Now that opinion polls are showing a clear majority of people in Scotland are in favour of independence we need to start looking seriously at how this majority can be made a reality. The starting point for this post is that there has been a majority vote in Scotland in favour of independence. A Democratic Event as Craig Dalzell of The Common Green would call it. Craig has written a very clear post outlining the various options for such a Democratic Event. My starting point is that such an event has happened resulting in a clear majority in favour of independence.
What happens next? This is to my mind the key question. Again I am assuming that the UK government will continue to reject the result of such a Democratic Event and refuse to even contemplate negotiations. This is of course just an assumption, but one we need to make and take seriously.
We need to consider carefully what steps the Scottish government and Parliament can take in response to a continuing No from the UK government. If independence is to become a reality then the Scottish government needs to very quickly demonstrate that it is in control of the country and its economy. Only by exercising the powers of independence will independence be deemed to be legitimate. Crucially other countries will only recognise our independence if the Scottish government is seen to be in control.
The first act of the Scottish government and Parliament would need to be a Declaration of Independence. Just to be clear here, I am not advocating this as my preferred route. However this post is about what can be done in the event of a continuing refusal to negotiate on the part of the UK government.
What will this – a Declaration of Independence – mean in practice? I can think of two key areas that will determine if the Scottish government is in control or not. The first is money or more precisely the ability to raise taxes. The other would be matters to do with law and order.
Money first. Governments need to raise money through taxes. Borrowing is also important but taxes are key. Not just because of the money raised, but because the power of taxation is one of the key elements of legitimacy. Income tax is already devolved, so should not present any problems. The challenge will come with VAT, corporation tax, excise duty etc. How quickly can the Scottish government get in place a system to allow companies to pay their taxes to a new Scottish Revenue? Secondly what happens if some, all, most companies decide to continue to make payments through the UK revenue systems? This is a serious challenge. It would help if work on this has already begun. No idea if it has or not.
Setting up a Central Bank is another necessity. Common Weal has already done work on this. However if independence is contested, then this will need to be done much quicker and in different circumstances to those envisioned by Common Weal.
The other key issue is what I have called law and order. I leave out the army and RAF here. Not because they are unimportant. But because I feel the UK would be most reluctant to use any kind of military force, at least in the beginning.
What will matter is the action or inaction of the police, the law courts and the law profession in general. This has been already alluded to in relation to taxes. For independence to work and be seen as legitimate, then the mast majority of people, companies, organisations need to adhere to the decisions and laws as set out by the Scottish government and Parliament.
Related to this will be what happens to the BBC in the immediate aftermath of a Declaration of Independence? Will an early act of the Scottish Parliament set up a Scottish Broadcasting network? If people and organisations are to be encouraged to accept independence it would help if not all of the media was opposed.
My overarching point in all of this is that we need to be prepared for what happens after a positive Democratic Event. If the UK government relents and begins negotiations then everything will be worked out more or less harmoniously. However if the UK government refuses to even begin negotiations, what then?
If we do nothing and just wait and hope and pray that the UK government changes tack, then what was the point of a positive Democratic Event? If independence is conditional on approval by the UK government, then this is not independence. Being ready and prepared to act unilaterally may be the only way to persuade the UK government to come to the table.