SCOTTISH Secretary Michael Moore has warned the SNP that the Westminster government will not enter negotiations about splitting up the United Kingdom before the 2014 referendum.
Moore has vowed that the coalition will refuse to enter discussions with the Scottish Government about what share of UK assets and debts Scotland would emerge with in the event of a Yes vote.
In an article for Scotland on Sunday, the Scottish Secretary argues that pre-determining the make-up of a divided UK would be a “betrayal” of his government’s duty to Scotland.
The position that Moore outlines today is at odds with that of the Scottish Government, which has said it wants officials from London and Edinburgh to make preparations for independence in advance of the referendum.
Moore also signalled that the UK government would play hard-ball if Scotland did vote for independence – a scenario that would force the UK administration to negotiate an independence settlement with the Scottish administration. In the event of a Yes vote, Moore said the UK government would have to “prioritise” the interests of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish and would be unable to give the Scottish Government everything that it wanted.
This week, MPs are expected to pass the Westminster legislation that will transfer the powers to Holyrood that will enable Scotland to hold a legally-binding referendum. The powers were agreed by Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond last autumn under the Edinburgh Agreement.
The UK government will shortly start publishing a series of papers that will analyse the implications of Scottish independence.
But Moore said: “What this work will not do is open up negotiations or set out a contingency plan for independence,
“I and my ministerial colleagues represent the whole of the UK. We cannot – and should not – negotiate or plan in the interests of only one part of it. We believe the break-up of the UK would be deeply harmful to people in all our nations.
“To start planning now for a United Kingdom without Scotland in it would not only be a betrayal of our duty to Scotland, it would also start to unpick the fabric of the United Kingdom that is so fundamental to us all. It is not for us to map out a vision for the separation of our nations.”
Moore’s announcement of his no-negotiation approach comes at the end of a week that saw a bitter row over the future of Trident nuclear missiles at Faslane post-independence.
The UK government claimed that logistical challenges of moving the nuclear deterrent meant Trident would remain in Scottish waters for many years after independence.
UK ministers also said independence would eventually lead to the entire submarine fleet leaving Faslane, resulting in the loss of 8,200 jobs.
However, the SNP claimed that only around 500 jobs were directly dependent on Trident and that the base would have a bright future as a home for conventional naval vessels in an independent Scotland once the missile system was removed.
Moore’s non-negotiation stance means that the Westminster and Scottish governments will not be able to sort out a pre-referendum deal on this issue or the thorny question of how much North Sea oil Scotland will be entitled to, its share of UK assets and debts or how the Armed Forces would be divided in the event of independence.
Looking beyond the referendum, Moore promised talks would be “constructive” but warned that Westminster would have to get the best deal possible for the rest of the UK should Scotland go it alone.
“Working constructively does not mean that the remainder of the UK family would or could facilitate everything the Scottish Government proposes,” Moore said.
“If people in Scotland choose to go it alone, those representing Scotland will make their case. Similarly the UK government would have to prioritise the interests of the people it represents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and agreement could only be reached on that basis.”
He added: “That means on referendum day the terms of the settlement for an independent Scotland will not be known.”
Yesterday, the Scottish Government said it believed that holding official discussions on an independence settlement before the referendum was the best way forward.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman referred to a recent speech by finance secretary John Swinney in which he said: “We hope the UK government will participate and allow discussions at official level, in line with the Edinburgh Agreement, to ensure that, in the event of a Yes vote, both governments are ready to take forward the will of the public. That is the common-sense way forward.”