – although it may be the neatest solution to “create” that authority as a legal fiction after negotiations; it could be simpler than an argument over independence by “popular acclimation”.

    I share your doubts about the legal requirement for a second referendum but it could actually work very strongly in the SNP’s – and Scotland’s – favour to have one. Cameron has just agreed that the matter for the upcoming referendum is a subject for the SP – that includes the question posed. That referendum (if won) could function as the agreement that Scotland will be independent – locked – and the Scottish Government will negotiate with Westminster for that. The second referendum can’t go back and change the fact the Union will end – just that the terms must be satisfactory to Scottish voters. This would significantly improve the Scottish Government’s hand.

    Holding a second referendum may be one argument we want to tactically concede in the negotiations before the first referendum is held… in exchange for something else, of course.

  • ratzo

    This is a nice plug for a worthy but limited book that is quite dated now, even though it was only published in 2002.

    Even then it was notably weak in parts.

    And judging by the low buffoonery of most of the Unionist commentary on here it looks as though the remaining copies may struggle for a market even yet.

  • Modicum


    “The second referendum …would significantly improve the Scottish Government’s hand.”

    Good point.

  • http://n/a Flat Earth

    I love the comment about Scots being forced to move home by Joe Stalls! I was in kinks at that one! Joe, if by any chance you pop back to catch up on the comments go and google “McCrone Report” – it should reassure you about your personal tax burden if Scotland gains its independence.

  • http://n/a Flat Earth

    I’m astonished at how the tactic of convincing Scots that we are subsidised has come back to undermine the unionists. It is of course a lie, and it has been successful in convincing many Scots for many years. But the lie has eventually propogated beyond its target audience and has come to be believed by many in England also – which was never the intention. The resulting resentment has done more to finish the union than probably anything else!

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