The current news coverage on Scotland’s Independence Referendum is awash with questions and misinformation regarding the matter. On issues of such constitutional importance, clarity and honest answers are vital. These are some of the most frequently asked questions, which have been circulating since the announcement of another referendum. I have given brief answers to these questions, in order to shine a light on the subject, and supply some of the information which the mainstream media may fail to provide.
- Is there a mandate for another referendum?
- But was the 2014 vote not “once in a generation”?
- But Theresa May claims the timing would create an ill-informed decision?
- What if Westminster still says no?
- Is a referendum not just a distraction from the work of the Scottish Government?
- Can Scotland afford independence? What about the £15 billion deficit?
- Is the Scottish economy not reliant on oil?
- Is the trade to the United Kingdom not worth 4 times as much, than trade with the EU?
- Will Scotland remain within the EU?
- What currency will Scotland use?
- Does Scotland not need to join the Euro if it were to remain within the EU?
- Did Gordon Brown not say that Scotland will gain extensive powers after Brexit anyway?
- How will independence make a positive difference?
Is there a mandate for another referendum?
Yes. The current SNP administration were elected with 46.5% of the vote, far more than the current Conservative administration which only gained 36.9% of the vote share. Crucially, the SNP’s 2016 manifesto stated, “the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum … if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.” This explicit commitment in the manifesto proves beyond doubt that there is a clear mandate for another vote. Furthermore, a majority of pro-independence MSPs were elected to the Scottish Parliament, which closely reflects the view of the Scottish electorate due to the proportional representation voting system which is used, proving the unambiguous mandate which exists.
But was the 2014 vote not “once in a generation”?
True. The SNP did use the term “once in a generation” when describing the last independence referendum, but it is obvious that the political landscape of the United Kingdom has changed dramatically within the last two years, and as a result the 2014 is effectively invalidated. Many people will have voted based on the claim that only a ‘No’ vote will safeguard Scotland’s place in the EU. As this assertion has failed to come to fruition, it would be wrong to assume that no one has changed their opinion on independence, and therefore it is only right for people to be allowed to reconsider, in these new circumstances. If people decide that they still believe a post-Brexit Britain is a more desirable option then, at the very least, there can be certainty with regards to the will of the people. However, only another referendum will provide the opportunity for people to choose a different path.
But Theresa May claims the timing would create an ill-informed decision?
Wrong. The First Minister selected the desired timeframe of the independence referendum based on Theresa May’s own timetable for the Brexit negotiations. Under the current proposals for an independence vote, the Scottish people will be able to decide after the EU negotiations have ended, and in tandem with the UK parliament and the parliaments of each EU member state voting on the finalised deal. Therefore, if there is a sufficient understanding of what the final Brexit deal will look like, in order for a parliamentary vote to take place, then there is no reason as to why the Scottish people will be any less informed. The First Minister has offered to discuss and compromise on the possible timing of the eventual vote, but it seems unlikely Theresa May will wish to engage in such talks, as the Prime Minister appears to be attempting to use a delay tactic, with the aim of avoiding having to fight a referendum, while distracted with the EU negotiations.
What if Westminster still says no?
Bad move. The prospect of the UK Government declaring that Scotland will not get the right to decide on their future seems pretty low, due to the fact that such a move would almost guarantee support for independence to rocket. Can you imagine the outcry if the European Union told the UK that they weren’t allowed to leave? It would create a constructional and democratic crisis. However, if they were to lock the exit door for Scotland, then it would be clear proof that Westminster feared the verdict of the Scottish people. It would be a question for the courts as to whether it would be unlawful for the Scottish Parliament to hold another referendum without the permission of the UK Government. Currently, the union between Scotland and England is reserved to the UK parliament, meaning the Scottish Parliament is not allowed to legislate on issues which are concerned with the Act of Union. In 2014, this was overcome with a Section 30 order, which the First Minister is currently seeking approval for, in order to temporarily enabled Scotland to legislate for an independence referendum. The question would be, whether the sole purpose of a non-authorised referendum would be to end the union, and thus conflict with the reserved power, or if its purpose was simply to gauge the opinion of the Scottish people, in which case such a vote could take place without the consent of Westminster. The outcome of such a hypothetical is not clear, by any means.
Is a referendum not just a distraction from the work of the Scottish Government?
Not in the grand scheme of things. The Scottish Government will continue its daily work, regardless of any votes taking place. Legislation on key issues will continue to be passed and the government will still seek improvements on important areas of public life, as they do just now. However, devolved issues, such as education and health, will undoubtedly come under threat as a result of Brexit, and funding these areas will become increasingly difficult as the UK endures the economic turbulence, caused by leaving the single market. Therefore in many ways, it would be reckless to not to plan for the future and fight to protect these vital public services. It is worth noting, that the Scottish Government had attempted to prevent the economic difficulties of a hard Brexit in other ways, which did not require a referendum, such as asking the UK Government to keep Britain within the single market, or at the very least, negotiate for a differential arrangement which safeguarded Scotland’s place in the single market. It was the point blank refusal, by Theresa May, to consider these options, which has left independence as the only method of remaining within the single market.
Can Scotland afford independence? What about the £15 billion deficit?
Of course Scotland has the capacity to be an economically viable independent country. Mark Littlewood, from the Institute of Economics, highlighted Scotland has a population roughly the size of Slovakia or Finland, and the national income of a country like Portugal, stating that there is “no reason” why Scotland can’t be an independent nation. However, the fact remains, that Scotland has a £15 billion deficit. It should be said, that deficits fluctuate year on year, and in many of the years gone past Scotland’s fiscal position has outstripped that of the rest of the UK. Nonetheless, a deficit is present in the current circumstances, just as the UK had a £153 billion deficit in the year 2009/10. This is a budget deficit which has been created under Westminster’s watch, as part of life in the UK, and therefore the real question is; can Scotland afford not to be independent? Do we allow Westminster to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again? The current remit of the Scottish Parliament does not include the responsibility of macro-economic policy, meaning the blame for Scotland’s current fiscal deficit, rests firmly with Westminster and the Conservative government. Moreover, such a deficit will still exist, regardless of whether Scotland is an independent nation or remains within the UK, and either way, it must be dealt with. Neither option on the upcoming ballot paper will be able to vanish the deficit. Instead, there will be a choice about where the economic levers are best placed in order grow the economy and encourage investment, to allow for deficit reduction.
Is the Scottish economy not reliant on oil?
No. As a diminishing natural resource, oil must be considered as a bonus, and not a basis of the Scottish economy. Although oil has provided the UK Treasury with hundreds of billions of pounds over the years, it can’t be relied upon into the future. However, there are many other industries which underpin the fundamentally strong Scottish economy, with onshore revenues growing faster than the fall in offshore revenues. For example, in 2016, the food and drinks industry recorded record growth of £5.5 billion. Other than a world class food and drinks industry, Scotland is also home to unmatched energy resources, some of the world’s best universities, a strong finance and business services sector, distinguished expertise in life sciences and advanced manufacturing, as well as, a leading tourism industry. Scotland’s economy is far from a one trick pony.
Is the trade to the United Kingdom not worth 4 times as much, than trade with the EU?
Correct. However, this is perfectly normal, as most countries will conduct the majority of their trade with their nearest neighbour, which explains why Scotland is England’s second biggest export market. There is no reason why this trade would stop as a result of independence, especially when the UK Government has said they are planning to trade with every country in the world; it would be unforeseen if Scotland were to be the only exception to that. To suggest that trade with the rest of the UK means Scotland shouldn’t be independent, would be to suggest that because Canada conducts a majority of its trade with the United States, that it is somehow unable of being an independent country from the United States – such a proposition is obviously ridiculous. Independence would ensure that our trade with European states would be protected from expensive tariffs, which will damage Scotland’s economic position, while continuing to trade freely with the United Kingdom. Although Scotland, at present, trades less with Europe, the market is 8 times larger than the UK, meaning there is far more potential to grow, and recent data shows that European trade is growing faster than trade with the rest of the UK. Furthermore, the UK Government is currently asserting that they plan to have a frictionless trade border between the UK and Ireland, which means if such an arrangement is possible for the Irish border, there is no reason for there not to be a frictionless border between the UK and an independent Scotland.
Will Scotland remain within the EU?
Not seamlessly. Scotland will be leaving the EU as a direct result of the Brexit vote, and independence will not be able to prevent this in the immediate years after. However, Scotland would be “fast-tracked” according to many experts, such as the European Commission representative, Jacqueline Minor, and could achieve full-membership by 2023, if Scotland became independent by 2020. This is largely due to the fact that because Scotland has been a member for the past four decades, all Scottish legislation abides by EU law, and therefore there wouldn’t be the additional time for domestic law to converge with EU regulations. Moreover, the idea that Spain would prevent Scotland from joining the EU, due to domestic fears that the case for Catalonian independence would be bolstered, was completely ruled out by the Spanish foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis. Mr Dastis confirmed that “[Spain] would not block” an independent Scotland from rejoining the EU, while answering questions from journalists in April 2017. Two law academics have also published a report, which concluded that there would be a feeling of “political goodwill” towards Scotland, which would allow for an easier than usual application. Nonetheless, Alex Salmond has clarified that during the years in which Scotland will inevitably be outside the EU, the Scottish Government will seek to join EFTA, which will be a far easier process due to the fact that it only has four members, and would act as a transition period, to ensure seamless continuation of the single market; vital for protecting Scotland’s trade and economy.
“The idea is to have continuous membership of the European Economic Area.
That’s the logic behind Nicola Sturgeon’s 18 months to two years for the referendum.”
What currency will Scotland use?
It still remains unclear on what the official Scottish Government position will be on this question, as the Growth Commission, which is looking in detail on the currency options, has yet to conclude. However, one thing is certain; Scotland will not use the Euro. This Scottish Government has been very adamant of this, and with little appetite from the public, as well as various economists discrediting the idea, it seems more than unlikely that Scotland would adopt the currency. The currency preference of Alex Salmond’s administration in 2014, also proved to be unconvincing and problematic for many people. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel-prize winning economist, and economic advisor to the Scottish Government, now believes that a free-floating Scottish currency would now be the best option for an independent Scotland. He cited foreign examples of small countries with their own currency, such as Iceland, which “had one of the deepest downturns in 2008” but because of its independent currency, “had one of the strongest recoveries.” Although nothing is set in stone, there are a number of different, but viable options, which would be available to Scotland; some of which could arguably prove to be more robust than the increasingly weak UK pound, which has been damaged due to Brexit.
Does Scotland not need to join the Euro if it were to remain within the EU?
Joseph Stiglitz, economic advisor, highlighted that if Scotland were to use a new currency, then this should help to keep the doors open to reinstating its membership of the European Union, as there is a clear precedent of countries continuing with their own currency while remaining members of the EU. A leading economist for JP Morgan agreed with the point made by Stiglitz, and emphasised, that although there is a technical obligation for all EU members to join the Euro, there is no set timescale for when this needs to happen. The willingness to accept states as members of the EU, without having to adopt the Euro, such as Sweden and the United Kingdom, debunks the argument made by some unionists that an independent Scotland within the EU would have to introduce the Euro.
Did Gordon Brown not say that Scotland will gain extensive powers after Brexit anyway?
He did. He has also said the same thing about three times before now. Gordon Brown can say and claim whatever he likes, but he has as much influence over the constitutional agenda as you or I. Brown famously argued, the day before the last referendum, that if the people voted ‘No’, we would be rewarded with a “quasi-federal state,” but no such promise came to realisation. This is because Gordon Brown is not accountable to anyone, and whether or not he makes good on his claims, has no impact on him. Therefore, nothing Brown says with regards to constitutional policy should be taken seriously. Instead, it would be more sensible to listen to what Theresa May and her party are saying, considering they are now expected to be in power until at least 2030. The Prime Minister has said that there should be a rewrite of the devolution settlement, and is alluding to a Westminster power grab on powers which are already devolved to Scotland, such as agriculture and fishing, meaning they will be taken back under London control, thus weakening the power of the Scottish Parliament. So contrary to the claims of Gordon Brown, there is a serious risk that Holyrood will face the removal of responsibilities in a post-Brexit Britain.
How will independence make a positive difference?
Brexit has ensured that change is now unstoppable, but independence is about what kind of change that will be. Independence will allow Scotland to uphold the values which it holds dear: a fair, equal, welcoming, and compassionate country. If Brexit has taught us anything, it is that Scotland and England are on two very different political roads, and this was also clear in the 2015 General Election. What we value as a country differs from our friends south of the border. The hard-right Tory party, now speaks the language of UKIP, and believes that immigration is a priority. In Scotland, immigration is also a priority, but we need more of it, not less. It is one of the many issues in which Scotland would be best served by decisions made in Scotland, for Scotland, by politicians accountable to Scotland. The Tories have a single Scottish MP, and yet our country has had unnecessary austerity, and damaging Tory policies imposed upon it, solely driven by ideology. Now, because the failure of the Labour Party, the Tories are expected to remain in power until at least 2030, and they can do what they like to Scotland – no consequences. Scotland provides zero political value to the Conservative party – we can’t un-elect them, if we didn’t even vote for them in the first place. The economic case for the United Kingdom lies in tatters, and the future of post-Brexit Britain is a gloomy prospect. The Tories are proposing a race to the bottom, with reduced corporate tax, reduced wages, and reduced worker’s rights. These are not the priorities of the Scottish electorate, and it is certainly not the basis for a modern economy. Our country values openness, inclusiveness, and a society which helps people out of poverty. Independence will allow the Scottish people to shape the country in which we live, and ensure that every aspect of Scotland’s future, is in Scotland’s hands.