Scotland emerged as an independent polity
during the Early Middle Ages, with some historians dating its foundation from the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin
The level of independence of the Scottish kingdom was fought over by the Scottish kings and by the Norman
rulers of England who petitioned the Pope
and other foreign rulers.
A treatise of union of the two realmes of England and Scotland
by the English historian Sir John Hayward
Home rule movement
Immediately before the First World War
, the Liberal Government
led by H. H. Asquith
supported the concept of "Home Rule all round", whereby Scottish home rule would follow the Irish home rule proposed in the Government of Ireland Act 1914
Asquith believed that there was an iniquity in that the component parts of the United Kingdom could come together to act together in common purposes, but those components could not deal with internal matters that did not require consent across the UK.
This was not a nationalist philosophy, but instead Asquith was acting in the belief that federalism was the "true basis of union" and that centralising power in Westminster was the "worst of all political blunders".
A Scottish Home Rule bill was first presented to Parliament in 1913, but its progress was soon ended as Parliament focused on emergency measures necessitated by the First World War.
Unlike Ireland, which rebelled in the Easter Rising
and fought a War of Independence
, Scotland did not resist central rule.
There was, however, a persistent demand for Scottish home rule.
The Scottish Office was relocated to St Andrew's House
during the 1930s.
The Scottish Covenant
was a petition to the UK Government asking for home rule. It was first proposed in 1930 by John MacCormick
and formally written in 1949. The petition "was eventually signed by two million people"
(the population of Scotland was recorded as 5,100,000 in the 1951 UK Census
). The covenant was ignored by the main political parties.
Also in 1950, the Stone of Destiny
was removed from Westminster Abbey by a group of Scottish nationalist students.
1979 First devolution referendum
In January 1974, the Conservative government had commissioned the McCrone report
, written by Professor Gavin McCrone, a leading government economist, to report on the viability of an independent Scotland. He concluded that oil would have given an independent Scotland one of the strongest currencies in Europe. The report went on to say that officials advised government ministers on how to take "the wind out of the SNP sails". Handed over to the incoming Labour government and classified as secret because of Labour fears over the surge in Scottish National Party popularity, the document came to light only in 2005, when the SNP obtained the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Labour Party
, led by Harold Wilson
, won the October 1974 general election with the very narrow majority of only three seats. Following their election to Parliament, the SNP MPs pressed for the creation of a Scottish Assembly: a viewpoint which was given added credibility by the conclusions of the Kilbrandon Commission. However, opponents demanded that a referendum be held on the issue. Although the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party both officially supported devolution
, support was split in both parties. Labour was divided between those who favoured devolution and those who wanted to maintain a full central Westminster government. In the SNP, there was division between those who saw devolution as a stepping stone to independence and those who feared it might detract from that ultimate goal.
The resignation of Harold Wilson from office in 1976 brought James Callaghan
to power, but his small majority was eroded by several by-election losses, and the government became increasingly unpopular. Deals were made with the SNP and Plaid Cymru
to hold referendums on devolution in exchange for their support, helping to prolong the government's life.
The result of the referendum in Scotland was a narrow majority in favour of devolution (52% to 48%),
but a condition of the referendum was that 40% of the total electorate should vote in favour in order to make it valid. But the turnout was only 63.6%, so only 32.9% of the electorate voted "Yes". The Scotland Act 1978
was consequently repealed in March 1979 by a vote of 301–206 in Parliament. In the wake of the referendum, the supporters of the bill conducted a protest campaign under the slogan "Scotland said yes". They argued that the 40% rule was undemocratic and that the referendum results justified the establishment of the assembly. Campaigners for a "No" vote countered that voters had been told before the referendum that failing to vote was as good as a "No".
It was therefore incorrect to conclude that the relatively low turnout was entirely due to voter apathy
In protest, the SNP withdrew their support from the government. A motion of no confidence
was then tabled by the Conservatives and supported by the SNP, the Liberals and Ulster Unionists
. It passed by one vote on 28 March 1979, forcing the May 1979 general election
, which was won by the Conservatives led by Margaret Thatcher
. Prime Minister Callaghan described the decision of the SNP to bring down the Labour government as "turkeys voting for Christmas
The SNP group was reduced from 11 MPs to 2 at the 1979 general election, while devolution was opposed by the Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major
1997 Second devolution referendum
Supporters of Scottish independence continued to hold mixed views on the Home Rule
movement which included many supporters of union who wanted devolution within the framework of the United Kingdom
. Some saw it as a stepping stone to independence, while others wanted to go straight for independence.
In the years of the Conservative government after 1979, the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly
was established, eventually publishing the Claim of Right 1989
. This then led to the Scottish Constitutional Convention
. The convention promoted consensus on devolution on a cross-party basis, though the Conservative Party refused to co-operate and the Scottish National Party withdrew from the discussions when it became clear that the convention was unwilling to discuss Scottish independence as a constitutional option.
Arguments against devolution and the Scottish Parliament, levelled mainly by the Conservative Party, were that the Parliament would create a "slippery slope" to Scottish independence and provide the pro-independence Scottish National Party with a route to government.
Prime Minister John Major
campaigned during the 1997 general election
on the slogan "72 hours to save the union". His party ultimately suffered the worst electoral defeat in 91 years.
The Scottish Parliament has legislative
authority for all non-reserved matters
relating to Scotland, and has a limited power to vary income tax, nicknamed the Tartan Tax
, a power it did not exercise and which was later replaced by wider tax-varying powers. The Scottish Parliament can refer devolved matters back to Westminster to be considered as part of United Kingdom-wide legislation by passing a Legislative Consent Motion
if United Kingdom-wide legislation is considered to be more appropriate for certain issues. The programmes of legislation enacted by the Scottish Parliament since 1999 have seen a divergence in the provision of public services
compared to the rest of the United Kingdom. For instance, the costs of a university education, and care services for the elderly are free at point of use in Scotland, while fees are paid in the rest of the UK. Scotland was the first country in the UK to ban smoking in enclosed public places in March 2006.
2014 independence referendum
Survey of the importance of holding a referendum, carried out by the BBC
in April 2011.
In its manifesto for the 2007 Scottish Parliament election
, the Scottish National Party
(SNP) pledged to hold an independence referendum
After winning the election,
the SNP-controlled Scottish Government published a white paper
entitled "Choosing Scotland's Future
", which outlined options for the future of Scotland, including independence.
Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservatives
and Scottish Liberal Democrats
opposed a referendum offering independence as an option. Prime Minister Gordon Brown
also publicly attacked the independence option.
The three main parties opposed to independence instead formed a Commission on Scottish Devolution
, chaired by Kenneth Calman
This reviewed devolution and considered all constitutional options apart from independence.
In August 2009, the Scottish Government announced that the Referendum (Scotland) Bill, 2010
, which would detail the question and conduct of a possible referendum on the issue of independence, would be part of its legislative programme for 2009–10. The Bill was not expected to be passed, because of the SNP's status as a minority government and the opposition of all other major parties in Parliament.
In September 2010, the Scottish Government announced that no referendum would occur before the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.
The SNP won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament at the 2011 Scottish election
First Minister Alex Salmond
stated his desire to hold a referendum "in the second half of the parliament", which would place it in 2014 or 2015.
In January 2012, the UK Government offered to provide the Scottish Parliament with the specific powers to hold a referendum, providing it was "fair, legal and decisive".
Negotiations continued between the two governments until October 2012, when the Edinburgh Agreement
The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2013 and received Royal Assent on 7 August 2013.
On 15 November 2013, the Scottish Government published Scotland's Future
, a 670-page white paper laying out the case for independence and the means through which Scotland might become an independent country.
After a protracted period of negotiation, a public debate between Salmond and Better Together
leader Alistair Darling
On the morning before the televised debate, a joint statement, pledging greater devolved powers to Scotland in the event of a "No" vote, was signed by Prime Minister David Cameron
(Leader of the Conservative Party), Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
(Leader of the Liberal Democrats), and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband
(Leader of the Labour Party).
The BBC website announced the final result of the referendum at 06:24 on 19 September 2014: the "No" vote prevailed with 55% (2,001,926) of the votes from an overall voter turnout of 84.5%. Chief counting officer Mary Pitcaithly stated: "It is clear that the majority of people voting have voted No to the referendum question." The "Yes" vote received 45% (1,617,989) support—the winning total needed was 1,852,828. Results were compiled from 32 council areas, with Glasgow backing independence—voting 53.5% "Yes" to 46.5% "No" (turnout in the area was 75%)—and Edinburgh voting against independence by 61% to 39% (turnout in the area was 84%). Darling stated in his post-result speech, "The silent have spoken", while Salmond stated, "I accept the verdict of the people, and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict".
British withdrawal from the European Union
Leading figures supportive of Scottish independence have suggested that following the UK vote to leave the EU while Scotland voted to remain in the EU, a second Scottish independence referendum
should be precipitated.
In the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016, 62% of Scottish voters voted to remain (38% of voters voted to leave the EU). First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon
said that she was looking at all options to "secure our place in the EU", and that a second referendum was "highly likely".
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May
said that "The prime minister and the government does not believe that there is a mandate for [a second referendum]. There was one only two years ago. There was an extremely high turnout and there was a resounding result in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK".
Following the 2019 United Kingdom general election
, which saw the SNP win 48 out of 59 seats, Sturgeon asked Boris Johnson
for his consent to hold another referendum.
Johnson declined her request, saying that Sturgeon and her predecessor (Alex Salmond) had promised that the 2014 referendum would be a "once in a generation" vote.
Under the Boris Johnson regime, the UK government sought to remove potential trade barriers and fund development in Scotland directly through the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020
. While not removing powers from the devolved government per se
, it is argued that these changes have restricted the practical legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
In an editorial
in January 2021 concerning rising support for independence and its potential to break up the union, the Financial Times
indicated that the Internal Market Act may serve to further the cause of independence:
An example of what not to do was the government’s Internal Market Act, in which London retook control of structural funds previously disbursed by the EU.
This view was mirrored by the Scottish Government in a report published in March 2021, which stated that the act is "radically undermining the powers and democratic accountability of the Scottish Parliament."
2021 Scottish elections
In January 2021, Sturgeon said that another referendum would be held if pro-independence parties won a majority of seats at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election
. This was criticised by opposition parties for putting independence ahead of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
Although the SNP fell one seat short of winning outright, the eight seats won by the Scottish Greens meant that pro-independence parties had won a majority of seats in the election.
Speaking after the election, both SNP and Conservative representatives said that a referendum would not occur during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It could make or unmake any law it wished"
and by the Supreme Court
in AXA General Insurance Ltd and others v HM Advocate and others
The legality of any UK constituent country attaining de facto
independence or declaring unilateral independence outside the framework of British constitutional convention
is debatable. Under international law
, a unilateral declaration might satisfy the principle of the "declarative theory of statehood
", but not the "constitutive theory of statehood
". Some legal opinion following the Supreme Court of Canada
on what steps Quebec
would need to take to secede is that Scotland would be unable to unilaterally declare independence under international law if the UK Government permitted a referendum on an unambiguous question on secession.
The SNP have not argued for a unilateral act, but rather claim that a positive vote for independence in a referendum would have "enormous moral and political force... impossible for a future [Westminster] government to ignore",
and hence would give the Scottish Government a mandate to negotiate for the passage of an act of the UK Parliament providing for Scotland's secession, in which Westminster renounces its sovereignty over Scotland.
Some arguments appeal to rule according to higher law
. For example, the United Nations Charter
enshrines the right of peoples to self-determination, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
also guarantees peoples' right to change nationality; the UK is a signatory to both documents. Politicians in both the Scottish and UK parliaments have endorsed the right of the Scottish people to self-determination
, including former UK Prime Ministers John Major
and Margaret Thatcher
As the 2014 Scottish independence referendum
was authorised by an Order in Council
approved by both chambers of Parliament, its constitutional legality was not in doubt. The Edinburgh Agreement (2012)
between the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament stated that both governments would accept the outcome of the referendum and thereafter would "continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom".
The agreement gave the Scottish Parliament the legal authority to hold an independence referendum before the end of 2014.
With the publication of the draft Independence Referendum Bill
on 22 March 2021
the question of legality was raised again. According to House of Commons research, "as a matter of law, a referendum is not required for Scotland to become independent", so the UK Parliament could pass a bill authorising secession without the need for a referendum.
In December 2019, Martin Keatings, a pro-independence independent candidate, sought a declarator to the Court of Session. However Lady Carmichael said the case lacked standing due to its hypothetical nature. Nevertheless, Mr Keatings brought an appeal forward in April 2021 as the Scottish Government had now published a bill,
however this appeal was lost.
Support for independence
Scottish independence is supported most prominently by the Scottish National Party
, but other parties also support independence. Other pro-independence parties which have held representation in the Scottish Parliament include the Scottish Greens
the Scottish Socialist Party
At the 2021 Scottish Parliament election
, 72 of the 129 seats available were won by pro-independence parties (64 SNP and 8 Greens). The independence movement consists of many factions with varying political views. The SNP wants Scotland to keep the monarchy (see personal union
) and become an independent Commonwealth realm
, similar to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. All of the other aforementioned pro-independence parties want Scotland to become an independent republic. The SSP has led republican protests and authored the Declaration of Calton Hill
, calling for an independent republic.
The Independence Convention
was set up in 2005, seeking "Firstly, to create a forum for those of all political persuasions and none who support independence; and secondly, to be a national catalyst for Scottish independence."
The Scottish Republican Socialist Movement
is a Pan-Socialist independence movement that believes that Scotland should be made an independent republic. This movement has a Firebrand socialist ethos, however is not affiliated with the SSP or the Scottish Communist Party. It believes that a failure to become independent should lead to mass emigration elsewhere, or as put as a slogan "Independence or Desertion".
Apart from the official Yes Scotland
campaign for independence in the 2014 referendum, other groups in support of independence were formed at that time. This included the National Collective
, an artist-driven movement which describes itself as "an open and non-party political collaboration of talent focused on driving social and political change in Scotland through a variety of the arts".
It was responsible for organising a mock referendum held at the University of Glasgow
in February 2013.
Another group, the Radical Independence Campaign
, described itself as "fighting for an independent Scotland that is for the millions not the millionaires". RIC was formed after the Radical Independence Conference 2012 in Glasgow, which was attended by at least 650 people and has been described as a "[bringing together of] the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialists, some of the more militant trade unionists, nuclear-disarmament campaigners and anti-monarchist republicans".
During the 2014 referendum campaign, independence attracted little support from newspapers. The Sunday Herald
was the only publication to endorse a "Yes" vote in the referendum. The National
, a daily newspaper supporting independence, was launched in November 2014, in wake of the Yes Scotland campaign's defeat.
In October 2014, the lobby group All Under One Banner
(AUOB) was formed. AUOB stages regular public marches in support of Scottish independence throughout Scotland.
Reasons that have been cited in favour of independence include:
- Democracy and national self-determination: Scotland's population would possess full decision-making power in regard to the political affairs of its nation. Alex Salmond stated in a May 2012 launch that "the people who live in Scotland are best placed to make the decisions that affect Scotland." An example of this is Brexit, which happened because 52% of voters across the UK voted to leave the European Union, but 62% of voters in Scotland had voted against this.
- Nuclear disarmament: with control over defence and foreign policy, an independent Scotland could demand the removal of Trident nuclear weapons, which are based in the Firth of Clyde. Nuclear disarmament is an issue long associated with the campaign for an independent Scotland, as outlined in the House of Commons Defence Committee's white paper "The future of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent: the White Paper" of 2006–2007. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament supports independence on this basis.
- "It's Scotland's oil": since being used as a slogan by the SNP in the 1970s, this phrase has encapsulated the argument that only an independent Scotland can fully utilise and exploit its national resources, including North Sea oil and gas, for the benefit of the population. According to the Scottish Government in 2014, 64% of the EU's oil reserves existed in Scottish waters, while the David Hume Institute stated: "Scotland is sitting on oil and gas reserves worth up to £4 trillion". Investment in and production from the North Sea oilfields dropped sharply after Conservative chancellor George Osborne imposed punitive taxes, undercutting the projected revenue an independent Scotland could claim.
- "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on" (a statement by Winnie Ewing, upon her victory for the SNP in the 1967 Hamilton by-election): an independent Scotland would be a full and equal member of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union and many other international organisations. With an autonomous voice in international politics, Scottish independence campaigners believe the nation's global influence would increase in regard to the defence of its national interests and the promotion of its values. Furthermore, Scottish embassies could be established globally to promote Scotland internationally, and to lobby other governments on the nation's behalf.
Opposition to independence
The Conservative Party
, Labour Party
and Liberal Democrats
, who all have seats in the Scottish Parliament
, oppose Scottish independence. In 2012 they established the cross-party Better Together
campaign. Other parties that oppose Scottish independence include the UK Independence Party
(UKIP), All for Unity
, Reform UK
, Abolish the Scottish Parliament
the British National Party
(BNP), Britain First
the Scottish Unionist Party
(SUP), and the Ulster unionist
A campaign group called "Scotland in Union" emerged after the 2014 independence referendum.
It has encouraged anti-SNP tactical voting in elections and promoted the Union more generally.
However, 'Scotland in Union' has been the subject of controversy, after leaked records indicated that most of their money came from wealthy donors rather than the campaign's own members.
In late 2017, a new group called "Unity UK" was formed.
Its supporters said that Unionists needed to be more supportive of Brexit
and were critical of Scotland in Union's "agnostic" stance on the issue.
The Orange Order
, a Protestant brotherhood with thousands of members in Scotland
, campaigned against Scottish independence,
and formed a campaign group called British Together.
In September 2014, it held a march of at least 15,000 Orangemen, loyalist
bands and supporters from Scotland and across the UK;
described as the biggest pro-Union demonstration of the campaign.
Many newspapers in Scotland
also oppose independence. This includes Scottish-based newspapers The Scotsman
, Scotland on Sunday
, The Herald
the Sunday Post
the Daily Record, the Sunday Mail
the Scottish Daily Mail
, The Scottish Daily Express
, The Scottish Sunday Express
and Daily Star of Scotland
as well as UK-wide newspapers The Daily Telegraph
, The Guardian
, The Independent
, The Economist
, Financial Times
, The Spectator
and The Sunday Times
There are strong historical and contemporary ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK from the Reformation
and Union of Crowns
, to Scottish involvement in the growth and development of the British Empire
and contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment
and Industrial Revolution
. Contemporary popular culture
is also shared, primarily through the prevalence of the English language
. Almost half of the Scottish population have relatives in England.
At the time of the 2011 census, approximately 700,000 adults who were born in Scotland lived in the rest of the UK, while about 470,000 adults who were born elsewhere in the UK had moved to live in Scotland.
There are also significant economic links with the Scottish military-industrial complex
as well as close links within the financial sector.
Reasons cited in favour of maintaining the Union include:
- Scotland would be economically stronger as a part of the UK economy and better able to prosper in a globalised economy with the international influence and stability derived from being part of a larger state.
- Scotland's levels of public spending would be difficult to sustain after independence without raising taxes for those in an independent Scotland. For example, David Maddox, writing for The Scotsman in 2008, pointed to a future Peak oil decline in North Sea oil revenue, within ten years oil revenue had fallen to 10% of the 2008 peak. Some, such as Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives, wish to reduce public spending and devolve more fiscal powers to the Scottish Parliament in order to address this issue within the broader framework of the Union.
- As part of the UK, Scotland has more influence on international affairs and diplomacy, both politically and militarily, as part of NATO, the G8, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Opponents of further integration of the European Union claimed that independence, within Europe but outside the EU three, would mean that Scotland would be more marginalised because, as a relatively small independent country, Scotland would be unable to resist the demands of larger member nations.
- What would be the currency of an independent Scotland – the pound, the euro, or an entirely new Scottish currency? Uncertainty could be brought in the immediate aftermath of independence, particularly disagreement as to how Scotland would be treated in relation to the European Union, and the unlikelihood of the remaining UK accepting a currency union with an independent Scotland. The chairman of HSBC, Douglas Flint, warned in August 2014 of uncertainty if there was an independent Scottish currency, or if Scotland joined the Eurozone, which could result in capital flight.
- Outlying regions such as Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles would be disadvantaged or deserve a greater share of oil revenue.
Polling ahead of the 2014 referendum
Many opinion polls were conducted about Scottish independence during the 2014 referendum
Professor John Curtice
stated in January 2012 that polling had shown support for independence at between 32% and 38% of the Scottish population.
This had fallen somewhat since the SNP were first elected to become the Scottish Government in 2007.
The research also showed, however, that the proportion of the population strongly opposed to independence had also declined.
Curtice stated in April 2014 that support for independence had increased since December 2013, although there was disagreement between the polling companies as to the true state of public opinion.
Polls in the run-up to the referendum vote showed a closing of the gap, with one YouGov
poll giving the Yes campaign a 51–49 lead. In the referendum Scotland voted against independence by 55.3% to 44.7%, with an overall turnout of 84.5%.
Polling since the 2014 referendum
Pro-independence march in Scotland in May 2018
Since six weeks after the 2014 referendum, opinion polls have asked how people would vote in a proposed second referendum.
Twenty-five polls were conducted in the year after the referendum, with seventeen of them having "No" as the predominant answer, seven having "Yes", and one having an equal proportion of respondents for each opinion.
In the year from September 2016 to September 2017, 25 of 26 polls conducted showed "No" as the most popular answer and only one showed "Yes" as the most popular answer.
"No" continued to show a lead in opinion polls until July 2019, when one poll by Lord Ashcroft
showed a narrow majority for "Yes".
Professor John Curtice said after this poll was released that there had recently been a swing towards "Yes", and that this was concentrated among people who had voted to "Remain" in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
This pro-independence trend continued into 2020, as three polls in the early part of the year put "Yes" support at between 50% and 52%.
In October 2020, an Ipsos MORI
poll saw support for independence at its highest ever level, with 58% saying they would vote "Yes".
As of December 2020, fifteen consecutive opinion polls had shown a lead for "Yes".
The run of polls showing a "Yes" lead continued into January 2021, although the average support for Yes was down by two percentage points compared to polls by the same companies in late 2020.
Polls conducted in early March 2021, following testimony by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon at a Holyrood parliamentary inquiry, showed narrow leads for "No".
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