What happens after there is a Yes vote? The answer is important. Before the referendum, the Westminster Government will have no truck with discussions or pre-negotiations in the event of a Yes vote. To do so would give the Yes side the very credence its refusal is designed to avoid.
After a Yes vote, it will be different. Negotiations will have to take place on the division of assets and liabilities, areas of co-operation (security is an obvious one), transitional arrangements. If past practice is observed, after conclusion of negotiations as, for example, with Ireland, India and all the others, Westminster will divest itself of its sovereignty over Scotland with an “Independence for Scotland” Bill, that will become an Act.
But perhaps the Scots will not accept that old practice, in which, whatever the reality, Westminster appears in the role of one ‘giving’ or ‘granting’ independence. Should the Independence Bill be required to transfer from Westminster, after its final stages there, to the Scottish Parliament for its final legislative birth?
One can begin to see how sensible it is to start asking these questions now, so that none are struck dumb and immobile on the 19th. September when, to the surprise of the Unionists, Scotland votes Yes – with the Scotland that voted Yes expecting early action to complete the process of independence, and the construction of a written Scottish Constitution.
Who will negotiate?
There are other reasons for asking question post-Yes now. Who will negotiate for Scotland? The referendum Bill going through Holyrood is silent on that matter. It deals with process and the question to be asked, nothing more. There may be an assumption that responsibility for negotiating will be assumed by the present Scottish Government and Parliament. Has anyone asked Alex Salmond or the other party leaders? Such an assumption has no legal leg to stand on. No Act will have been passed giving the Scottish Government and Parliament the sole right to speak and negotiate for the nation. Politics, of course, can trump legality, but there is a problem here too. A Yes vote will not be delivered by the SNP alone. A Yes will require support right across the political spectrum, with the Labour vote being, if not decisive, certainly critical. Has anyone asked the Labour leadership at Holyrood, or Westminster what position it would claim in any negotiating team in the event of a Yes result?
What will Westminster MPs do?
A consequence of a Yes vote is that the Westminster contingent of MPs will have to look north for a continuation of a political career. Perhaps a reason why so many are strongly opposed to independence. At present, with Holyrood taking the giant share of responsibility for Scottish policies, there can be no better life than being a Scottish MP at Westminster. But with a Yes vote, what is finally agreed in negotiations will frame the political context of their involvement in purely independent Scottish politics; and it will beg some questions about whether, and how, they will sort out candidacies with their colleagues in Holyrood for the 2016 independence election.
The negotiations will be, therefore, of considerable importance to the Unionist parties stripped of their Unionism. Will they make a claim to be part of the negotiations? Like the Holyrood MSPs there will be no legal grounds for such a claim, and given their opposition to independence, they will have a very weak political claim.
What part will Darling, Brown and other former Cabinet Members play?
Yet, if one looks at the Westminster contingent, there is a former Prime Minister, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, former and present Cabinet Ministers, and Ministers of State – all with knowledge of how Westminster works, and thinks. Would the nation accept them standing aside, as if in the huff, not willing to eat just a tiny bit of humble pie? Would the nation accept the SNP and Holyrood leaders denying these people participation in the negotiating team, when all the talent we can muster will be important in tough sessions with the Westminster side?
Will our Westminster MPs be content to be given consultant or adviser status, or will they want to play a full part as members of the negotiating team? It might appear that the most sensible way forward would be for all our elected representatives, MSPs, MPs and MEPs to meet as a joint body to decide on the make-up of the negotiations team. But the numbers would put the Unionist parties in a majority – hardly something the SNP, without whom there would have been no referendum, could accept.
2015 Cannot Be Avoided
There is a further complication that will arise from a Yes vote. Until the day of independence, Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom during the transitional phase. That will be the case in 2015 when a Westminster general election will be held. What will the various parties do in Scotland is an intriguing question?
What will Westminster do?
What in Scotland would that election be about? Scottish Labour could hardly run on electing a Labour Government at Westminster, when people will know they would not be long part of it. What moral right would Scottish Labour MPs have to help form a UK Labour Government, if the Labour party in England and Wales could not form a Government with their own numbers – because they didn’t win the election in what will be rUK? The same goes for the Libdems whose calls for a coalition would come from a weakened voice through the shedding of their Scottish MPs.
Would the SNP bother to fight such an election? There would be a temptation on the part of all, to take part in this election as a major test of strength pre the independence election in 2016. It might even be that 2015 would be fought on the issue of the relevant strengths of the parties’ entitlement to representation on any Convention established to draw up the Constitution. But what role would the Scottish MPs play at Westminster? Would they vote on English and Welsh subjects? Hardly.
Following a Yes vote, there will have to be a Constitution in place before the 2016 election, as the Parliament and Government drawn from it will be governed by its provisions.
An English-Welsh Tory Opportunity?
Would the Tory party in England and Wales, recognising the opportunity offered of a majority Government, try to pass a after 19th. September 2014, applicable to the 2015 election, by restricting it to only England, Wales and Northern Ireland? No doubt public opinion in England, having been rebuffed as a continuing partner, would welcome that; but that would leave Scotland in limbo for a period over a wide range of policies.
It may be thought that with the opinion polls just now, a Yes vote is not on the cards. There is, however, a long way to go. There is energy in the Yes side as was demonstrated by the turnout on 21st. September. Would it not be sensible, given the possibility of Scotland voting Yes next September, for our politicians and citizens to think about the questions that, of necessity, will arise, and try to frame some answers?