Scotland's future--really?

AuthorGallagher, Jim

Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland


If you are in need of a doorstop, look no further. At 675 pages, an inch and a quarter thick, and three pounds in weight, the SNP's independence manifesto, Scotland's Future, will do that job admirably. Whether it also meets its stated aim of being 'Your Guide to an Independent Scotland' is another matter entirely.

It's hard to say what kind of beast this baggy monster is. It's neither a measured government White Paper setting out policy detail, nor a political tract making an impassioned case for independence. Sometimes it describes options open to an independent Scotland, and sometimes (wrongly, for a government document, published at taxpayers' expense) sets out SNP party policy on which option to choose. The SNP would have been wiser to have a dry civil service document setting out the mechanics of transition to independence, and party publications making the case for separation, and how they would run an independent country. As it stands, the White Paper does none of these well.

Where it does succeed is in showing that, where these different aims conflict, the SNP's partisan advantage trumps everything else.

Constructing a constitution

Start with the constitutional. The White Paper rightly proposes post-Yes vote negotiations to break up the UK, divide its assets and liabilities, and determine that the relationship between the separate state and the rest of the country, the European Union, NATO and so on. So much, so obvious. Less obvious is the proposition for this all to be done in less than 18 months, before the Scottish elections of May 2016, so those become the first elections to a new, sovereign parliament. Given the complexity of those negotiations, and the intrusion of a UK general election, 18 months is far too short: it took longer than that to negotiate the terms of the independence referendum itself.

Indeed, a small country in these negotiations should keep all its options open, and not tie itself to an end date which it needs agreement to deliver. Scotland's negotiating hand, not strong in the first instance, has just been weakened. The driver is narrowly political: until 2016, the SNP are guaranteed a majority in the Scottish Parliament. After that, they might lose power or have to share it, and Salmond might be unable to wield in the creation of a new state the domineering control that he has exercised over devolved Scottish politics.

A new Scottish state, the paper acknowledges, would write its own constitution. Scotland will have its own Philadelphia moment, and a commission is proposed to do the constitutional drafting. No doubt SNP councils all over Scotland are bidding to host it. Of course a new, codified constitution for a separate state is essential. A drafting commission of the great and the good is a perfectly sensible way to start. You might think it could then be ratified by another referendum, giving the new state a firm foundation. But the White Paper then goes on to prejudge most of the big constitutional choices. Scotland has, apparently, to be a constitutional...

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