Scottish independence: ‘Only double referendum can decide UK’s future’

Alex Salmond: accused of changing position on referendum day by day. Picture: PA
Alex Salmond: accused of changing position on referendum day by day. Picture: PA
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TWO referendums will be needed to settle the question of whether Scotland becomes independent because Alex Salmond changes position on the issue from “week to week and day to day”, a group of the UK’s leading political analysts has warned.

The shape of an independent Scotland is becoming a “pig in a poke” for voters as the SNP indicates that foreign embassies and even military bases could be shared with the UK, MPs were told yesterday.

A vote in favour of independence would give the SNP government authority to negotiate the terms of a split from the UK, including issues like the country’s share of UK national debt. A second referendum would then be needed for the electorate to give its verdict on the final settlement. “As the terms of independence are being changed from week to week and day to day by the Scottish Government, there will be an element of a pig in a poke about independence,” Professor Iain McLean of Nuffield College, Oxford, told Westminster’s Scottish affairs select committee.

“The Scottish people will not know what they’re voting for because the negotiations on the nature of the split will not have taken place.”

Parties are not likely to reveal their “red line” issues in separation negotiations to maintain a strong hand, the academic said. But this would leave voters in the dark, prompting an “inevitable” move towards two votes.

The SNP also wants to keep sterling and says the Queen will stay on as head of state after independence.

Constitutional expert Professor Vernon Bogdanor, of King’s College London, said the shape of independence would not just be down to Mr Salmond, but the Westminster government of the day which would fight for UK interests. He said: “Independence will mean that no MPs are sent to Westminster, but other aspects liked shared sovereignty cannot be a unilateral decision of the Scottish Government. They rely on input from Westminster and the UK.

“I think there’s a case for a further referendum after negotiations are concluded.”

Asked by committee chair Ian Davidson if there is a consensus that two referendums may be needed to settle the issue, the experts, including Professor John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, and YouGov chairman Peter Kellner, agreed.

But a spokesman for Mr Salmond insisted that a full prospectus of the party’s plans would be set out ahead of the independence vote.

“There’s no example in the world of a country requiring two referendums to achieve independence,” he said.

“The position is that we will publish a detailed white paper for independence in autumn 2013 and people will be asked to vote for that detailed platform which will determine the arrangement for an independent Scotland.”

The SNP government’s plans to tap into the youth vote by extending the franchise could also prove futile, as Prof Curtice warned that hardly any would get on the register.

“In practice, registration is a reserved matter and it would be impossible in a September or October vote for anyone of less than sixteen and three-quarters to register,” he said.

He added that the additional logistical difficulties involved in getting those between 16 and three quarters and 17 and three-quarters registered would be so difficult, that it “would not be worth the effort”.