Yes victory only the start of independence journey

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It IS understandable that the Electoral Commission should draw attention to the many uncertainties about what would happen following the 2014 independence referendum, writes Alan Trench.

In the event of a Yes vote, the process is far from clear. The first issue is that the Scottish government would have no legal authority even to enter into independent negotiations, despite the mandate it would get from a Yes vote. The first order of business after referendum day would be the passing of a “paving bill” at Westminster to authorise the Scottish government to negotiate terms of independence with the UK government, and make other preparations for independence. That might not be quick or easy, especially if MPs and peers seek to challenge the authority of the referendum. After that, there needs to be negotiations about the terms of independence. There are a number of very difficult issues to be resolved before Scotland would become an independent state.

At the top of the list are Scotland’s position in relation to the European Union, the division of North Sea oil and gas reserves, the division of UK national debt, the future of naval bases on the Clyde, the terms of any “social union” to enable Scottish citizens to travel in the remainder of the UK, and of any monetary union enabling Scotland to continue to use the pound.

Each of those issues will also affect the others; the Scottish Government would be likely to have to make concessions to some to secure a good deal on others. The likely shape of an independent Scotland will not be clear until that sort of deal has emerged which is likely to be quite late in the proceedings.

If there is a No vote, there needs to be no immediate constitutional change. Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom. But the Unionist parties ought to set out before the referendum how they would deliver on the hints or promises they are making of further devolution at that point, and when.

• Alan Trench is a constitutional expert and honorary fellow at the University of Edinburgh.