Ten years after devolution was described as "a process, not an event", the Scottish Executive's White Paper "Choosing Scotland's Future" discusses the various options for continuing the process of devolution in Scotland.
The options considered by the White Paper include the following-:
- An enhancement of the current devolution settlement, with additional powers being assumed as the occasion arises;
- A significant redesign of the current settlement, with specific extensions to the Scottish Parliament's and Scottish Executive's current powers, possibly including fiscal autonomy; or
- A full transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive to the point of independence.
The third option is the preference of the SNP-led Government. Under that option, the White Paper envisages dissolution of the 1707 Union, but maintaining the 1603 Union of the Crowns. The Queen would remain Head of State in Scotland. It is also recognised that there would still be a 'social union' between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, with many cross-border services continuing.
Upon the basis that sovereignty ultimately resides with the Scottish people, the Executive proposes that a referendum would be held to seek the consent of the Scottish people to start negotiating Scotland's exit from the United Kingdom. The White Paper has a draft Referendum (Scotland) Bill appended to it, which includes a proposed question for such a referendum. It is recognised in the White Paper that a 'yes' vote for independence would not result in the unilateral secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom. As was recognised in Canada in the late 1990's, when Quebec held an independence referendum, the territory leaving the union has a duty to negotiate its exit with the state it is leaving.
Independence would see the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive becoming responsible for defence, foreign affairs and economic policy. These are areas which could not practically be transferred to Scotland under any devolution settlement. However, if the current devolution settlement were to be significantly redesigned (short of full independence), many other powers could be transferred to Scotland, including, amongst others, fiscal autonomy, criminal justice matters currently reserved, such as misuse of drugs and control of firearms; as well as social security, health and safety, energy and the environment.
The White Paper recognises that some of the currently reserved areas, such as foreign affairs, defence and currency, will be more difficult to transfer to Scottish control. However, it argues that many of the other reserved powers could be more easily transferred to Scotland and therefore allow the devolved administration more control over governing Scotland.
The stated aim of the White Paper is to start a national 'conversation'. The 'conversation' blog on the Scottish Executive website has already received 1,000 comments and it is planned to hold a number of public events to encourage participation. Whatever the final outcome, we are entering interesting waters in the story of our constitutional and political history.
To participate in the National Conversation go to: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/topics/a-national-conversation