Scottish Independence: Clarity for both sides required prior to future referendum - analysis
For any vote on the future constitutional relationship of Scotland with the rest of the United Kingdom to take place meaningfully, there must be clarity on what a vote for either side would mean.
Ciaran Martin, who was one of the key civil service architects of the Edinburgh Agreement during his time in the Cabinet Office between 2011 and 2014, makes the point on the most recent episode of The Steamie that there is little discussed about what a No vote would mean.
Much of the focus is instead on the effects of a Yes vote, most often the impact on the economy, currency arrangements, the NHS and borders.
It is a stain on the record and credibility of the SNP that the party has yet to set out its vision of an independent Scotland in a post-Brexit world.
We are regularly told independence is the sole reason for the party’s existence and yet we are no closer to an answer on any of the key questions that led to the defeat for Yes in 2014.
This, inevitably, will continue to hamper the independence cause and the longer it goes on the happier unionists will be.
But Mr Martin also has a point.
The consequences of a No vote were rarely discussed in any detail prior to the 2014 vote, mostly due to the widespread belief the referendum would be easily won by unionists (a similar error was made in the 2016 EU referendum by the Leave side of the campaign).
Panic as polls narrowed led to the Smith Commission and allowed the SNP to demand more powers after losing.
However, the new breed of conservatism in Westminster is much more wary of devolution and views it as a mistake, while the historic unionist but pro-devolution voice in Scotland, Labour, is split on whether federalism or the amorphous ‘devo-max’ is the way forward.
This leaves a void for the SNP to fill ahead of any vote with stories of power grabs from a Westminster government scared of continued constitutional friction and, by Nicola Sturgeon’s narrative, dedicated to rolling back the powers of Holyrood.
There is a requirement, therefore, to agree prior to the vote what Union No voters would be voting for and what sort of relationship a non-independent Scotland would have within the UK.
Above all, voters deserve clarity on exactly what they would be voting for.
It would be unforgivable of the SNP – a major critic of the uncertainty caused by an ill-defined Brexit – to present ahead of a referendum a nebulous concept of Scotland post Yes.
For unionists, it would likely be an immediate concession to the SNP and wider nationalism around the future constitutional arrangement of the UK if they fail to set out – in law if necessary – what No would mean.
This could include, as suggested by Mr Martin, a clear minimum time-frame for when the issue can return to the ballot box, or a legal commitment to not rolling back devolved powers.
Failing to define what a vote No would mean would be as serious a strategic error as failing to adequately set out what an independent Scotland would look like.
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