In the matter of Scottish independence, the British political elite and the Scottish Numpty Party (SNP) are flatly ignoring the interests of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish. This is unreasonable for two reasons: firstly, the granting of independence to Scotland has considerable political, economic and security implications for the remainder of the UK and, secondly, the conditions on which Scotland might be allowed to leave the Union are of direct interest to the rest of the UK, because if they are too generous to Scotland they will disadvantage England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The granting of over-generous conditions to the Scots is probable with the present Coalition Government, which has done nothing to abate the appeasement of the Scots so assiduously practised by New Labour since 1997 by continuing the Barnett Formula and tossing juicy bones to Edinburgh such as increasing the number of armed forces personnel in Scotland at a time of massive reductions in Britain’s defence forces (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/8646134/Liam-Fox-Scottish-defence-footprint-to-increase-despite-RAF-Leuchars-closure.html). There is also the strong possibility that the present Government would attempt to placate Scots by going for devolution max or independence lite, either of which would shift major powers to Scotland such as fiscal independence and the revenues from the oil and gas in Scottish waters without the Scots taking on a share proportionate to their population of the UK’s financial obligations.
It is also true that even if the cutting adrift of Scotland was entirely equitable in terms of the division of debts and assets, the rest of the UK (and especially England) would have a serious interest in blocking the divorce. To begin with, an independent Scotland would not be able to guard its own borders or patrol the oil and gas fields in its waters because of its small population, the large territory in relation to the population and the sheer cost of doing so. The rest of the UK (in reality England because Wales and Northern Ireland receive far more from the UK Treasury tax pot than they put in) would in practice be providing Scotland’s defence, because no country could imagine that an attack on Scotland would not bring in England.
There would also be the threat of immigration from an independent Scotland to England. Scotland could operate an open door policy in the sure knowledge that immigrants entering Scotland would overwhelmingly head for England. Scotland might even act as a national people trafficker by selling entry to Scotland and/or Scottish citizenship. If both Scotland and England remain within the EU, the Westminster Government would be unable to do anything about the immigration to England via Scotland of any number of people from both within and without the EU.
Lastly, there would be the question of what would happen if an independent Scotland ran into the sort of economic trouble experienced currently by the Republic of Ireland and Greece. As sure as eggs are eggs, England would be called upon to bail her out. Even if that did not happen it is probable that an independent Scotland would not be able or willing to finance her share of the accrued financial obligations of the UK. There would be no way of guaranteeing that an independent Scotland could service even her 9 per cent share of the UK national debt (which is officially projected to be at least £1.3 trillion at
the proposed referendum date of 2015) let alone her PFI and other public service debt (https://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-wages-of-scottish-independence-public-debt/). The reality is that if Scotland had a nominal independence England would be the guarantor of last resort, underwriting Scotland’s obligations accrued both before and after independence.
The rest of the UK, and especially England, clearly have a pressing interest in the question of Scottish independence. How should that interest be given a political voice? This can be done either with a referendum on Scottish independence in which they (but not the Scots) vote on a simple question such as “Should Scotland be allowed to vote on whether they want independence” or by a referendum held in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on any conditions for independence which have been agreed between the UK and Scottish Governments and accepted by the two parliaments. It is important to understand that UK Government cannot simply decide to grant Scotland independence, because the 1707 Act of Union would have to be repealed by the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish Parliament would have to accept the conditions for independence and pass legislation preparing Scotland for independence if a YES vote was obtained. (The later Acts bringing Ireland into the Union and then adjusting the Union to include Northern Ireland rather than Ireland, would be amended by the doctrine of implied repeal. However, a new Act might be passed clarifying the new situation).
A vote on the simple question of independence should be held in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and a YES vote obtained before a Scottish referendum is held. If a NO vote resulted then Scottish independence would be off the agenda. Similarly, if the conditions are voted upon, this should be done before the vote is put to the Scots. A NO vote would mean that either Scottish independence was off the agenda or that the conditions had to be changed and put to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish electorates again. Nothing short of Westminster abolishing the Scottish parliament and government by repealing the devolution settlement as it applied to Scotland could prevent a referendum, being organised by the Scottish government and sanctioned by the Scottish parliament, but such a referendum would have no legal or constitutional status.
If Scotland declared UDI they would legally be in rebellion. That would not only lay Scotland open to catastrophic sanctions by Westminster but also put them at odds with the EU because an independent Scotland created illegally would not automatically have EU status. It would also be a very dangerous thing for the EU to offer any support on encouragement to part of an established EU member seceding from the member because there are so many parts of the EU which might do the same. In theory this might play into the hands of Eurocrats because it undermines the powerful national state, but in practice it would simply strengthen nationalism and in the most messy and chaotic manner with
micro-states popping up all over the EU. This consideration would also prevent the EU
pushing for Scotland to be made independent in the case of Scotland voting YES in a referendum which had no legal status. However, the EU might well push for greater
devolved powers short of independence for Scotland in such circumstances. That needs watching.
There is also the ticklish question of what the franchise should be for the Scottish referendum on independence. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is far from being ethnically monolithic. The 2001 census showed 88 per cent of the population being White Scottish, 9 per cent White non-Scottish and 2 per cent black or Asian. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2004/02/18876/32939).
There are also different electoral qualifications for voting in Scotland and the rest of the UK, these varying between UK national elections, elections to the devolved assemblies, EU elections and local elections. Elections to the Scottish parliament include Scottish residents from other EU countries in the electorate, while elections to the Commons do not. Conversely, ex-patriot Britons are allowed to vote for Westminster MPs while they are not allowed the privilege in the election of MSPs to the Scottish parliament even if they are on Scottish electoral registers. As there are large numbers of Scots living outside
Scotland, this is no small difference.
The Scottish government Draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill Consultation Paper states “Eligibility to vote will follow the precedent of the 1997 referendum in being based on who
can vote at Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections. However, the draft Bill provides that those aged 16 or 17 on the electoral register on the date of the referendum will also be entitled to”. (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/02/22120157/7)
That is all very well on paper, but there is no guarantee that the Commons would accept such a franchise because that would mean a large proportion of voters could be either without British citizenship or possessed of dual citizenship. It would in principle be possible to identify people from outside Scotland who would be willing to vote for independence, ship large numbers of them into the country shortly before a referendum, get them registered as resident in Scotland and effectively fix a YES vote.
There is also the strong possibility that there would judicial challenges from those excluded particularly ex-patriot Scots. In a country such as modern Britain they might well succeed, so hemmed about with laws and treaties obligations restricting what parliaments and governments may do. Most particularly Article 3 of the first Protocol to the Human Rights Act runs “The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.” It is all too easy to foresee the type of legal wrangles over who comes within the definition of “the people”, especially in the case of ex-patriot Scots. Would a Scot have to live outside Scotland for six months, a year, five years or what to count as not being part of the people?
If the Scottish parliament could not simply lay down who should vote in the referendum large numbers of possibilities arise. Here are a few. Should every adult living in Scotland get the vote? Should it be every adult who is qualified to vote for the Scottish Parliament? Should it be only British citizens living in Scotland? Should it be only Scots living in Scotland? Should it be Scots living throughout the UK? What about Scots living abroad? Should they be allowed to vote as ex-pat Britons are allowed to vote in Westminster elections? Should it be any adult in Scotland entitled to vote in EU elections? Should it be every adult in Scotland entitled to vote in local elections?
The above facts speak for themselves: there is considerable doubt about when and in what form a referendum on Scottish independence might be held. It is vital that the many unresolved questions are answered before any referendums are held and that the political elite in the UK does not simply railroad an independence referendum through without giving the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland a say in that which so directly concerns them.