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Press Release: Uncertainties in SNP White Paper strengthen argument for second referendum

26 November 2013

Commenting on the launch of the Scottish government’s independence White Paper, the director of UCL’s Constitution Unit Professor Robert Hazell made two points.

The timetable is realistic

‘The 18 month timetable for negotiations between September 2014 and March 2016 is reasonable, and realistic.  If Scotland votes Yes, the UK government will have to negotiate in good faith, and with all due speed.  Both governments will need to identify the big issues to be resolved before independence; a lot of smaller things can be left until afterwards. 

The Czech-Slovak divorce took just six months to negotiate, from July 1992 to January 1993. But it required 31 Treaties and 12000 legal agreements to effect the separation.  Many of the agreements were still being negotiated years later’.

If the White Paper cannot be delivered, a second referendum might be needed

‘This is an aspirational White Paper.  Some of the most important questions – membership of the EU, of NATO, keeping the pound, sharing other services with the UK – are not within the gift of the Scottish government, but depend on others.  We will not know until the negotiations are concluded whether the Scottish government can deliver all it hopes. 

If the White Paper turns out to have been a false prospectus, there is a strong case for offering a second referendum in March 2016. The terms of independence will then be known.  They may be very different from the aspirations of 2014.  In the second referendum the people of Scotland could then be asked, Do you still want independence on these terms?’

Notes for Editors

  • The Constitution Unit produced a book, Scottish Independence: A Practical Guide, by Jo Murkens and Peter Jones (Edinburgh University Press, 2002).  It advocated two referendums: the first on the principle of independence, to trigger the negotiations; the second once the terms of independence were known.
  • The Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan research centre based in the Department of Political Science at University College London.