The Constitution Unit


Press Release: Five steps on the road to Scottish Independence

6 May 2011

Now the SNP have a majority in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish independence is back on the political agenda. But there are five steps along the road to independence, and the Scottish government needs to negotiate each one, says the Constitution Unit. 

"There is a constitutional path to Scottish independence, which we traced in our book Scottish Independence - A Practical Guide", said the Unit's director Prof Robert Hazell. "It consists of five stepping stones. But all five need to be successfully negotiated before independence can successfully be achieved".

The first step is that a bill needs to be passed by the Scottish Parliament authorising a referendum. The referendum would ask the people of Scotland to approve the Scottish government entering into negotations with the British government. 

The next step is the referendum itself. Opinion polls have consistently shown support for independence remaining at around 25 to 30 per cent. A vote for the SNP in Scottish elections may or may not translate into a vote for independence come referendum day.

The third step, if the referendum is passed, is negotations with the British government about the terms of independence. These will include division of the national debt, North Sea oil, the future of the defence bases on the Clyde, Scotland's membership of the EU (the rest of the UK would be the successor state, and Scotland would have to re-apply for EU membership). 

The fourth step would be legislation for a second referendum, asking the people of Scotland to confirm that they want independence on these terms. This referendum can only be authorised by Westminster, because it is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament unilaterally to declare independence. But in formal terms, the passage of the legislation may not prove too much of a stumbling block. Successive British prime ministers have long recognised the Scottish people's right to self determination.

The final step is the second referendum, asking the people of Scotland if they want independence on the terms which have been negotiated.  The first referendum, if passed, would give the Scottish government authority to demand independence, and compel the UK government to enter into negotiations. Even though Scottish nationalists have said a second referendum would not be necessary, it would give the people of Scotland the opportunity to know the detailed terms of independence before making their final, momentous decision.

Notes for Editors:

  • Details of the book Scottish Independence by Jo E Murkens (Edinburgh University Press, 2002) can be found at here.
  • Robert Hazell is available for interview on 0207 679 4971, or our Press Officer Brian Walker can be contacted on 07802 176347
  • The Constitution Unit is an independent research centre within the Department of Political Science at University College London

Further information:

Watch our seminar on Scottish Independence with Michael Russell MSP