Scotland’s independence referendum: some confusions in the commentariat

There seem to be some dubious assumptions behind much of the current speculation from the commentariat south of the border:

(1) That there’ll be a in/out EU referendum in 2017 in the UK, whether or not it includes Scotland by then — which assumes a Tory overall majority at the next UK general election. Not a single opinion poll so far points to the likelihood of that happening. Of course it might, but as of now it’s extremely unlikely.

(2) That between a Scottish Yes vote next Thursday and whatever date is eventually set for Scotland to become independent, Scotland will be a foreign country and its MPs at Westminster will cease to take their seats: clearly wrong. Until the date of independence, which will depend on how long it takes to complete the separation negotiations, Scotland remains a part of the UK and its MPs remain UK citizens. At any UK election (such as that currently scheduled for May 2015) held before Scotland becomes formally independent, Scotland will continue to elect its MPs in the usual way. The UK parliament’s eventual legislation providing for Scotland to become independent on a specified date will need to include provision for MPs in Scottish constituencies to vacate their seats on that date. Presumably there will then need to be a fresh election in rUK (the rest of the UK).

(3) That the separation negotiations will be completed on the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s timetable, i.e. within about two years from a Yes vote on 18 September. Highly unlikely, in my view. I can’t see the negotiations being completed in less than five years, given their complexity and the potential for strong disagreement on a long list of issues.

(4) That there’ll be no UK general election until May 2015: probably correct, but we shouldn’t rule out a scenario in which —

(a) David Cameron, the UK prime minister, resigns very soon after a Yes vote in Scotland, either of his own volition or with the LibDems and disaffected Tories voting with Labour for a No Confidence motion in the house of commons.  (Many media commentators seem to have forgotten that the whole government resigns when a prime minister resigns);

(b) the Conservatives elect a new leader, presumably George Osborne;

(c) Mr Osborne (or whoever) tries but fails to form a government able to win a vote of confidence in the Commons, the LibDems refusing to join a new coalition with him;  accordingly,

(d) there’s a UK general election before the end of 2014; and —

(e) Labour wins it with a very small overall majority, and takes control of the separation negotiations with Scotland. No EU in/out referendum.

So why are Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, and his front bench colleagues not already emphasising publicly and on every possible occasion that in the event of a Yes vote by the Scots, the Cameron government will be totally discredited by the greatest failure since the loss of the American colonies in 1776?  Why are they not promising that the moment a victory for Scottish independence is proclaimed, Labour will at once demand the government’s immediate resignation and the holding of a general election before the end of the year to decide which party is to lead the separation negotiations with Scotland? I have no idea why they are not. All I know is that they should be.


22 Responses

  1. Rob Storey says:

    Even if this turn into a No vote by a narrow margin, Cameron is bloodied and unlikely to recover before May. Win or lose a vote of confidence, this is a once-in-a-while opportunity for Ed Miliband to show the electorate his mettle. He should do but I have my doubts.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Rob. I entirely agree.

  2. mickc says:

    Yes, if Scotland votes for Independence Cameron should resign, and yes, Labour should be pointing this out.

    That neither is or will be the case demonstrates the poor quality of the current political class.

    As I recall, Carington was the last of those honourable enough to resign over a disaster for which he felt he had to take responsibility, even though culpability lay with the Prime Minister.

    A country is said to get the Government it deserves; I cannot see that we deserve the current mediocrities.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I agree with what you say, except that if you read the main body of the Franks Report on the Falklands war (as distinct from its summary and conclusions, which were published first and separately), you will see that Lord Carrington (whom I greatly admired when he was Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary) did bear a heavy share of the responsibility for the failure to foresee and head off the Argentine invasion by diplomatic action in good time, despite urgent advice from officials in the FCO that he should do so, because of his reluctance to break unwelcome news to Mrs Thatcher when he was already engaged in an argument with her about other matters. IOW his resignation was not that of an innocent minister accepting the responsibility for the mistakes or negligence of either his FCO officials or of the prime minister, as is frequently claimed. He did the honourable thing by resigning but it was because he personally had been at least partially responsible for the disaster.
    Although it looks as if Scottish independence, if it happens, will be achieved without bloodshed, it will certainly rank as a major catastrophe for our country, for which the prime minister at the time and his government will have to accept the major part of the responsibility. If that is not a resigning matter, what is?

  3. Pete Kercher says:

    Just by way of a wicked red herrring, Brian: what about the hyopothesis that Cameron (with his party’s tacit approval and applause) interprets a Scottish Yes vote as a victory for English Conservatism, in the hope that it will keep him/them in N° 10 indefinitely in future? Would he then resign?
    Seriously, though, I would expect:
    a) Cameron to hang on to power as long as he can, oblivious of the gentlemanly thing to do: today’s politicians are seldom gentlemen, more often driven by the list for power (Blair docet)
    b) Clegg to pull the LibDems out of the coalition, or risk losing his head (or even splitting his party) if he refuses to (rather like your hypothesis c).

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Pete. A very interesting point. On the one hand Nick Clegg might be reluctant to bring on a general election earlier than May 2015 any more than the turkeys are likely to vote to bring forward Christmas to April. On the other hand, Mr Clegg may reckon that if he and his LibDems are seen to be responsible for keeping a badly wounded Cameron in power, or at any rate in office, for another eight months after his humiliation next Thursday at the hands of the Scots, the electorate’s vengeance on his party could be even more terrible than it would be if he could claim the credit for bringing down Cameron within days or weeks of the referendum.

    Another possible variant is that Cameron’s enemies in his own party, said to be quite numerous and vindictive, see a LibDem desertion approaching and pre-empt it by removing Cameron from the Conservative leadership in a 1922 Committee rebellion. Even if he loses the Tory leadership, Cameron could in theory carry on as prime minister (there are precedents for this), although he would foresee the danger of being further humiliated if his successor as Conservative leader seeks to replace him as prime minister by organising a vote of no confidence in Cameron’s government. If Cameron could foresee that he would lose a confidence vote he would presumably resign first, taking his government with him, and resign also as party leader in the hope that a Tory-led government could continue in office under his Tory successor. The question then would be whether his successor as party leader (probably Osborne, as in my post) would be able to form a new government that could survive a confidence vote in the house of commons — which would bring us back to Mr Clegg….

    Of course, rather than face a series of humiliations like these, Mr Cameron might resign as prime minister (but not as party leader) soon after the announcement of the vote for Scottish independence, and ask the Queen for a dissolution and an immediate general election. The question then would be whether the Queen would grant his request: it would certainly be within her rights and powers to refuse it! At that point I think further speculation becomes otiose.

    We could be in for interesting times.

  4. mickc says:

    Thank you for your response.

    I have not read the full Franks Report and had always assumed Mrs. Thatcher was culpable. An object lesson in going to primary sources rather than relying on the MSM and the numerous “commentators”!

    Whilst off topic, the MSM are increasingly purveyors of PR rather than journalism. The net is filling the vacuum.

    Brian writes: Thank you again. I suppose Mrs Thatcher shared some of the blame for the Falklands in that she had failed to establish a relationship with her foreign secretary (Lord Carrington) in which he felt able to be completely frank with her or to bring her vital but unwelcome news. It was also yet another example of ministers getting into serious trouble through not listening to FCO officials — as at Suez, possibly Kosovo and most obviously Iraq — please see There are probably other examples too that we don’t yet know about. But having long ago been one of those FCO officials, I have to declare an interest!

  5. Jill Barrett says:

    Agree, if Scotland votes yes, Cameron should resign immediately. But disagree that Labour should be pointing this out now – t would give the Scots another incentive to vote yes.
    I do think Labour should have talking about its plans for devo-max a whole lot sooner. Leaving it this late looks like desperation.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Jill. The same thought did occur to me. But then I reckoned that Scots would hardly allow the desire to get rid of Cameron and his UK government to tilt the scales in favour of a Yes vote when they would otherwise have voted No, since Cameron’s resignation or defeat will only arise if Scotland votes for independence, and if that happens they’ll be getting rid of Cameron anyway.

    I agree whole-heartedly that Labour should have been talking for the past three years or more about full internal self-government for Scotland if Scotland votes against independence this week. I have been pleading for just such an initiative by Labour in letters to the press and on my own and others’ blogs and even at meetings, since 2006 or earlier. But a combination of complacency, laziness and cowardice has triumphed over judgement and a sense of responsibility, and now it looks very much as if they may have left it too late. I suspect that the Scottish Labour party’s visceral dislike of the SNP has also played a part.

  6. Lesley Vann says:

    I myself think that as I do not know much about the politics of a yes vote or no vote for Scotland can not think who else can run this Country unless they put me in charge Brian as they all only think of themselves.

    Brian writes: Thank you, Lesley. I agree that for the most part the UK is badly governed, at any rate by the current coalition administration, although Scotland may fare better in some ways. But I hope and believe that Labour would make a much better job of it, and I certainly don’t accept that all or even most politicians “only think of themselves”: I believe that the vast majority of them go into politics in the hope of changing the country for the better. Politics is a desperately insecure, extremely badly paid, seriously over-worked and endlessly frustrating profession and anyone going into it in the hope of making money for herself (or himself) will be in for a very nasty surprise.

    Moreover, I don’t think you need to “know much about the politics of a yes vote or no vote for Scotland” to make an intelligent decision on how to vote, if you’re registered to vote in Scotland on Thursday. The pros and cons, the rewards, penalties and uncertainties, have all been extensively debated all over the media for weeks and there can’t be much more to know. My own view is that independence would be a reckless gamble and that Scotland will be able to enjoy as much genuine internal autonomy as any Scot could possibly wish for while enjoying the real advantages of remaining in the bigger units of the UK and the EU, if they reject the fool’s gold of independence this Thursday.

  7. john miles says:

    “Anyone going into it (politics} in the hope of making money for herself (or himself) will be in for a very nasty surprise.”

    Some of them – eg Blair, Thatcher, Kinnock, Hoon,. Hogg – don’t seem to have done too badly.

    Brian writes: You have had to resort to some pretty untypical examples to make your sceptical point, John. Two of them are former prime ministers and one a former leader of the opposition, all of whom have been able quite legitimately to make money after leaving office by writing books and lecturing, and in Blair’s case by advising governments; in addition Neil Kinnock was a senior EU Commissioner, no doubt well paid for doing an extremely demanding job, although as far as I know he’s not especially rich after an extremely distinguished career. I’m not aware that the other two whom you mention are particularly well off. Hoon was caught out in a scam trying to make some money out of his long ministerial experience, and Baroness Hogg is a member of a family famous for its public service and probably quite well-to-do. The ordinary new MP from an ordinary family will be very lucky indeed to rise to ministerial office and even luckier to make such a name for herself that she can turn it into a decent income after leaving office. Compare the ordinary back-bench MP’s income with that of a bank or FTSE 100 company CEO….

    However this is far from the subject of the post and if you wish to pursue it further, please do so elsewhere!

  8. john miles says:

    I hope the Scots will vote No, though if I were a Scot myself I’d probably vote Yes.

    I can’t help thinking we may be overestimating the difference its going to make to all our lives, and that the world will continue to wag on somehow, pretty much as it always has.

    The really important thing is we should stay on good terms with each other.

  9. john miles says:

    So why are Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, and his front bench colleagues not already emphasising publicly and on every possible occasion that in the event of a Yes vote by the Scots, the Cameron government will be totally discredited by the greatest failure since the loss of the American colonies in 1776?…etc etc?”

    Perhaps because they feel that if we lose our Scottish colony New Labour’ll be wide open to the same sort of criticism only more so.
    Anyway poor Mr Miliband’s not the kind of guy many people trust, or can be bothered to listen to.

    In my hopelessly arrogant opinion the No “campaign” has been quite incredibly inept.

  10. Pete Kercher says:

    I note that John Miles describes his opinion as “hopelessly arrogant”… but that would appear to make two of us and I suspect we would be in plentiful company.

    I must say that “quite incredibly inept” is putting it somewhat mildly: the entire campaign (and I make no exceptions for any party) has managed to get everything conceivable wrong, from the things it has said to the moments when they have been said, the people deputed to say them and the tones adopted in doing so.

    It is simply incredible that nobody has listened to the arguments for a correct and logical approach to federalism that you have advanced over the years, Brian, and that the whole shooting match is behaving like naughty boys caught with their pants down, running to Scotland to try to salvage things in extremis (and making things worse in the process), when they have steadfastly refused to listen to reason over the years.

    Which does of course beg the question: if the entire political class of a polity cannot get even the aproach to a campaign right (a campaign in which it started out as an obvious and easy winner but has managed to paint itself into the corner of the dodgy loser), then by what stretch of the imagination can it (or any part of it, of any party) be entrusted with the complex business of governing that polity?

    The incompetence is mind-boggling and speaks volumes about the quality of contemporary government in the UK.

    Disclaimer: please do not misconstrue that last paragraph to mean that I have anything more positive to say about the appallingly shoddy governance in the country where I live.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Pete. It’s difficult to account for the dismal standard of government to which we have been subjected by all three of the main UK parties in recent years. One has only to watch and listen to Prime Minister’s Questions for ten minutes on a Wednesday afternoon to be dismayed by the infantile character of the exchanges and by the sub-nursery behaviour of virtually the whole chamber. The quality of several of our present ministers is abysmal. No serious student of politics with a mind of her own would consider for a moment spending her life in such a bear-pit, among such unattractive colleagues. No wonder the standard of our governance is so low!

    The maniacally adversarial character of our politics, both in parliament and in the media, making it suicidal ever to admit to a mistake or to change a policy, so that risk-aversion, cowardice and banality are rewarded and imagination and initiative are penalised: the frightful working hours and unutterably tedious nature of much of the work of an MP, plus the requirement to spend all her spare time in her constituency as an untrained, unqualified social worker: the pathetically low pay: the sneering contempt with which politicians are viewed by much of the public, including some contributors to this and many other blogs: the strong possibility of losing one’s job every four or five years coupled with the poor prospects of finding any other way to make a living: the humiliating way in which back-benchers are treated by the whips: the tyranny of 24/7 television news, of opinion polls and focus groups and swivel-eyed local party activists of extreme left and extreme right — all these deeply negative factors seem to me to require a kind of titanic superman to break through and assert real, progressive, courageous leadership for genuine change.

    (I doubt if Ed Miliband qualifies as a titanic superman, but I suspect that he’s one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, decent, strong-minded and imaginative politicians in parliament today and that if he gets the chance, he might turn out to be one of the best prime ministers since, say, Harold Wilson and Harold Macmillan, possibly even since Attlee. But perhaps it’s more likely that he’ll be destroyed by the relentless sneering of the tabloids, the bloggers and the tweeters before he has a chance to show what he can do, much as Neil Kinnock was.)

  11. Paul Sharp says:

    Excellent exercise in thought-provocation as always Brian. I take comfort from my American colleagues asking “what’s the big deal?” We all know Britain is really England. Shake them (the Scots) off and proceed.

    Incidentally, is it really a now-and-for-all-time deal? Supposing the negotiations dragged on and a unionist party emerged in North Britain and got itself elected? What would have to happen in rUK? In other words, are things broken from the point of a “yes” vote on Thursday? Would we, the rUK, have to go through some sort of separate decision about letting Scotland back in? The mind begins to boggle regarding who is “we” and who is “they” during the negotiations.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Paul. I have replied separately at

  12. Derek Tonkin says:

    The referendum only asks the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Even if the majority of Scots say “Yes”, subsequent negotiations may well show that the costs of total separation are far too high for both parties, and that it is better if they stay together on issues like defence, foreign and monetary policy. Compromise is inevitable. A new Federation in the making? So does the vote on Thursday really matter? In retrospect, we shall probably ask ourselves sooner rather than later: what was the fuss all about? Something other, I suspect, than Scottish independence. More about the issues that Brian raises in response to Paul Kercher, and about time too.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Derek. I have replied separately at

  13. john miles says:

    “The ordinary new MP from an ordinary family will be very lucky indeed to rise to ministerial office and even luckier to make such a name for herself that she can turn it into a decent income.”

    Quite so.
    The same goes for many – perhaps even – most people who take up careers they hope will make them filthy (for some reason I forgot to mention Him) rich.

    Small point: by Hogg I meant Douglas,

  14. Brian says:

    Paul Sharp and Derek Tonkin, in separate comments, here and here, coincidentally and almost simultaneously make similar points:

    “… is it really a now-and-for-all-time deal? Supposing the negotiations dragged on and a unionist party emerged in North Britain and got itself elected? What would have to happen in rUK? In other words, are things broken from the point of a “yes” vote on Thursday? Would we, the rUK, have to go through some sort of separate decision about letting Scotland back in?”


    “Even if the majority of Scots say “Yes”, subsequent negotiations may well show that the costs of total separation are far too high for both parties, and that it is better if they stay together on issues like defence, foreign and monetary policy. Compromise is inevitable. A new Federation in the making? So does the vote on Thursday really matter?”

    I have made much the same point at the end of the penultimate paragraph of an earlier post, here (great minds, obviously). The issues needing to be resolved in negotiations between rUK and Scotland, following a vote for independence, before Scotland can actually become independent, are so numerous and so complex, and the positions of the two sides on some of the most fundamental of those issues are so far apart, that it seems quite possible that after years of fraught negotiations (and possible changes of government at both ends in the middle of them), it will simply prove impossible to reach agreement on some of them, even if both sides show a generous willingness to compromise — a very optimistic hypothesis. In that event, the final offer by the rUK team will become the terms on which Scotland will become independent, if at all, since in the last resort it will be the rUK that will have to legislate to make Scotland independent and which will have the last word on the terms of independence. So what if the last best terms that rUK is prepared to offer are still unacceptable to Team Scotland, or to whatever party is then in power at Holyrood? What if the last best terms on offer are clearly unacceptable to the majority, or a very large number, of those who will have voted Yes at Thursday’s referendum? In other words, what if a significant number of Scots including their government say, “We want independence, but not on the only terms that the rest of the UK is willing to offer us”?

    I suppose that in those circumstances there might have to be another referendum in Scotland on the question: “Should Scotland become an independent country on the terms set out in the Westminster government’s White Paper no. [Cmnd nnnn]?” How else could the matter be democratically resolved? The rest of us could hardly force Scotland to become independent on terms that the majority of Scots have rejected!

    So maybe Gordon Brown and David Cameron (unlikely pair) are both wrong in saying that Thursday will be a once-for-all decision and that there will be no going back on it.

  15. Timothy Weakley says:

    Brian, you concluded your comment at 3.56 on the 16th: ‘So maybe Gordon Brown and David Cameron (unlikely pair) are both wrong in saying that Thursday will be a once-for-all decision and that there will be no going back on it’. I profoundly hope you’re right. It’s going to be a ‘demmed close-run thing’ on Thursday. The various last-minute offers by Cameron et al. look like, and are of course being represented as, the expiring effort of a faction with nothing else to say for itself. I posted my ‘No’ vote last week, and have no desire to go back on it, but by gum if I’d been born and bred in Scotland I’d have wanted to change my vote. The way the ‘No’ campaign has been run should go in future textbooks of political science as an Awfulk Example of how not to do it. I have never felt so deeply depressed by any political matter.
    Sorry, not really a comment on your post, just a heartfelt wail!

  16. For me, the misconception with the most far reaching consequences is that the negotiations will be complete within 2 years. Knowing the preference of Holyrood to take its time and Westminster’s inevitable displeasure at a Yes vote, it seems that they will be drawn out and fraught with controversy.
    On the question of why Labour aren’t asking for a resignation in the event of a Yes vote, I would venture that it would be because they some of the strongest campaigners here in Scotland for the Union, so a Yes vote would be equally embarrassing for them both in English and Scottish Labour.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Caitlyn. We shall now never know (I’m glad to say) how long the separation negotiations would have taken, but we’re both agreed that it would have been many more than two years. I think you make a good point about Labour’s vulnerability to criticism in the event of a success for the Yes campaign, Labour having been committed to the Union. But the real criticism would have been rightly directed to the prime minister of the day on whose watch the disintegration of the UK would have occurred. Cameron personally made a series of blunders over the form the referendum should take, the options to be offered, the eligibility of children to vote, and the failure to offer a better alternative to independence than the status quo, until bludgeoned into the last of these by Gordon Brown. If the worst had happened, I don’t see how Cameron could have avoided resignation. If not over this, over what? Labour after all was in no position to take any of these decisions — although they certainly failed dismally to spot Cameron’s mistakes at the time (or even now, indeed!).

  17. Pete Kercher says:

    Here’s another conundrum to consider, Brian.

    I find a certain incongruousness when I see reference to the UK government negotiating with the Scottish government. Until independence (if it happens), the UK government will be expressed by a Parliament that includes Scottish MPs. This means that Scottish MPs will, to a certain extent, be negotiating with themselves. Also, I have grave misgivings about the negotiations being restricted to the governments alone: there is a generally accepted principle in many countries that governments look after governing (which in theory at least is a party-political issue), but constitutional arrangements require a broader consensus, involving all stakeholders. I think it might be more correct if the non-Scottish members of the UK Parliament were to elect a special all-party committee to deal with a counterpart all-party committee elected by the Scottish Parliament.

    This would also avoid the risk of whoever is in opposition (in either of the Parliaments) refusing (for party political reasons) to accept the validity of any settlement reached and calling it into question as fodder for future elections. Of course, this may be overcome by a subsequent referendum of confirmation (although what happens if, say, Scotland accepts the conditions and rUK does not?), but I believe it is not just a question of ticking the boxes of a political agenda, but of manifestly and transparently getting the procedure right.

    Which, in the light of the recent performance from Westminster, is the reason why I expect this sugestion to be ignored (or not even thought of) and another complete mess to be made of the negotiation procedure.

    Brian writes: Thank you again, Pete. I have responded in a new comment at

  18. Brian says:

    Pete, thanks for your latest conundrum (here). First, I have tried to avoid referring to the UK negotiating with Scotland: I hope I have always referred to rUK (the rest of the UK, or residual UK). Secondly, the UK party leaders have not yet revealed (AFAIK) what kind of negotiating body will be set up to negotiate the separation terms with the Scots, maintaining the fiction that there has been no contingency planning for a Yes vote tomorrow. Thirdly, Alex Salmond has spoken of an all-party Team Scotland to negotiate with rUK — remember him expressing the hope that if the vote were to go for independence, he hoped that Alistair Darling would be a member of Team Scotland? I think he mentioned the best and the brightest in Scotland as candidates. I imagine that rUK will be represented by a broadly similar all-party team, presumably including MPs but not necessarily confined to them. Fourth, I agree that there’s a real possibility that the separation negotiations will end in a failure to agree on some key issues. If that happens, rUK will have the last word, since it can only be UK legislation that can make Scotland formally independent, so in the last resort Scotland will have to decide whether to take its independence on the final terms offered by rUK in the negotiations, even if the Scottish team has been unable to accept some of them. It’s not so much one side or the other refusing to accept the validity of any settlement reached, more a scenario in which a large number of Scots who will have voted Yes tomorrow still want independence but not on the last best terms offered by the rUK. Clearly Scotland could not be forced to become independent on terms which an overall majority of Scots found unacceptable. I have suggested in an earlier post that in that event there would surely have to be a second Scottish referendum on the question, “Should Scotland become an independent country on the terms set out in the UK government White Paper No. {nnn]?” Many of those who had voted Yes on 18 September might well vote No in such a second referendum in three, four or five years’ time when it might well have become clear that on certain key points rUK had simply been unable or unwilling to agree to Scotland’s demands.

    Clearly such an outcome would leave a residue of immense bitterness. The Scottish side would accuse the rUK of deliberately frustrating the democratically expressed will of the Scottish people, whose decision it had promised to accept, by placing impossible obstacles in the way of independence. The rUK side would say that the Scottish side had made demands which it knew could not be accepted by any UK government. There could be an element of truth in both assertions.

    A joker in this (to my mind perfectly plausible) scenario is the possibility that in the course of the negotiations there could well be a change of government both in the UK and in Scotland, with completely unpredictable implications for the negotiations. IOW, the Scottish negotiating position might end up under the control of a Scottish government and parliament both actually opposed to independence.

  19. Iain Orr says:

    Today’s referendum may have two counter-intuitive results. If Yes wins, Alex Salmond’s position will immediately become vulnerable as failure to deliver success in the independence negotiations would make his victory turn to ashes. Similarly, if No wins, David Cameron’s position will become more vulnerable. His delivery of the promised last-minute Devomax package is likely to lead to a huge Conservative backbench revolt, advances for UKIP and a Labour majority – even in seats in England and Wales alone – in the 2015 General Election. Thus no 2017 referendum on the EU.

    That said, I rate Salmond’s ability to negotiate terms for independence acceptable to the Scottish electorate as greater than Cameron’s to negotiate electorally acceptable terms for a new UK – or Southern Britain and Northern Ireland – relationship with the EU.

    Brian writes: Thank you, Iain. I have responded in a separate comment at

  20. Brian says:

    Iain, thank you for these intriguing forecasts (here). I agree broadly with both. However I think that whichever way the vote goes today in Scotland, both Cameron and Miliband will be damaged, perhaps severely: Cameron because of the negligent way he has handled the whole thing (disallowing a third option of devo max, which would have won easily, allowing secession to be the Yes option, allowing votes for children, failing to offer the Scots an attractive alternative to independence until the last week and even then promising too little, too late): and Miliband because his performances in the No campaign have been so embarrassingly feeble, a failure that has been highlighted by the stunning success of a rampantly eloquent, passionate, utterly convincing Gordon Brown.

    It’s very hard to gauge the likely effect of all this on the general election (which ought to follow Cameron’s resignation next week if the Yes side wins, but probably won’t take place before next May). I believe, possibly quite wrongly, that Labour would win easily if it campaigned all-out for self-government for Scotland (if the No side has won today), a parliament and government for England within the next five years, and a constitutional convention to overhaul the entire UK constitution in the light of (a) the result in Scotland today and (b) the decision to establish a parliament and government for England. Labour should commit itself to the eventual goal of a fully federal constitution for the UK (or rUK) within 10 years and resolutely oppose feeble alternatives such as devolution to English cities or regions in lieu of a parliament, or English MPs at Westminster pretending to sit now and then as an English parliament (sans a government, civil service, constitution, definition of powers, etc.). On that basis I think Labour might win a clear overall majority.

    But I don’t have the slightest hope that any of that will happen. Labour will have a dull worthy uninteresting programme for government on the basis of which it might, with luck, emerge as the biggest party in another hung parliament, relying on the LibDems and the nationalist parties (including the SNP!) for support for its principal measures, and hoping for an overall majority at fresh elections two or three years later. And in two or three years’ time we’ll probably see an electoral alliance between the Conservatives and UKIP…

    Finally, I entirely agree that Salmond’s negotiating skills are vastly superior to Cameron’s. But against that, (a) I hope the rUK negotiating team will include more skilful performers than Cameron; (b) several of Salmond’s demands are clearly non-negotiable, including a currency union with the rUK and painless continuation of Scots’ EU membership; and (c) in the last resort the rUK, hopefully led by a Labour government, must have the last word because Scotland can become legally independent only under a Scottish Independence Act of the UK (not rUK) parliament — and the Scottish side will have no power to override the final decisions of rUK on the terms of separation if the two sides fail to agree on some key issues.

  21. Iain Orr says:

    Brian: Thanks for your well-reasoned pessimistic speculation that even if the vote is No, the Labour Party is unlikely to develop a full-bloodied federal solution to the UK’s structural political problems. If I had a vote it would be No, but not because of the Devomaxlite plan that Gordon Brown steamrollered in the last week of the campaign. If the vote is No, I hope that “vow” will be broken in as constructive a way as possible. A pretence of Home Rule but only for Scotland could only be a gift to UKIP.

    If Yes wins, perhaps there is still an outside chance of salvaging from the wreckage new forms of bilateral cooperation between two states. That could preserve as many British institutions as possible under the shared Head of State, operating – as has happened before – through two sovereign parliaments.

    I see the polls have now closed. Not just a tense wait for the result: a testing decade ahead for politics in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    Brian writes: Thank you again, Iain. This time I have to disagree. I welcome the promise of further devolution for Scotland, partly because I believe our current difficulties arise largely from the suspension of the devolution process in midstream when it should be completed by the achievement of full internal self-government by Scotland and indeed by each of the four nations, and partly because the greater the degree of self-government achieved by Scotland, the greater the pressure from England for the same right of control over its own domestic affairs, including its own parliament and government. I do however agree that full internal self-government, or devo max, or home rule, can’t possibly be confined to Scotland. Quite the opposite: it should be enjoyed by all four UK nations, which will mean that we shall wake up one morning to discover that we are a federation.

  22. Gavin Hewitt says:

    Dear Brian

    Your thoughts and responses on the referendum and the outcome for Scotland in the event of a “yes” vote (which fortunately was not the case) are wide of the mark. You and most of your commentators seem to start from the premise that the SNP and Salmond are democratic and that they would play fair within the rules of democratic government and the norms of British political behaviour.

    Although I agree with you that negotiations with rUK would have been protracted and probably inconclusive within the timescale envisaged by Salmond (independence for Scotland declared on 24 March 2016), failure to secure agreed terms would not have stopped Salmond or the SNP. UDI would have been declared on the set date, and to hang with the resultant economic consequences for Scotland. I write this without hindsight. However Salmond’s comments over the weekend in the wake of his defeat reinforce the conclusion that ultimately he and his likely successor are thoroughly anti-democratic.

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