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.

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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71 Responses to “The five steps to Scottish independence”

  1. Alex Ball

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  2. Tim

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  3. Graham Jeffery

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  4. Matthew Deaves

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  5. Nick Higham

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  6. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  7. Darren Turner

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  8. Owen O'Donnell

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  9. Sam Jole

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  10. Will Straw

    Great analysis by Prof Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit on the 5 steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr

  11. Thomas Spencer

    Interesting analysis on Scots Independence. Clear a 2nd ref is the only way, but I can see why the SNP dont want one http://bit.ly/mtu96o

  12. Bill Quango MP

    So the Scots have to vote again on something they have already voted on?
    When the UK joined the EU i don’#t recall any ‘here are the terms’.
    Didn’t get anything for Lisbon either if I recall.

    You seem to want Scotland to vote NO on independence and to continue to vote until that result comes up.

    You are Herman Van Rompuy and I claim my 4.87 euros.

  13. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  14. Richard McKenzie

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  15. Joe Stalls

    No problem with Scotland getting independence, but it must mean INDEPENDENCE….Scotland will be bordering one of the worls’s biggest economies with a population of 54 million and Englnd MUST NOT subsidise an independent Scotland in any way, All scottish MP’s MUST leave the Westminster Parliament immediately independence is declared and all people who consider themselves Scottish MUST return home. England must declare the border and control it. When Scotlan’s economy begins to crumble we don’t want thousands of independent Scots coming south to benefit from our economy

    I for one would withold my taxes if ANY of them were being used to subsiise an independent Scotland

  16. 13eastie

    Mr Slamond’s astonishing victory now raises some fascinating questions.

    I’m sure your book deals with things comprehensively, but what you do highlight here is the fact that, in the (inter)national debate, the surface has barely been scratched.

    Any campaign against Scottish independence will necessarily include many arguments along the lines of “not having one’s cake and eating it”: welfare and healthcare; the EU budget. What would Scots make of the true cost of these?

    Scots enjoy many of the same benefits that the UK offers to Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories, which they would be unwilling or unable to provide for themselves.

    Most notably, perhaps: rock-solid military defence, backed up by NATO’s second largest budget, and which still buys a permanent seat at the UNSC. In Scotland, this goes beyond the basic security provided to the Falklands and Isle of Mann etc. The MoD is an important employer, and one whose activities have massive sensitivity among voters: witness Gordon Brown’s ridiculous aircraft-carrier contracts. The building of ships, and the Scottish infantry regiments are potent sources of the very national pride into which Salmond must tap. None of this comes cheaply.

    All Britons are represented at the top table of international diplomacy. It’s unlikely that voters could be convinced the EU would look after Scotland similarly.

    And let’s not forget the pound. Issuing one’s own banknotes is one thing. Who is to be in charge of monetary policy? A glance accross the Irish Sea and voters will avoid Frankfurt like the plague. A resurrected, Edinburgh-based Scottish Dollar would go down like a lead balloon with business leaders.

    Salmond is a genial and bright man who has, for many years, given a very good account of himself in the media.

    His electoral achievement deserves (and is likely) to be recognised by any Westminster Govt with regards a referendum.

    But he will have to tread carefully to avoid his massive bluff being called. A brave call for true independence will result in humiliation.

    There are many good reasons for which people from all over the world seek a British passport. The SNP surely knows this.

  17. Tomás S. Ó Ceallaigh

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence http://bit.ly/jCpbIP – #Scotland #Alba #politics

  18. cynicalHighlander

    Unionists running scared trying to confuse the issue with misinformation as they have done for over 300 years, the empire is over move on.

  19. Jonathan Coburn

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  20. 13eastie

    @cyncicalHighlander

    You won’t see me shedding a tear for the loss of the Scottish financial burden or their socialist MP’s, whom I can assure you, are most welcome to take their West Lothian question back to the Bathgate Labour Club.

    There’s a huge difference between boorish chanting by Murrayfield fans (ever hopeful of closer relations between Englishmen’s digestive tracts and their transport), and biting the hands that feed you.

    And the Scot in me knows this.

  21. Anon E Mouse

    cynicalHighlander – Put it to the whole of the UK I say and you may be surprised to see just how many of the English actually want Scotland to have independence.

    Without the support of the Scots the Labour Party is finished in this country – particularly when the boundary changes are introduced.

    As poor a leader as Ed Miliband clearly is, I still believe that Labour must have been aghast when they saw how poorly the party did May 5.

    No overall majority in Wales – the Tories vote increased nationally – more voted Tory than Labour overall and then the staggering loss in Scotland along with AV must have had people crying into their wine.

    Oh and you can have the useless Dougie Alexander and Gordon Brown back as well if you like…

  22. Dave Citizen

    Based on most of these comments, no wonder Scots voted SNP.

  23. cynicalHighlander

    @Anon E Mouse

    No thanks they call themselves North British.

  24. cynicalHighlander

    @13eastie

    Ignorance must be bliss you’ll need to find berths for some Trident carrying subs and decommissioned hulks.

  25. Anon E Mouse

    cynicalHighlander – nice!

  26. Mike C

    Surely any referendum on independence will require a two-thirds majority.

  27. Anon E Mouse

    Dave Citizen – Labour got a good caning and deservedly so. Stop sulking man and move on…

  28. Clive Hancocks

    I understand Alex Sammond wants a Referendum on Scotland becoming independent. Please, Please let them have it. They can then pay for their own Security (Police, Defence, Judges, Prisons and Border Controls), Health Service. Take responsibility for the roads and infrastructure. Provide housing, education, employment and find jobs for those out of work and pay the unemployment benefits for those that do not. They can pay for their own membership of the EU. They can pay for all the Pay for their own Parliament and infrastructure that comes with that independence. They can have their own Scottish passport. All those who profess to be Scots living in England can go back home.
    If they believe whisky, water and what remains left of Oil and taxes on those that remain will give them a better life carry on or will they become another the PIGS like the economies of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

  29. Dave Citizen

    Anon – I thought the result in Scotland was genuinely uplifting. It confirms there are parts of the UK where people think for themselves and have the guts to go their own way. Compare the positive ideas and attitudes in Scotland to England’s timid “there is no alternative”, “we can’t cut banker’s bonuses” and “you only have to pay your student loan back if you earn over 21k”.

  30. 13eastie

    @cynicalHighlander

    Trident could have been part of the cheapest divorce settlement ever, but if the Scots don’t want it after all…

    Don’t forget flagships HMS Mothball, HMS White Elephant and their squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’s most flightless birds – a snip at only £10bn*. We’ll have those back too.

    It might take us a while, though**, to figure how, if Scotland really didn’t want the jobs/investment/skills/prestige, we’d be able to come up with a way to service a strategic nuclear capability for which every single bit of the intellectual property was owned by a really big ally of ours with 18 similar boats and naval bases “even bigger than Faslane” on two different oceans.

    Keep plugging away with your chippy paranoia; everything will be fine because your compatriots are too canny to allow it ever actually to be put to the test.

    And to think, a couple of posts back you were calling me a “unionist”!

    *Price “negotiated” by a Scottish socialist, in secret, with English tax-payers’ money; contract put out to tender to every ship-builder in his Scottish constituency.

    **Maybe as long as 15 secs

  31. Stephen W

    The point is independence itself is only nominally Plan A.

    Plan B, and realistically the more likely plan A, is to keep beefing up the powers of the Scottish Parliament, until Scotland is effectively independent within the UK anyway.

    This could be avoided as long as Salmond was a Minority administration, because the Unionist parties could reasonably block it. But with a Majority in the parliament the Unionist parties can go whistle. He can put whatever he likes through Holyrood and there’s almost nothing anyone else can do about it.

  32. cynicalHighlander

    @Mike C

    Surely any referendum on independence will require a two-thirds majority.

    Nonsense or dont you believe in democracy

  33. cynicalHighlander

    @13eastie

    There’s an awful lot to be sorted like 40 years of oil revenues stolen and Trident provides less than 1000 jobs and is constantly polluting the seas with radiation leaks, park them on the Thames then the politicians can give them a loving pat every day they go to work.

  34. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  35. The Dragon Fairy

    RT @HitchinEngland: RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL …

  36. LabourView

    RT @HitchinEngland: RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL …

  37. paulstpancras

    RT @leftfootfwd The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  38. 13eastie

    @cynicalHighlander

    You want neither the Trident base nor the carrier contracts?

    You’re my kind of nationalist. My advice would be to tell your Govt to get in touch ASAP with the gentleman below. I’m sure he’ll be able amicably to offset some of Scotland’s share of the £1.5 trillion national debt against the North Sea revenues.

    The Rt Hon Gideon Osborne Esq.
    HM Treasury

  39. CHRIS HALLIDAY

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence http://bit.ly/jCpbIP

  40. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  41. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Constitution Unit

  42. chang mei wan

    RT @trakgalvis: RT @leftfootfwd: The five steps to Scottish independence: http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr by Professor Robert Hazell of the UCL Con …

  43. Andrew Burgess

    The five steps to Scottish independence http://bit.ly/iqX6Tr (@leftfootfwd)

  44. Richard Gadsden

    While the rest of the UK clearly cannot refuse Scottish independence in principle, should not the rest of the UK be entitled to vote on the terms agreed with Scotland, especially if significant concessions are being made to the Scots?

  45. Mr. Sensible

    I am totally opposed to breaking up the union.

  46. Anon E Mouse

    Mr.Sensible – Then perhaps you shouldn’t have supported a Labour government that devolved Scotland…

  47. Modicum

    Whatever the merits of a second referendum, it clearly would never happen. I don’t think any country in the world has been asked to jump through that particular hoop, and the Scottish government wouldn’t tolerate it. If necessary, a dissolution of the Scottish Parliament following negotiations would be sufficient for the people to give their verdict on the settlement.

    The article doesn’t mention the process of drawing up Scotland’s new constitution. That really ought to involve a referendum, and it is a far more important fourth step than asking Scotland to decide on independence twice.

    “it is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament unilaterally to declare independence”.

    That is an Anglo-centric view. According to existing British constitutional law it would not be competent for the Scottish Parliament to secceed unilaterally. But then the same applied to the American colonies, and the Irish Republic of 1919. A unilateral declaration of independence is an act of revolution; it would create a new political reality that the British government might have to recognise.

  48. 13eastie

    @cynicalHighlander

    As if by magic, the SNP turns up to beg Her Majesty to keep her Air Force bases in Scotland! Who’d have thought it?
    http://bbc.in/me2llr

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