SCOTTISH independence will be declared in March 2016 if voters back leaving the UK in the referendum next year, under plans outlined by the SNP government.
• Midnight flag-swapping ceremony at Edinburgh Castle.
• SNP believes negotiations after ‘Yes’ vote could take just 18 months.
The most detailed timetable yet for the creation of a new Scottish state sets out the process for negotiating the split from the UK, as well as the creation of a written Scottish constitution and the nation’s inaugural parliamentary elections in May 2016.
But last night the 17-month timeframe from a Yes vote in October 2014 to independence was branded “nonsense” by pro-Union leaders and independent experts who insist that disentangling Scotland from the rest of the UK will take far longer. They also insist that yesterday’s announcement lacked detail and was simply a “distraction” from the real issues in the referendum.
The publication, entitled Scotland’s Future: from the referendum to independence and a written constitution outlines the steps required to establish a “constitutional platform” for Scotland. It was unveiled as Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made a fresh appeal for the UK coalition government to hold talks with the SNP ahead of the referendum, aimed at setting out clearer scenarios for voters in the event of both a Yes and No vote.
Ms Sturgeon said next year’s referendum would allow the people of Scotland to seize that opportunity of independence.
She added: “A Yes vote will give civic Scotland and our national parliament an unprecedented opportunity to build a solid constitutional platform for our country ahead of independence day in March 2016.
“Our proposals would see this platform put in place immediately prior to the Scottish Parliament elections, to provide the newly elected Scottish Government with the full range of powers it needs to develop the country.”
She said the publication provided “the people of Scotland with a clear road map as to how Scotland would make the journey from a devolved system of government with the levers of power retained at Westminster, to a nation in which the powers of our national parliament are complete and in which the people are sovereign”.
Ms Sturgeon also called on the UK government to adhere to the Electoral Commission’s recommendations by agreeing to early discussions about how Scotland will move forward following the referendum, in the event of either a Yes or No vote.
She said: “There is no reason that talks on the process required to make Scotland an independent country – if the people of Scotland make that choice – cannot begin now and be conducted in the same constructive and co-operative manner that would lead to a smooth transition.”
The SNP government insists that the 17-month timeframe for independence is in line with international precedent. It produced a list of 30 countries around the world that have become independent since 1945 following a referendum and have seen an average length of time between the referendum and independence day of about 15 months.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore accused the SNP government of creating a “distraction” from substantive issues.
He said: “We haven’t even got a date for the referendum, let alone any detail on what independence would mean for people in areas like the economy, welfare, energy and financial services.”
On the prospect of talks with the SNP, he said the coalition has already been setting out its views in public on the issue of the post-referendum process.
“We will spell out further thoughts on this process in our forthcoming analysis papers, including our first paper, in February,” he said.
“Once this has been published, we will be happy to discuss our paper with the Scottish Government.”
Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor and now leader of the official pro-Union Better Together campaign, said the paper lacked credibility.
“The Nationalists are saying that, in less than a year, you can unpick everything that has been created over the past 300 years and replace it with something entirely new,” he said.
“Even with the best will in the world, even if there is no disagreement over some of the major issues like what happens to our currency, how we divide up our pension system and how we split the national debt, achieving this timetable is a tall order.
“We are to believe that all of this will be done quickly and without any hitches, our negotiations will be completed with the EU in record time and everything will be enacted in parliament in an incredibly short space of time. It just isn’t credible. The idea that all of this will just be nodded through is just nonsense.”
The row came as the Tories and Labour released fresh answers from European Union President José Manuel Barroso again indicating that an independent Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership.
The Scottish Government insists the country would remain inside the EU after independence and re-negotiate its membership from inside. The most recent poll put support for independence at 32 per cent, while opposition stood at 47 per cent.
The independence paper published yesterday explores the two issues of the written constitution and the process of change.
It draws on the examples of German reunification in 1990 and the separation of the former Czechoslovakia in 1993.
In Scotland, assuming a Yes vote, independence day would be in March 2016, just before the start of the country’s first general election campaign.
During the transition the paper says negotiations would also be held on Scotland’s place in the EU, which SNP ministers hope will continue.
Westminster would have to legislate to acknowledge the “end of its power” in Scotland. This would involve removing the central effects of the 1707 Treaty of Union.
The Scottish Government wants a written constitution, in contrast to the existing arrangement. Although it would involve wider society, ministers want certain provisions included, ranging from protecting public services and the “principles of free education and healthcare” to banning nuclear weapons.
The new “constitutional platform” envisaged in the document would see the creation of a Scottish Treasury, a Supreme Court in Scotland, the continuation of Scots Law, including laws in all currently reserved areas, and a definition of entitlement to Scottish citizenship.
Blair Jenkins, chief executive of pro-independence group Yes Scotland, said: “A Yes vote in 2014 presents us with a great opportunity to build a more prosperous, socially just and fairer country in which we make all our own decisions and take responsibility for shaping our own future.”
But Alan Trench, honorary research fellow, at University College London, said yesterday the “complexity, and the inter-relationship” between the various issues, means that they will need at least 18 months to two years.
The Scottish Government’s independence countdown
October 2014: Scots are asked: “Should Scotland become an Independent country?” No exact date for the poll has been given by the SNP Government. Country votes Yes.
Autumn-Winter 2014-15: Scottish negotiating team set up, made up of political parties and “civic society”. Scottish and UK governments would form an initial agreement on timetable; negotiation process; and constitutional platform.
May 2015: UK General Election. No details provided yet on what would happen to Scottish MPs.
2015-16: Negotiations continue with UK on division of financial assets and liabilities, military bases, currency arrangements, Trident, pensions, immigration etc. The Scottish Government claims it would also have negotiations at the same time with EU on membership.
March 2016: A constitutional ‘platform’ would be constructed to enable creation of independent state of Scotland. Westminster would pass law ending power over Scotland, giving full control to Scottish Parliament and Government. The SNP says it will ensure the new country keeps the Queen, is an EU member, and has its own legally-binding Treasury and Supreme Court.
May 2016: Elections to Scottish Parliament. New Parliament will then construct a written constitution.
2016 – onwards: Negotiations with UK go on. “Of course, some matters may continue to be discussed after independence,” the document states.