Scottish Independence

Background

Scotland was an independent country until the 1707 Acts of Union, which united Scotland with England (and Wales) in the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Although the crowns of both kingdoms had been held by the same people since 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I of England as James I, each country had its own parliament and legal system, border tensions remained high and trade and social barriers remained formidable. The 1707 Acts merged England and Scotland's parliaments and abolished trade barriers, although the countries retained distinct legal systems.

The first few decades of the new kingdom saw a number of attempts to restore the ousted Stuart monarchy (the 'Jacobite rebellions'), centred on and led from the Scottish Highlands. Far from being a Scottish national movement, however, Jacobitism was as unpopular in Presbyterian lowland Scotland as it was in much of England.

Although union was not universally welcomed, it allowed Scotland's commercial, intellectual and political elites to thrive, with Scots subsequently providing a disproportionate share of Britain's Empire-builders.

A separate Secretary of State for Scotland represented Scotland's interests within the Government from 1707 to 1745, when the post was abolished with powers largely exercised thereafter by the Home Secretary and the Lord Advocate. A post of Secretary for Scotland was created in 1885, which was upgraded to Secretary of State in 1926. The Scottish Office moved its base from London to Edinburgh in 1939, and it took over many powers exercised by other Departments during the 20th Century.

The Scottish National Party was founded in 1934 with the aim of uniting the nationalist movement through the merger of the left-leaning pro-independence National Party of Scotland (NPS) and the Scottish Party, a group of former Conservatives preferring home rule. At the time of the merger, the home rulers' views prevailed, and the SNP rejected the goal of full independence.

The SNP's first MP was elected in 1945, but it was not until the 1960s that the party began to make substantial electoral headway. Notably, in 1967, the SNP won over 200,000 votes in local council elections, and took 40 per cent of the national vote in 1968's council elections.

The gains being made by the nationalists led the Labour Government that year to set up the Kilbrandon Commission to draw up plans for a Scottish Assembly, and Conservative leader Edward Heath to promise to support plans for devolution. The SNP won seven and then 11 seats in the general elections of 1974, having successfully co-opted the discovery of North Sea oil to its cause with the 'It's Scotland's oil' campaign. During this period, the SNP developed an explicitly social democratic left of centre political agenda to complement its nationalist aspirations.

The Scotland Act 1978 made provision for a referendum on devolution. Although the March 1979 referendum found a majority of those voting in favour (1,230,937 - around 77,000 more than those against), it did not achieve the 40 per cent of the overall electorate threshold required for the result to stand.

The failure of the referendum saw the start of a period of decline for the SNP, as it fell victim to factionalism, with the expulsion of members of Siol nan Gaidheal and the leftwing 79 Group.

Under the Conservative Thatcher and Major governments there was little impetus to revive the devolution project, but it remained part of Labour's agenda - what John Smith famously called Labour's "unfinished business". In 1988, a Scottish Constitutional Convention was formed, bringing together MPs, MEPS, local authorities, the STUC, business, church and civic groups, which produced its final report, 'Scotland's Parliament. Scotland's Right' calling for a Scottish Parliament in 1995.

On its return to power in 1997, Labour set out its plans for a Scottish Parliament and a referendum in September that year. 1,775,045 (74.3 per cent) voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament, with 614,400 (25.7 per cent) against; and 1,512,889 (63.5 per cent) supported giving the Parliament tax-varying powers, with 870,263 (36.5 per cent) against. The Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.

On May 4 2007 the SNP achieved a historic victory in the Scottish parliamentary elections. The nationalist party increased its share of Holyrood seats, with 47 of the 129 seats available. Labour slipped into second place with 46 seats.

Following the results, Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, stated: "Scotland has changed for good and forever. There may be Labour governments and First Ministers in decades still to come, but never again will the Labour Party think it has a divine right to government."

Discussions with the Greens and the Liberal Democrats on the possibility of forming a coalition fell apart, leading the SNP to form a minority government with Alex Salmond as First Minister. Opposition parties refused to work with the SNP because of its commitment to a referendum on independence before the end of its first term. 

However, the SNP won a resounding victory in the 2011 elections; the party increased the number of its seats to 69, giving it a majority in Holyrood - and the power to call a referendum.

Opponents demanded that the referendum be held immediately, believing there was little support in Scotland at that time for full independence, but Mr Salmond indicated he would wait until the latter part of his five year term, giving him a further four years to gain more support. He also indicated that voters could be given a second option - to stay in the UK but with far greater powers, many of which he suggested could be brought about via the Scotland Bill.

In his Holyrood address on being re-elected First Minister in May 2011, Mr Salmond said: "I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy. I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better."

Following several months of further discussions, an agreement was finally signed on 15 October 2012 between Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond granting Holyrood the power to hold a referendum on independence.

The referendum is expected to be held in the autumn of 2014.
 

Controversies

Research conducted by the Constitution Unit at University College London into the impact of devolution from 1997 to 2004, suggested that while there was no evidence of an increase in support for independence in Scotland, devolution had thrown the SNP "a new political lifeline", as voters were more willing to vote for the SNP in the Scottish Parliament elections than in Westminster elections. In addition, the review found that devolution had done little to reduce the importance of Westminster in governing and being responsible for Scottish affairs.

Although independence from the UK remains an SNP objective, it still appears to be a minority concern and many radical proponents accuse the party of having compromised itself through participating in the Scottish Parliament, which remains subject to Westminster. The SNP includes both 'gradualist' and 'fundamentalist' wings, which even some within the party have warned may be hard to reconcile.

Despite the Scottish Parliament having considerable powers, Westminster reserves a wide range of policy areas, including defence and foreign policy, which are generally thought to be necessary for independent statehood.

The Scotland Act, passed in May 2012, implements changes to the devolution settlement as recommended by the Calman Commission and, amongst other things, enables the Scottish Parliament to legislate on taxation.

On 12 October, 2012, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, and Scotland's Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issued a joint statement confirming that talks on the Scottish independence referendum had been completed and all outstanding issues resolved, including the terms of the Section 30 Order which passes power from Westminster to Holyrood to legislate on the referendum.

An agreement to hold a referendum on Scottish independence was signed in Edinburgh on 15 October 2012 by Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond.

The governments agreed to promote an Order in Council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 in the United Kingdom and Scottish Parliaments to allow a single-question referendum on Scottish independence to be held before the end of 2014.

The UK government was successful in limiting the referendum to a single question – in or out of the UK - rather than allowing a second option, thought to be favoured by the SNP,  of staying in the UK but with far greater powers transferred to the Scottish government.

However, the SNP was successful in holding off the referendum until 2014, thus allowing themselves more time to build support for their campaign.

Statistics

The 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election produced the following result in terms of MSP numbers:
Scottish National Party 69
Scottish Labour Party 37
Scottish Conservatives 15
Scottish Liberal Democrats 5
Scottish Green Party 2
Margo MacDonald 1

Turnout in the election was 50.4% in the constituency vote and 51.1% in the regional vote, down slightly on the 2007 election when turnout was 51.7% in the constituency vote and 52.4% in the regional vote.
Of the 129 MSPs elected for Session 4, 48 (37.2%) did not serve in the previous parliamentary session. Forty five women (34.9%) were elected to Parliament, compared to 43 in 2007, and 2 MSPs (1.6%) from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to only 1 in 2007.

Source: Scottish Parliament - May 2011
 

Quotes

"The governments are agreed that the referendum should:


"have a clear legal base;
"be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament;
"be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, governments and people; and
"deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.

"The referendum legislation will set out:

"the date of the referendum;
"the franchise;
"the wording of the question;
"rules on campaign financing; and
"other rules for the conduct of the referendum."

From the Scottish Referendum Agreement, signed 15 October 2012.

“This marks the beginning of an important chapter in Scotland’s story and allows the real debate to begin.

“It paves the way so that the biggest question of all can be settled: a separate Scotland or a United Kingdom? I will be making a very positive argument for our United Kingdom.

“It is now up to the people of Scotland to make that historic decision. The very future of Scotland depends on their verdict. It is that important. This agreement delivers the people’s referendum.”

Prime Minister David Cameron on signing the referendum – 15 October 2012

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