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Scottish independence

Scottish independence

Scottish independence (Scottish Gaelic: Neo-eisimeileachd na h-Alba; Scots: Scots unthirldom) is the notion of Scotland as a sovereign state, independent from the United Kingdom, and refers to the political movement that is campaigning to bring it about.

Scotland was an independent kingdom through the Middle Ages, and fought wars to maintain its independence from England. The two kingdoms were joined in personal union in 1603 when the Scottish King James VI became James I of England, and the two kingdoms united politically into one kingdom called Great Britain in 1707. Political campaigns for Scottish self-government began in the 19th century, initially in the form of demands for home rule within the United Kingdom. Two referendums on devolution were held in 1979 and 1997, with a devolved Scottish Parliament being established on 1 July 1999.

The pro-independence Scottish National Party first became the governing party of the devolved parliament in 2007, and it won an outright majority of seats at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. This led to an agreement between the Scottish and UK governments to hold the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Voters were asked: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" 44.7 percent of voters answered "Yes" and 55.3 percent answered "No", with a record voter turnout of 85 percent.

A second referendum on independence has been proposed, particularly since the UK voted to leave the European Union in a June 2016 referendum and since pro-independence parties increased their majority in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. In June 2022, Nicola Sturgeon proposed the date of 19 October 2023 for a new referendum on Scottish independence, subject to confirmation of its legality and constitutionality. In November 2022, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that the Scottish Parliament did not have the power to legislate for a second referendum.


Kingdom of Scotland

Scotland emerged as an independent polity during the Early Middle Ages, with some historians dating its foundation from the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin in 843. The level of independence of the Scottish kingdom was fought over by the Scottish kings and by the Norman and Angevin rulers of England who petitioned the Pope and other foreign rulers.

A watershed in the Scottish kingdom's history was a succession crisis that erupted in 1290 when Edward I of England claimed the right of appointment to the Scottish throne. The Auld Alliance of Scotland and France against English interests was first invoked at that time and remained active through to the 16th century. The Wars of Scottish Independence ended in a renewed kingdom under Robert the Bruce (crowned 1306), whose grandson Robert II of Scotland was the first Scottish king of the House of Stuart.


From 1603 Scotland and England shared the same monarch in a personal union when James VI of Scotland was declared King of England and Scotland in what was known as the Union of the Crowns. After James II and VII was deposed in 1688 amid Catholic-Protestant disputes, and as the line of Protestant Stuarts showed signs of failing (as indeed occurred in 1714), English fears that Scotland would select a different monarch, potentially causing conflict within Great Britain, and the bankruptcy of many Scottish nobles through the Darien scheme led to the formal union of the two kingdoms in 1707, with the Treaty of Union and subsequent Acts of Union, to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Scottish Jacobite resistance to the union, led by descendants of James II and VII including Bonnie Prince Charlie, continued until 1746.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed by the Acts of Union 1800, which united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland. Following the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) and the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the war, Ireland was partitioned into two states: Southern Ireland, which opted to become independent (and is now known as Republic of Ireland), and Northern Ireland, which – given its geographical extent which tended to ensure a Unionist majority – chose to remain within the United Kingdom.

Home rule movement

The "Home Rule" movement for a Scottish Assembly was first taken up in 1853 by the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, a body close to the Conservative Party. A key element in this movement was the comparison with Ireland. The original movement broadened its political appeal and soon began to receive Liberal Party backing. In 1885, the post of Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Office were re-established to promote Scotland's interests and express its concerns to the UK Parliament. In 1886, however, Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill. It was not regarded as an immediate constitutional priority however, particularly when the Irish Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons.

Immediately before the First World War, the Liberal Government led by H. H. Asquith supported the concept of "Home Rule all round", whereby Scottish home rule would follow the Irish home rule proposed in the Government of Ireland Act 1914. Asquith believed that there was an iniquity in that the component parts of the United Kingdom could come together to act together in common purposes, but those components could not deal with internal matters that did not require consent across the UK. This was not a nationalist philosophy, but instead Asquith was acting in the belief that federalism was the "true basis of union" and that centralising power in Westminster was the "worst of all political blunders". A Scottish Home Rule bill was first presented to Parliament in 1913, but its progress was soon ended as Parliament focused on emergency measures necessitated by the First World War.

Unlike Ireland, which rebelled in the Easter Rising and fought a War of Independence, Scotland did not resist central rule. There was, however, a persistent demand for Scottish home rule. The Scottish Office was relocated to St Andrew's House in Edinburgh during the 1930s. The Scottish Covenant was a petition to the UK Government asking for home rule. It was first proposed in 1930 by John MacCormick and formally written in 1949. The petition "was eventually signed by two million people" (the population of Scotland was recorded as 5,100,000 in the 1951 UK Census). The covenant was ignored by the main political parties. Also in 1950, the Stone of Destiny was removed from Westminster Abbey by a group of Scottish nationalist students.

The question of full independence, or the less controversial home rule, did not re-enter the political mainstream until 1960, after the famous Wind of Change speech by Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. This speech marked the start of a rapid decolonisation in Africa and the end of the British Empire. The UK had already suffered the international humiliation of the 1956 Suez Crisis, which showed that it was no longer the superpower it had been before World War II. For many in Scotland, this served to undermine one of the principal raisons d'être for the United Kingdom and also symbolised the end of popular imperialism and the Imperial unity that had united the then-prominent Scottish Unionist Party. The Unionist Party subsequently suffered a steady decline in support.

1979 First devolution referendum

The Scottish National Party (SNP) won their second-ever seat in the House of Commons in 1967, when Winnie Ewing was the unexpected winner of the 1967 Hamilton by-election. The seat was previously a safe Labour Party seat, and this victory brought the SNP to national prominence, leading to Edward Heath's 1968 Declaration of Perth and the establishment of the Kilbrandon Commission. The discovery of North Sea oil off the east coast of Scotland in 1970 further invigorated the debate over Scottish independence. The SNP organised a hugely successful campaign entitled "It's Scotland's oil", emphasising how the discovery of oil could benefit Scotland's struggling deindustrialising economy and its populace. At the February 1974 general election, seven SNP MPs were elected. The general election resulted in a hung parliament, so Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a second election for October 1974, when the SNP performed even better than in February, winning 11 seats and obtaining over 30% of the total vote in Scotland.

In January 1974, the Conservative government had commissioned the McCrone report, written by Professor Gavin McCrone, a leading government economist, to report on the viability of an independent Scotland. He concluded that oil would have given an independent Scotland one of the strongest currencies in Europe. The report went on to say that officials advised government ministers on how to take "the wind out of the SNP sails". Handed over to the incoming Labour government and classified as secret because of Labour fears over the surge in Scottish National Party popularity, the document came to light only in 2005, when the SNP obtained the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

The Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, won the October 1974 general election with the very narrow majority of only three seats. Following their election to Parliament, the SNP MPs pressed for the creation of a Scottish Assembly: a viewpoint which was given added credibility by the conclusions of the Kilbrandon Commission. However, opponents demanded that a referendum be held on the issue. Although the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party both officially supported devolution, support was split in both parties. Labour was divided between those who favoured devolution and those who wanted to maintain a full central Westminster government. In the SNP, there was division between those who saw devolution as a stepping stone to independence and those who feared it might detract from that ultimate goal. The resignation of Harold Wilson from office in 1976 brought James Callaghan to power, but his small majority was eroded by several by-election losses, and the government became increasingly unpopular. Deals were made with the SNP and Plaid Cymru to hold referendums on devolution in exchange for their support, helping to prolong the government's life.

The result of the referendum in Scotland was a narrow majority in favour of devolution (52% to 48%), but a condition of the referendum was that 40% of the total electorate should vote in favour in order to make it valid. But the turnout was only 63.6%, so only 32.9% of the electorate voted "Yes". The Scotland Act 1978 was consequently repealed in March 1979 by a vote of 301–206 in Parliament. In the wake of the referendum, the supporters of the bill conducted a protest campaign under the slogan "Scotland said yes". They said that the 40% rule was undemocratic and that the referendum results justified the establishment of the assembly. Campaigners for a "No" vote countered that voters had been told before the referendum that failing to vote was as good as a "No". It was therefore incorrect to conclude that the relatively low turnout was entirely due to voter apathy.

In protest, the SNP withdrew their support from the government. A motion of no confidence was then tabled by the Conservatives and supported by the SNP, the Liberals and Ulster Unionists. It passed by one vote on 28 March 1979, forcing the May 1979 general election, which was won by the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher. Prime Minister Callaghan described the decision of the SNP to bring down the Labour government as "turkeys voting for Christmas". The SNP group was reduced from 11 MPs to 2 at the 1979 general election, while devolution was opposed by the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

1997 Second devolution referendum

Supporters of Scottish independence continued to hold mixed views on the Home Rule movement, which included many supporters of union who wanted devolution within the framework of the United Kingdom. Some saw it as a stepping stone to independence, while others wanted to go straight for independence.

In the years of the Conservative government after 1979, the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly was established, eventually publishing the Claim of Right 1989. This then led to the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The convention promoted consensus on devolution on a cross-party basis, though the Conservative Party refused to co-operate and the Scottish National Party withdrew from the discussions when it became clear that the convention was unwilling to discuss Scottish independence as a constitutional option. Arguments against devolution and the Scottish Parliament, levelled mainly by the Conservative Party, were that the Parliament would create a "slippery slope" to Scottish independence and provide the pro-independence Scottish National Party with a route to government. Prime Minister John Major campaigned during the 1997 general election on the slogan "72 hours to save the union". His party ultimately suffered the worst electoral defeat in 91 years.

The Labour Party won the 1997 general election in a landslide, and Donald Dewar as Secretary of State for Scotland agreed to the proposals for a Scottish Parliament. A referendum was held in September and 74.3% of those who voted approved the devolution plan (44.87% of the electorate). The Parliament of the United Kingdom subsequently approved the Scotland Act 1998 which created an elected Scottish Parliament with control over most domestic policy. In May 1999, Scotland held its first election for a devolved parliament, and in July 1999, the Scottish Parliament held session for the first time since the previous parliament had been adjourned in 1707, after a gap of 292 years. Donald Dewar of the Labour Party subsequently became the First Minister of Scotland, while the Scottish National Party became the main opposition party. The egalitarian song "A Man's A Man for A' That", by Robert Burns, was performed at the opening ceremony.

The Scottish Parliament is a unicameral legislature comprising 129 members. 73 members (57 pc) represent individual constituencies and are elected on a first past the post system. 56 members (43 pc) are elected in eight different electoral regions by the additional member system. Members serve for a four-year term. The monarch appoints one Member of the Scottish Parliament, on the nomination of the Parliament, to be First Minister, with the convention being that the leader of the party with the largest number of seats is appointed First Minister, although any member who can command the confidence of a majority of the chamber could conceivably be appointed First Minister. All other Ministers are appointed and dismissed by the First Minister, and together they make up the Scottish Government, the executive arm of government.

The Scottish Parliament has legislative authority for all non-reserved matters relating to Scotland, and has a limited power to vary income tax, nicknamed the Tartan Tax, a power it did not exercise and which was later replaced by wider tax-varying powers. The Scottish Parliament can refer devolved matters back to Westminster to be considered as part of United Kingdom-wide legislation by passing a Legislative Consent Motion if United Kingdom-wide legislation is considered to be more appropriate for certain issues. The programmes of legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament since 1999 have seen a divergence in the provision of public services compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. For instance, the costs of a university education, and care services for the elderly are free at point of use in Scotland, while fees are paid in the rest of the UK. Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in enclosed public places in March 2006.

2014 independence referendum

In its manifesto for the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, the Scottish National Party (SNP) pledged to hold an independence referendum by 2010. After winning the election, the SNP-controlled Scottish Government published a white paper entitled "Choosing Scotland's Future", which outlined options for the future of Scotland, including independence. Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats opposed a referendum offering independence as an option. Prime Minister Gordon Brown also publicly attacked the independence option. The three main parties opposed to independence instead formed a Commission on Scottish Devolution, chaired by Kenneth Calman. This reviewed devolution and considered all constitutional options apart from independence. In August 2009, the Scottish Government announced that the Referendum (Scotland) Bill, 2010, which would detail the question and conduct of a possible referendum on the issue of independence, would be part of its legislative programme for 2009–10. The Bill was not expected to be passed, because of the SNP's status as a minority government and the opposition of all other major parties in Parliament. In September 2010, the Scottish Government announced that no referendum would occur before the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.

The SNP won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament at the 2011 Scottish election. First Minister Alex Salmond stated his desire to hold a referendum "in the second half of the parliament", which would place it in 2014 or 2015. In January 2012, the UK Government offered to provide the Scottish Parliament with the specific powers to hold a referendum, providing it was "fair, legal and decisive". Negotiations continued between the two governments until October 2012, when the Edinburgh Agreement was reached. The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2013 and received Royal Assent on 7 August 2013. On 15 November 2013, the Scottish Government published Scotland's Future, a 670-page white paper laying out the case for independence and the means through which Scotland might become an independent country.

After a protracted period of negotiation, a public debate between Salmond and Better Together leader Alistair Darling was arranged. On the morning before the televised debate, a joint statement, pledging greater devolved powers to Scotland in the event of a "No" vote, was signed by Prime Minister David Cameron (Leader of the Conservative Party), Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Leader of the Liberal Democrats), and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband (Leader of the Labour Party).

The BBC website announced the final result of the referendum at 06:24 on 19 September 2014: the "No" vote prevailed with 55% (2,001,926) of the votes from an overall voter turnout of 84.5%. Chief counting officer Mary Pitcaithly stated: "It is clear that the majority of people voting have voted No to the referendum question." The "Yes" vote received 45% (1,617,989) support—the winning total needed was 1,852,828. Results were compiled from 32 council areas, with Glasgow backing independence—voting 53.5% "Yes" to 46.5% "No" (turnout in the area was 75%)—and Edinburgh voting against independence by 61% to 39% (turnout in the area was 84%). Darling stated in his post-result speech, "The silent have spoken", while Salmond stated, "I accept the verdict of the people, and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict".

UK withdrawal from the European Union

In 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU in the Brexit referendum, however Scotland voted to remain by 62% to 38%. Leading pro-independence figures suggested a second independence referendum. For example, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said that she was looking at all options to "secure our place in the EU", and that a second referendum was "highly likely". However, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said that "The prime minister and the government does not believe that there is a mandate for [a second referendum]. There was one only two years ago. There was an extremely high turnout and there was a resounding result in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK".

At the 2019 United Kingdom general election, the SNP won 48 out of 59 Scottish seats. Sturgeon asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his consent to hold another referendum. However, Johnson declined her request. He said that Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond had promised that the 2014 referendum would be a "once in a generation" vote.

Shortly before the UK left the European single market, the Boris Johnson regime sought through the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 to restrict the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. The primary purpose of the act is to constrain the capacity of the devolved institutions to use their regulatory autonomy. The legislation undermines the capability of the Scottish legislature to make different economic or social choices from those made in Westminster. In a January 2021 editorial concerning rising support for independence and its potential to break up the union, the Financial Times indicated that the Internal Market Act may serve to further the cause of independence:

An example of what not to do was the government’s Internal Market Act, in which London retook control of structural funds previously disbursed by the EU.

This view was mirrored by the Scottish Government in a report published in March 2021, which stated that the act is "radically undermining the powers and democratic accountability of the Scottish Parliament."

2021 Scottish elections

In January 2021, Nicola Sturgeon said that another referendum would be held if pro-independence parties won a majority of seats at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. Opposition parties criticised the SNP, stating that they were putting independence ahead of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although the SNP fell one seat short of winning outright, the eight seats won by the Scottish Greens meant that pro-independence parties had won a majority of seats in the election. Speaking after the election, both SNP and Conservative representatives said that a referendum would not occur during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Scottish Government plans to hold a second independence referendum before the end of the current Scottish Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon has indicated the vote would be held by 2023. Boris Johnson has stated that he would not grant authorisation for a referendum, but the SNP has indicated it is prepared to hold a referendum regardless. According to a poll of 1000 voters conducted for Politico Europe, 43% said they agreed that Scotland should only hold a second independence referendum if the U.K. government agrees to it.

In January 2022, The Herald reported that the Scottish Government were paying eleven civil servants a total of £700,000 per year to plan for Scottish independence. In its response to the newspaper, the government stated "As set out in the 2021/22 Programme for Government (PfG), the Scottish Government will work to ensure that a legitimate and constitutional referendum can be held within this Parliament, and if the Covid crisis is over, within the first half of this Parliament." The Scottish Conservatives constitution spokesperson Donald Cameron and Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton opposed the spending. Cole-Hamilton said "to spend more than £500,000 on a fool's errand of another prospectus for independence makes it less of a white paper and more of a white elephant" and suggested the SNP and Green Party are "off their rockers". SNP President Michael Russell remarked that the SNP and Green Party's victory in the election indicated they have a mandate to hold a second referendum to make Scotland an independent country.

Proposed 2023 independence referendum

On 28 June 2022, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon proposed to hold a second Scottish independence referendum on 19 October 2023, provided that the legality and constitutionality of the referendum is guaranteed. She set out a three-stage process, starting with the Scottish Government making a request for a Section 30 order (parliamentary powers) to hold a referendum. If that was rejected, it would ask the UK Supreme Court to adjudicate whether the Scottish Parliament could legislate for a referendum without that transfer of powers. If that was also rejected, she wished to turn the next UK general election into a "de facto" referendum.

A week later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected the request for a Section 30 transfer of powers. The Scottish Government lodged a case with the Supreme Court to determine whether the powers to hold a referendum are within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. A hearing took place on 11 and 12 October 2022, and a month later the Supreme Court ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for an independence referendum.

Before the Supreme Court hearing Nicola Sturgeon said that, in the eventuality of the Court ruling that the Scottish Parliament did not have the authority to act unilaterally, the SNP would contest the next UK general election as a de facto referendum on independence. This tactic has been previously used by Irish and Catalan nationalists. It has been criticised on the grounds that "elections and [...] referendums [...] are quite distinct" and that general elections "[are] often about a range of issues" and "it's not for a political party to dictate the terms of an election".: 97  Prof Jim Gallagher, chair of Our Scottish Future, said that "whatever UK government emerges won't treat it as having been an independence referendum".: 97 


Legal position

Power to declare independence

While in Northern Ireland, the system of devolution includes a provision for independence referendums, under the Scottish devolution framework, there is no equivalent provision. Therefore, Scottish independence would need to be enacted exceptionally by a competent authority. Due to the UK having no codified constitution, there is dispute over which authorities have competence to enact Scottish independence or an independence referendum.

The UK Parliament retains parliamentary sovereignty over the United Kingdom as a whole. Under this principle, the UK Parliament could enact Scottish independence without the need for a referendum. In AXA General Insurance Ltd and others v HM Advocate and others, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Lord Hope of Craighead, stated that "the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament [...] is the bedrock of the British constitution. Sovereignty remains with the United Kingdom Parliament." However, the application of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty to Scotland has been disputed. In MacCormick v The Lord Advocate, the Lord President of the Court of Session, Lord Cooper of Culross stated obiter dicta that "the principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish Constitutional Law." It has been suggested that the doctrine of popular sovereignty, proclaimed in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, articulated by Scottish political thinkers like George Buchanan and reasserted by the Claim of Right 1989 (signed by nearly every Labour and Liberal Democrat MP in Scotland at the time), is of greater relevance to Scotland.

Some lawyers have said that Parliament cannot repeal the Acts of Union because the Treaty of Union is a treaty in international law, made by two no longer existing, independent states. The law scholar David Walker wrote that regardless of any amendment or repeal of the Acts, the Treaty would remain in force because Parliament cannot alter the terms of international treaties. Professors James Crawford and Alan Boyle write that it is unlikely the Treaty of Union can be considered a treaty, but rather, as Smith wrote, it was a 'record of negotiations' and that the UK could not 'be bound by a treaty to which it was not party'. This notion that Parliament cannot amend the terms of the Union's creation is challenged by the fact that the Acts have been successfully amended by the Parliament several times. David Walker writes that simply because Parliament purports to amend an Act does not mean it has done so. When HM Government ratifies a treaty, it does not however bring it into domestic law, it only creates certain rights or duties for the Government. An Act is only brought into domestic law by Parliament legislating thus. According to a 2017 Supreme Court ruling, ministers cannot make changes to UK constitutional arrangements without an Act of Parliament. There is no legal role for the Scottish Parliament or Government in treaties and under devolution, treaty-making is the sole responsibility of the UK Government.

The legality of any UK constituent country attaining de facto independence or declaring unilateral independence outside the framework of British constitutional convention is debatable. Under international law, a unilateral declaration might satisfy the principle of the "declarative theory of statehood", but not the "constitutive theory of statehood". Some legal opinion following the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on what steps Quebec would need to take to secede is that Scotland would be unable to unilaterally declare independence under international law if the UK Government permitted a referendum on an unambiguous question on secession. The SNP have not sought a unilateral act, but rather state that a positive vote for independence in a referendum would have "enormous moral and political force... impossible for a future [Westminster] government to ignore", and hence would give the Scottish Government a mandate to negotiate for the passage of an act of the UK Parliament providing for Scotland's secession, in which Westminster renounces its sovereignty over Scotland.

The United Nations Charter enshrines the right of peoples to self-determination, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantees peoples' right to change nationality; the UK is a signatory to both documents. Politicians in both the Scottish and UK parliaments have endorsed the right of the Scottish people to self-determination, including former UK Prime Ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

Power to hold an independence referendum

The issue of the Scottish Government's power to hold and the Scottish Parliament's competence to legislate for an independence referendum is a subject of intense debate both inside and outside Scotland. In November 2022 the UK Supreme Court gave a judgment that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to legislate for an independence referendum. The Scotland Act 1998 reserved powers over "the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England" to the UK Parliament. Any provision is outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament if "it relates to reserved matters" under Section 29(2) of the Act. This formed the basis of the UK Supreme Court's judgment on the Scottish Parliament's competence to legislate on the matter.

To ensure the undisputed constitutional legality of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish and UK Governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement stating that both would accept and "continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome [of the referendum], whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom". The agreement, with the subsequent approval of the UK Parliament, gave the Scottish Parliament special legal authority to hold an independence referendum before the end of 2014.

No such agreement has been reached in respect of a second referendum, throwing doubt over its legal status. In December 2019, Martin Keatings, a pro-independence independent candidate, sought a declarator to the Court of Session. However Lady Carmichael said the case lacked standing due to its hypothetical nature. Nevertheless, Mr Keatings brought an appeal forward in April 2021 as the Scottish Government had now published a bill, however this appeal was lost.

With the publication of the draft Independence Referendum Bill on 22 March 2021 the question of legality was raised again. On 28 June 2022, Sturgeon proposed to hold a referendum in 2023, provided that the legality and constitutionality of the referendum is guaranteed. The Scottish Government stated that their proposed referendum is "consultative, not self-executing". In UK law, a referendum can be consultative (such as the Brexit referendum) or determinative (such as the AV referendum, which, if passed, would have automatically brought in provisions for the Alternative Vote). The Scotland Act does not explicitly state whether non-binding referendums on reserve powers were reserved. In the Scottish Government's written case published in July 2022, the Lord Advocate observed that "the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England has been superseded as a matter of law and exists only as an historical fact. The [Scotland Act] would therefore reserve something that no longer exists."

The Scottish Government lodged a case with the Supreme Court to determine whether the powers to hold a referendum are within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, and a hearing took place on 11 and 12 October 2022. A month later, the UK Supreme Court gave a judgment that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold an independence referendum because it relates to the Union of England and Scotland and the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, which are matters reserved to the UK Parliament.



In 2014, the Scottish Government wrote that "[Scotland's] approach [to culture] has been, and will continue to be, distinct from that of Westminster". The Scottish Government position was that Scottish independence would give the Scottish Government more powers to encourage culture and creative sectors. In the event of independence, the Scottish Government planned to increase domestic creative production opportunities, such as by setting up a new national broadcaster, while maintaining access to current TV channels and with no additional cost to viewers and listeners.


The concept of a democratic deficit is the most frequently invoked argument in favour of independence. England has a majority (84%) of the UK population. Thus, constituency results for Scotland rarely affect the outcome of general elections. From the 1960s onwards, average voting patterns in Scotland and England have diverged. Scotland has only elected a majority of governing MPs in three of the 11 UK general elections since 1979. Devolution was intended to close this deficit, but Brexit, which happened despite 62% of voters in Scotland voting against it, has highlighted this concern. The Conservative Party, which often forms the UK Government by winning general elections, has not won a plurality of seats in Scotland since 1955.

Underpinning the democratic deficit argument is an assumption that Scotland is a nation with a right to self-determination. Were Scotland independent, Scotland's population would possess full decision-making power in regard to the political affairs of its nation. Alex Salmond stated in a May 2012 launch that "the people who live in Scotland are best placed to make the decisions that affect Scotland."

In January 2023, the UK Government blocked the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from going to royal assent after it passed the Scottish Parliament 86 to 39. The UK Government overruled the bill by using for the first ever time Section 35 powers under the Scotland Act; the justification for the move was that they believed it would impact equalities legislation, which is reserved to Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon responded, arguing that the block had 'no grounds' and constituted a 'full-frontal attack on democracy'.

Nationality and citizenship

The United Kingdom is a plurinational, rather than multinational, state, where overlapping national identities exist. According to Keating, both Scottishness and Britishness can be understood national identity and one can hold one of them alone or both at the same time. Many people in Scotland have multiple national identities. 59% in Scotland surveyed by the BBC in 2018 said they felt strongly British, though the figure is lower than the equivalent in Wales (79%) and England (82%). However, the majority of Scots feel closer affinity to a Scottish, rather than a British national identity. In a 2021 survey, when asked about their national identity and only allowed to pick one option, 64% of Scottish residents identify as Scottish and 29% as British. Furthermore, many in Scotland do not feel a national affinity to the UK at all. In a poll taken in early 2021 by Panelbase, a third of respondents in Scotland said they felt Scottish but not British.

A category of 'Scottish citizenship' does not currently exist, as nationality law is reserved to Westminster. In the event of independence, Scotland and the rest of the UK would need to set new citizenship laws to allocate British and/or Scottish citizenship to existing British citizens and set out Scotland's new nationality laws. For the 2014 referendum, the Yes side said Scotland would tolerate dual citizenship. British citizens habitually resident in Scotland and Scottish-born British citizens elsewhere would have been able to become Scottish citizens automatically. SNP MP Pete Wishart said in 2013 that Scots would 'of course' be able to keep a UK passport, but Home Secretary Theresa May said Scots may not have that option.


Independence would mean a much greater change for business than devolution.: 219  While Scottish nationalists generally assert that independence would not be economically disruptive, unionists and the UK government tend to assert the opposite.: 231  Journalist Peter Jones writes that calculating the real economic impacts of independence (i.e. whether Scotland would be richer or poorer outwith the UK) is "an extremely hazard, if not impossible, task".

If businesses concluded that independence would yield benefits, there could be positive economic effects. However, if businesses do not, they could postpone spending or investment plans or even leave Scotland entirely.: 219  Uncertainty caused by independence referendums can also have negative implications for financial markets and the wider economy, depending on the likelihood that separation wins. This uncertainty has impacts not only in Scotland, but in the whole of the UK. Due to the relative size of Scotland in the UK, any negative economic effects would be felt worse in Scotland.: 232 

Economic modelling by the Centre for Economic Performance found that independence would hit Scotland's economy ‘two to three times’ harder than Brexit. According to their model, leaving the UK after Brexit could reduce Scottish income per capita between 6.5 per cent and 8.7 per cent, depending on trade barriers. Rejoining the EU would do little to mitigate the costs of Brexit, because the cost of removing trade barriers with the EU is outweighed by the cost of erecting trade barriers with the UK. Scotland's largest trading partner is the rest of the UK, which accounts for £51.2 billion in exported goods and services, compared to only £16.1 billion to EU countries. According to Nicola Sturgeon, a customs border with the rest of the UK would be needed. 42% of those in Scotland think it would be financially worse off outside the Union (compared to 36% who think it would be better).

Natural resources

The nationalist position is that only an independent Scotland can fully utilise and exploit its national resources, including North Sea oil and gas, for the benefit of its population. According to the Scottish Government led by Alex Salmond in 2014, 64% of the EU's oil reserves existed in Scottish waters, while the David Hume Institute think tank estimated that "Scotland is sitting on oil and gas reserves worth up to £4 trillion". Investment in and production from the North Sea oilfields dropped sharply after Conservative chancellor George Osborne imposed punitive taxes, undercutting the projected revenue an independent Scotland could claim.

David Maddox, writing for The Scotsman in 2008, pointed to a future Peak oil decline in North Sea oil revenue, within ten years oil revenue had fallen to 10% of the 2008 peak. Some, such as Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives, wish to reduce public spending and devolve more fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament in order to address this issue within the broader framework of the Union. Outlying regions such as Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles would be disadvantaged or deserve a greater share of oil revenue.

Public finances

An independent Scotland would have full autonomy over decisions on tax, spending and borrowing. Scotland would be able to issue sovereign debt and set fiscal limits. According to the Scottish Government, it is clear that Scotland currently pays its way within the UK. The Scottish Government has proposed setting up a 'New Scotland Fund' to provide capital investment and boost growth. According to the charity Institute for Fiscal Studies, this fund would likely need to be funded by additional borrowing.

According to an analysis by the Financial Times, an independent Scotland would have a large hole in its public finances. The paper's analysis suggests this would be due to the combined effect of lower than expected tax revenues, Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have increased the country's budget deficit. A publication by the charity Institute for Fiscal Studies claims that in 2020-21 (during the COVID-19 pandemic), the national deficit of Scotland was between 22% and 25% of national income, though this is predicted to fall after the pandemic. The same publication claims that if it leaves the UK by the middle of the decade, Scotland would have a deficit of almost 10 per cent of GDP. If correct, this would mean Scotland would need to raise taxes or cut public spending by the equivalent of £1765 per person after independence to make the deficit sustainable. Short-term forecasts of public spending are inherently uncertain, but can still provide useful predictions. A report published by the Sustainable Growth Commission set up by the SNP to make recommendations on the economy of an independent Scotland stated that the deficit would need to be cut to 3 per cent of GDP.


Before the 2014 referendum, there were questions over the currency of an independent Scotland and whether it would continue to use the Pound sterling, adopt the Euro, or introduce a Scottish currency (often referred to as the "Scottish pound"). Uncertainty could be brought in the immediate aftermath of independence, particularly disagreement as to how Scotland would be treated in relation to the European Union, and the unlikelihood of the Bank of England accepting a currency union with an independent Scotland. The chairman of HSBC, Douglas Flint, warned in August 2014 of uncertainty if there was an independent Scottish currency, or if Scotland joined the Eurozone, which could result in capital flight. In 2018, the SNP suggested keeping the pound for a period after Scottish independence. Dame DeAnne Julius, a founding member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, has called this a "hugely risky experiment for Scotland".

Nicola Sturgeon announced in October 2022 her intention for Scotland to continue using the pound sterling after independence. Monetary policy in this period would be set by the Bank of England. Scotland would subsequently develop a central Scottish bank and would move to a Scottish pound "when the economic conditions were right". The establishment of a Scottish pound would be at the decision of the Scottish Parliament, once the Scottish Central Bank has established credibility, foreign exchange reserves are sufficient and Scotland is fiscally sustainable. The Scottish pound could run on a fixed or floating exchange rate.


With control over defence and foreign policy, an independent Scotland could demand the removal of Trident nuclear weapons, which are based in the Firth of Clyde. Nuclear disarmament is an issue long associated with the campaign for an independent Scotland, as outlined in the House of Commons Defence Committee's white paper "The future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent: the White Paper" of 2006–2007. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament supports independence on this basis.

Scottish voters are in favour of the Trident nuclear deterrent being in Scotland. Even in the event of a vote for independence, 45 per cent of Scots polled in 2022 think the nuclear deterrent should be maintained in Scotland, compared to 34 percent against. While in the Union, 58% of Scots believe in the retention of the nuclear deterrent and only 20% definitely want it axed. In the event that Scottish independence meant the nuclear deterrent could no longer be in Scotland, there is a risk that the costs of relocation would make keeping a nuclear deterrent in the British Isles unfeasible. In 2019, the NATO Secretary General said the maintenance of a British nuclear deterrent is important to NATO. In 2022, 73 percent of Scots would want an independent Scotland to be part on NATO and only 8 percent oppose this.

The UK Defence Journal writes that the defence of Scotland is best served as part of the UK. Scotland is said to benefit from a collective defence force and an independent Scotland would weaken the UK's defence posture. There are many UK defence installations in Scotland other than Trident and many Scottish people serve in the British Armed Forces. There are 12,000 service personnel in Scotland and a further 18,500 civilian jobs in the armed forces defence industry. It is expected Scotland would lose defence jobs. For example, Lord West said Scotland could lose 20,000 or 25,000 jobs.

In 2014, a UK Government report stated that Scotland "plays an integral part in all aspects of the UK's defence". The report said the new Scottish Government would need to set up much defence infrastructure and services from scratch, and that existing defence assets in Scotland are well integrated into a UK-wide defence structure. According to the UK Government, it would be difficult for an independent Scotland to co-opt existing UK armed force units based or recruited in Scotland.

Foreign affairs

Under the Scottish Government's 2014 plans for independence, Scotland would have applied to become a full and equal member of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union and many other international organisations. With an autonomous voice in international politics, Scottish independence campaigners believe the nation's global influence would increase in regard to the defence of its national interests and the promotion of its values. Furthermore, Scottish embassies could be established globally to promote Scotland internationally, and to lobby other governments on the nation's behalf.

During the 2014 referendum, a major argument against independence was that Scotland would be outside the EU. Scotland is very supportive of EU membership, with 62% voting to remain in the 2016 EU referendum. Since Brexit, many have called for a second independence referendum to have a chance to re-enter the EU.

As part of the UK, Scotland is part of NATO, the G7, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. 82% of Scots believe that UK membership of these organisations is important. Opponents of further integration of the European Union have stated that independence, within Europe but outside the EU three, would mean that Scotland would be more marginalised because, as a relatively small independent country, Scotland would be unable to resist the demands of larger member states.

Links with the rest of the UK

There are strong historical and contemporary ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK from the Reformation and Union of Crowns, to Scottish involvement in the growth and development of the British Empire and contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. Contemporary popular culture is also shared, primarily through the prevalence of the English language. Almost half of the Scottish population have relatives in England. At the time of the 2011 census, approximately 700,000 adults who were born in Scotland lived in the rest of the UK, while about 470,000 adults who were born elsewhere in the UK had moved to live in Scotland. There are also significant economic links with the Scottish military-industrial complex as well as close links within the financial sector.

In Scotland's Future, the Scottish Government wrote that an independent Scotland would "not affect the many other ties that bind Scotland to the other nations of the UK" and that there will still be a social union of family, history, culture and language within the British Isles.: 215  The UK Government wrote that a relationship of two sovereign states based on self-interest is 'profoundly differently' from being part of one state, and thus any co-operation would need to be in the interest of the rest of the UK, as well as Scotland.

Comparison to Brexit

The Centre for Constitutional Change stated during the 2016 EU referendum campaign that the "international relations aspect of the Brexit debate looks somewhat similar to the debate about Scottish independence". There is no agreed process for Scottish independence and there would be no negotiations of the terms of independence before a positive referendum result. Ruth Davidson has described "independence because of Brexit" as "amputating your foot because you've stubbed your toe". The common use of the term Brexit has led some sources to describe Scottish independence as "Scexit", a portmanteau of Scotland + exit.

Support for independence

Scottish independence is supported most prominently by the Scottish National Party, but other parties also support independence. Other pro-independence parties which have held representation in the Scottish Parliament or the UK Parliament include the Scottish Greens, the Alba Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. Other parties which support Scottish independence include the Independence for Scotland Party, and the Scottish Libertarian Party. At the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, 72 of the 129 seats available were won by pro-independence parties (64 SNP and 8 Greens). The independence movement consists of many factions with varying political views. The SNP wants Scotland to keep the monarchy (see personal union) and become an independent Commonwealth realm, similar to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. All of the other aforementioned pro-independence parties want Scotland to become an independent republic. The SSP has led republican protests and authored the Declaration of Calton Hill, calling for an independent republic.

The Independence Convention was set up in 2005, seeking "Firstly, to create a forum for those of all political persuasions and none who support independence; and secondly, to be a national catalyst for Scottish independence." The Scottish Republican Socialist Movement is a Pan-Socialist independence movement that believes that Scotland should be made an independent republic. This movement has a Firebrand socialist ethos, however is not affiliated with the SSP or the Scottish Communist Party. It believes that a failure to become independent should lead to mass emigration elsewhere, or as put as a slogan "Independence or Desertion".

Apart from the official Yes Scotland campaign for independence in the 2014 referendum, other groups in support of independence were formed at that time. This included the National Collective, an artist-driven movement which describes itself as "an open and non-party political collaboration of talent focused on driving social and political change in Scotland through a variety of the arts". It was responsible for organising a mock referendum held at the University of Glasgow in February 2013. Another group, the Radical Independence Campaign, described itself as "fighting for an independent Scotland that is for the millions not the millionaires". RIC was formed after the Radical Independence Conference 2012 in Glasgow, which was attended by at least 650 people and has been described as a "[bringing together of] the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialists, some of the more militant trade unionists, nuclear-disarmament campaigners and anti-monarchist republicans".

During the 2014 referendum campaign, independence attracted little support from newspapers. The Sunday Herald was the only publication to endorse a "Yes" vote in the referendum. The National, a daily newspaper supporting independence, was launched in November 2014, in wake of the Yes Scotland campaign's defeat.

In October 2014, the lobby group All Under One Banner (AUOB) was formed. AUOB stages regular public marches in support of Scottish independence throughout Scotland.

Proponents of Brexit and Scotland's independence share relatively similar, but incompatible, objectives and difficulties. Despite this, those who voted for Brexit in 2016 tend to be more unionist than those who voted to remain. The BBC reported that 39% of those who voted Leave in 2016 would vote Yes, while 59% of those who voted Remain would do the same.

Opposition to independence

The Conservative Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, which all have seats in the Scottish Parliament, oppose Scottish independence. In 2012 they established the cross-party Better Together campaign. Other parties that oppose Scottish independence include the UK Independence Party (UKIP), All for Unity, Reform UK, Abolish the Scottish Parliament, the British National Party (BNP), Britain First, the Scottish Unionist Party (SUP), and the Ulster unionist parties.

A campaign group called "Scotland in Union" emerged after the 2014 independence referendum. It has encouraged anti-SNP tactical voting in elections and promoted the Union more generally. However, 'Scotland in Union' has been the subject of controversy, after leaked records indicated that most of their money came from wealthy donors rather than the campaign's own members. In late 2017, a new group called "Unity UK" was formed. Its supporters said that Unionists needed to be more supportive of Brexit and were critical of Scotland in Union's "agnostic" stance on the issue.

Many leaders of foreign nations expressed support for Unionism during the 2014 independence referendum. Barack Obama expressed his support for a "strong, robust and united" UK. Then-Swedish Foreign Minister and former prime minister Carl Bildt opposed the "Balkanisation" of the British Isles.

The Orange Order, a Protestant brotherhood with thousands of members in Scotland, campaigned against Scottish independence, and formed a campaign group called British Together. In September 2014, it held a march of at least 15,000 Orangemen, loyalist bands and supporters from Scotland and across the UK; described as the biggest pro-Union demonstration of the campaign.

Third option

Potential UK Confederation membership

A Confederal UK has been proposed as a concept of constitutional reform of the United Kingdom, in which the countries of the United Kingdom; England, Scotland, Wales, as well as Northern Ireland become separate sovereign groups or states that pool certain key resources within a confederal system.

Public opinion

Polling ahead of the 2014 referendum

Many opinion polls were conducted about Scottish independence during the 2014 referendum campaign. Professor John Curtice stated in January 2012 that polling had shown support for independence at between 32% and 38% of the Scottish population. This had fallen somewhat since the SNP were first elected to become the Scottish Government in 2007. The research also showed, however, that the proportion of the population strongly opposed to independence had also declined. Curtice stated in April 2014 that support for independence had increased since December 2013, although there was disagreement between the polling companies as to the true state of public opinion. Polls in the run-up to the referendum vote showed a closing of the gap, with one YouGov poll giving the Yes campaign a 51–49 lead. In the referendum Scotland voted against independence by 55.3% to 44.7%, with an overall turnout of 84.5%.

Polling since the 2014 referendum

Since six weeks after the 2014 referendum, opinion polls have asked how people would vote in a proposed second referendum. Twenty-five polls were conducted in the year after the referendum, with seventeen of them having "No" as the predominant answer, seven having "Yes", and one having an equal proportion of respondents for each opinion.

In the year from September 2016 to September 2017, 25 of 26 polls conducted showed "No" as the most popular answer and only one showed "Yes" as the most popular answer. "No" continued to show a lead in opinion polls until July 2019, when one poll by Lord Ashcroft showed a narrow majority for "Yes". Professor John Curtice said after this poll was released that there had recently been a swing towards "Yes", and that this was concentrated among people who had voted to "Remain" in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

This pro-independence trend continued into 2020, as three polls in the early part of the year put "Yes" support at between 50% and 52%. In October 2020, an Ipsos MORI/STV News poll saw support for independence at its highest ever level, with 58% saying they would vote "Yes". As of December 2020, fifteen consecutive opinion polls had shown a lead for "Yes". The run of polls showing a "Yes" lead continued into January 2021, although the average support for Yes was down by two percentage points compared to polls by the same companies in late 2020. Polls conducted in early March 2021, following testimony by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon at a Holyrood parliamentary inquiry, showed narrow leads for "No".

Support for independence in opinion polling depends upon the format of the question being asked. Polling company Survation have asked Scottish voters the question "Should Scotland remain in the United Kingdom or leave the United Kingdom?". Since 2018, none of these polls have shown a lead for Remain of less than 10%. The rest of the UK generally supports Scotland remaining a part of the UK. YouGov polling between late 2019 and early 2022 shows that support for Scottish independence is at around 30%, while support for Scotland remaining in the UK is at around 45%.

Following the Supreme Court Judgement of 23 November 2022, determining that the Scottish Government did not have the power to conduct a consultative independence referendum, the first five polls showed majority support for independence in the range of 51% - 56%. In a separate UK-wide poll, for the first time majority support (55%) was expressed across the UK for the right of the Scottish Government to hold an independence referendum.

See also

Other major independence or related movements
  • Yes Scotland
  • All Under One Banner
  • Welsh independence
  • YesCymru
  • Proposed Welsh independence referendum
  • United Ireland
  • Ireland's Future
  • English independence
  • List of active separatist movements in Europe
Related topics
  • Scottish devolution
  • Scottish republicanism
  • Potential breakup of the United Kingdom





Further reading

  • Hassan, Gerry (2011). Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination. Luath Press.
  • Keating, Michael (2009). The Independence of Scotland: Self-Government and the Shifting Politics of Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Keating, Michael (2013). Nationalism, unionism and secession in Scotland. pp. 127–144. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  • Murkens, Jo Eric (2002). Scottish Independence: A Practical Guide. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-1699-2.
  • Pittock, Murray (2008). The Road to Independence?: Scotland Since the Sixties. Reaktion Books.

External links

  • Scottish independence at Curlie

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Scottish independence by Wikipedia (Historical)