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Scottish Politics

Second edition

by Paul Cairney

Chapter 12: Constitutional Change and the Referendum on Independence

The election of a majority SNP Government in 2011 has allowed it to legislate to introduce a referendum on independence in 2014. The independence debate now dominates political discussion in Scotland. This chapter traces the modern history of the constitutional change debate and examines the key questions that will arise.


Key Points

  • 12.1 The meaning of independence has changed over the years, from the idea of a separate state to the idea of a political system within the European Union and subject to international commitments
  • 12.2 ‘Fiscal autonomy’ is also an unclear term
  • 12.3 Even under independence, the Scottish Government would not control all of its policy areas. Many areas are ‘Europeanized’ and the Bank of England would retain control over monetary policy (if Scotland uses the pound).
  • 12.4 Other options – such as devo max – are equally problematic but discussed relatively little (after the Scottish and UK Governments agreed that there would be a single yes/ no question on independence)
  • 12.5 There have already been two major consultations on constitutional change since 2007. One produced a new Scotland Act giving some more powers to the Scottish Government (including the ability to modify income taxes further).
  • 12.6 Support for further constitutional change is related strongly to levels of national identity
  • 12.7 A yes vote is unlikely but a no vote is by no means inevitable
  • 12.8 Unresolved questions include: what will Scotland ’s status be in the EU; what effect will independence have in practice; and, what will an independent Scotland look like?
  • 12.9 The print media has traditionally been anti-independence (and often anti-SNP) but it is less anti- than before

Essay Questions

  1. Compare the style and outcomes of the National Conversation and Calman Commission.
  2. What does independence mean? How does it differ from ‘devo max’?
  3. Outline and assess the case for Scottish independence
  4. Describe the main issues to be addressed before the independence referendum in 2014.

Self-test Questions

  1. What does independence mean?
  2. What is fiscal autonomy and how might it be achieved?
  3. What was the Calman Commission and what did it recommend?
  4. What are the ‘unresolved questions’ about Scottish independence?

Further Reading

There has been little written, so far, on the forthcoming referendum, but see Keating (2009; 2012) and McLean et al.(2013).


Online Sources


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