SCOTTISH independence is an “unknown proposition” and may require two referendums to ratify, according to a leading constitutional expert.
Alan Trench, honorary senior research fellow at the constitution unit at University College London, said: “Any referendum held before independence negotiations have taken place means that voters will be voting on an essentially unknown proposition.
“They will not, and cannot, know what choices may be made about the nature of an independent Scotland in those negotiations.
“That creates a serious flaw in the process. This could be avoided by holding a referendum after independence negotiations have taken place.
“However, it is not clear what the mandate for holding such negotiations would be. This is a powerful argument for the ‘two referendums’ approach.”
He added: “I see no reason why a referendum should be held sooner than the autumn of 2014, in accordance with the Scottish Government’s proposal.”
But Mr Trench said a second question on greater devolution – devo-plus or devo-max – would be unworkable.
He added: “The Scottish Government is clearly right in identifying the support of a significant body of Scottish public opinion for a choice in the referendum for greater devolution within the Union.
“However, it is unclear what that option would involve. At this point, it is therefore impossible to see how a referendum putting more than a straightforward Yes or No choice to the electorate could take place.”
Last night, Bruce Crawford, the parliamentary business secretary, said: “We welcome Alan Trench’s support for the Scottish Government’s referendum timescale.
“Autumn 2014 is the correct time for the referendum, which reflects the proper procedures of the Scottish Parliament, and the need for the fullest possible public debate on Scotland’s most important decision for 300 years.”
Mr Trench countered: “There are many ways in which the SNP’s plans for independence aren’t clear, and won’t be until after independence negotiations with the UK government have taken place.
“Many of their proposals depend on reaching agreements for ongoing co-operation with the UK government, but it’s far from clear whether the UK will in fact accommodate the SNP’s plans.”