When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed back in 2012 it set the legal precedent for a Scottish Independence Referendum, and set in motion a huge fervour of activity among politicians, civil servants, economists, academics, journalists and civil society – all grappling with the notion of Scottish independence. Huge amounts of time and resources have been invested into developing (and rebuffing) proposals of what independence would look like, what it would mean for Scots, and for the rest of the UK.
But with 30 days to go, polls are persistently indicating that on 18 September Scotland will choose to remain part of the UK. What will happen next if Scotland votes no? This seems to be a crucial, but somewhat ignored question in the debate.
A no vote still presents important opportunities for Scotland and the rest of the UK. Is devo-max, devo-plus or devo-something-else the future for Scotland? We have a Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies: could the future of the UK be a federal state with a new English Parliament? Unfortunately these possibilities have been explored no where nearly enough and questions about what happens if Scotland votes no have been sidelined.
So what do we know about what will happen if Scotland votes no?
1) Scotland will continue to be governed as it is now. 129 MSPs will continue to exercise their devolved powers at Scottish Parliament in areas such as education, health and social services, housing, local government and the environment. 59 Scottish MPs will continue to exercise their reserved powers at Westminster in areas such as benefits and social security, employment, defence, foreign policy and immigration
2) The balance of these powers will gradually shift, with more being devolved to Scottish Parliament. We already know that the Scotland Act (2012) is a new piece of legislation which will be implemented from 2016 onwards. This will give the Scottish Parliament a new set of financial powers including a new Scottish rate of income tax and borrowing powers. However the Scottish Government says the Act falls short of full devolved powers.
3) More powers in tax and social security will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament in the event of a no vote. This is according to a recent joint declaration signed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. However Alex Salmond has dismissed the declaration as a “rehash of the same vague promises”.
4) The detail of each party’s vision for the constitutional future of Scotland will be outlined in their manifestos and put before the people of the UK to choose from at the next general election in May 2015.
5) Scottish Labour however has already outlined their “positive economical, constitutional and social alternative” to independence in Scotland in the Together we can document. If Scotland votes no and a Labour government is elected they promise a fundamental review of the NHS in Scotland and reforms to childcare with a view to developing a system to rival the best in the world. This would initially provide 25 hours of childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds, and 15 hours a week for half of all 2 year olds.
6) There is no arrangement for another referendum on independence. The Edinburgh Agreement only makes provision for a referendum to be held by the end of 2014, and it is the view of the Scottish Government that this is a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
7) From polling data it seems that even if there is a relatively big win for the No vote, there will still be over 1 million people in Scotland who have voted to leave the UK. This will set a demanding precedent for the SNP to be included in future discussions about Scotland’s constitutional future. It will also require a compelling vision from this Scottish Government and the next to ensure we move forward as a country in a unified way.
8) As mentioned in the last blog, many vital services for deaf children and their families are already devolved to Scottish Government and so much will remain unchanged if we vote to remain in the UK. Our schools, colleges, hospitals, audiology services and social services are designed and delivered locally and a no vote will not change that.