Scottish referendum on independence

The Scottish referendum on independence from the UK is this Thursday. I offer this space as a place to discuss, and also include some links I have seen recently and found interesting.

Stephen Fisher at Elections Etc. cautions that the polls could be overestimating the “yes” vote. (That would be bad news for the separatists, as only a few polls in the entire campaign have put them ahead.)

John Curtice at What Scotland Thinks probes the question of whether the ‘Missing Million’ could swing the vote to yes.

At Politics Upside Down, Robert Ford, Will Jennings, Mark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien look into the polling trends in great detail and consider what we can learn from them.

19 thoughts on “Scottish referendum on independence

  1. What I find interesting is the decision to hold a referendum on ‘devomax’ if there is a No vote. Devomax (maximum devolution) is a proposal to devolve powers on almost all issues except defence and foreign affairs to the Scottish parliament (useful info here: . This has irritated some English and Welsh MPs, and some Conservative MPs have called for Scottish MPs to have limited voting rights if Devomax passes (that won’t happen).

    What makes it interesting is that it could lead to calls for an English parliament, with the same powers for that assembly. I’m not sure what powers the Northern Ireland assembly have, but they might go after it as well. The Welsh Assembly might also want devomax (although the Welsh are somewhat reluctant devolution supporters). We might end up with a federal United Kingdom, with Westminster only running defence and foreign affairs. Unlikely, but interesting, and it could even lead to PR for the English parliament!

  2. The main stumbling block for a separate English parliament is that England makes up 80% of the UK as it is in population terms, so if you have an English parliament do you really need a UK wide parliament? Also what to do in situations where different parties win UK wide majorities and English wide majorities.

    Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales is not a kingdom, but a part of England with an unusually strong regional identity.

    • The Province of Northern Ireland is not now and never has been a kingdom, although it once formed part of the Kingdom of Ireland.

      The Principality of Wales has been in a legislative union with England since 1535 but now has its own assembly, first minister and government. From 1535 to 1746 an act of the English and then Union parliament extended to Wales only if it contained an express provision to that effect. After the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 acts of the Union parliament extended to both Wales and the former Scottish border town of Berwick unless they contained an express provision to the contrary. The current position, under an MOU negotiated with the devolved governments, is that the Union parliament will only make laws that extend to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales once the relevant parliament or assembly has passed a legislative consent motion. Wales has its own language which is expanding surprising rapidly.

      It’s really quite hard to see the UK leaping in a single, startling bound from asymmetric unitarism directly to an Austro-Hungarian quadruple monarchy without at least a few more tentative steps in between.

  3. With devomax, the appropriate model is Austria-Hungary, with common foreign and defense ministers, but separate Prime Ministers for each kingdom.

    • Would that work in a modern popular democracy, where these common ministers might have to be responsible to two separate parliaments with potentially differing party numbers? It would work in a (politically) absolute * nineteenth-century monarchy, where ministers are responsible to a single monarch, who is both King of Hungary and Emperor of Austria.
      * ie, where the monarch’s powers are limited by law but s/he nonetheless hires and fires Ministers at personal pleasure, like the UK between 1688 and Sir Robert Walpole.

      • The Mackay report, which is where I thinK Cameron gets his idea of English votes for English laws is actually more radical than Cameron in one way. It proposes (although not in these terms) three configurations for the UK parliament.

        The Union configuration would be the current parliament including MPs from outside England.

        The England-and-Wales configuration would exclude MPs from outside those 2 countries and presumably legislative consent motions by this configuration would be in addition to LCMs by the Welsh assembly. The report did not address the case of a different decision by the Welsh assembly and the England-and-Wales configuration of the house of commons.

        The England configuration would exclude Welsh MPs as well as Northern Irish and Scottish MPs.

        There is no clear guidance in the report for determining the differences between Union laws, Anglo-Welsh laws and English laws, nor on who should make the determination. If they follow the Parliament Act 1911 it would be the speaker but who knows which configuration is intended to elect the speaker.

        Seriously, English votes on English laws makes the old New Hebrides Condominium, widely known as the Pandemonium, a model of constitutional clarity.

  4. I agree that an English parliament would be rather superfluous, but it is a better option than removing certain voting rights from Scottish MPs. Perhaps regional assemblies, modelled on the London Assembly , would be a good idea if a fix for Scottish MPs voting on English issues was needed. These were tried during 2004, but the first assembly proposal (Northern England) was defeated by a huge margin. This may have been due to a lack of any real need for a local Assembly, and Engilsh public anger over devomax (if it happened) might create that need.

  5. Note that the SNP’s concept of independence involves Scotland keeping the monarchy (and the current dynasty descended from Protestant German nobility, instead of the Catholic German nobility that are the more direct heirs of the Stuarts) and the currency, so its not clear how different this is from devomax, which also envisages a fundamentally independent Scotland with some common UK institutions.

    The 1922 settlement for Ireland was more like devomax, with two Irelands, both retaining the monarchy, the Irish keeping their rights as British citizens, continued use by the British armed forces of military facilities in both the North and the South. The main difference was that Ulster continued to send MPs to the Westminster parliament. Eventually Eire proclaimed itself a Republic and withdrew from the Commonwealth, while the UK imposed direct centralized rule on Ulster.

    I increasingly think the solution is for the common UK institutions to be the crown, the armed forces, foreign policy, and immigration. The politicians and senior civil servants handling these issues would hold the same position in all three kingdoms. The three kingdoms would also have to agree to respect the rights of minorities (eg Catholics, Welsh speakers). But there would be three Prime Ministers, and the Westminster Parliament would become normally a UK parliament, though delegations from Edinburgh and Belfast would show up and vote when issues related to foreign policy, defense, and immigration came up.

    • England ( i do not mean the UK) is itself massively over-centralised. An alternative suggestion could be a Cumbrian parliament, a Cornish parliament etc etc.

      It’s now being suggested that devo max take the form of a new Act of Union and at the same time the UK supreme court has tentatively recognised a category of ‘constitutional laws’ that enjoy some degree of entrenchment. Interestingly enough, in doing so they re merely following the Scottish courts which have always argued that (Dicey notwithstanding) the Union parliament is not an extension of the former English parliament and does not necessarily have identical powers.

      The UK could well end up with a written constitution and asymmetric federalism.

      • I agree that England is too centralised, and I think that alternative suggestion would be best – simply devolve the same powers on local authorities in England as the Scottish Parliament has.

        My preferred reform for Westminster would be to have an elected Lords (by PR of course) with strong powers. It should in any case at least have an absolute veto on constitutional matters. I would personally prefer entrenching it further, but that way the British Constitution would be more entrenched than now, while not abolishing parliamentary sovereignty, only that of the Commons.

  6. Not surprisingly, concerns about the accuracy of referendum opinion polls (or possible want thereof) have resurrected memories of the 1992 general election in the U.K., in which opinion polls (right down to election day exit polls) proved to be way off the mark, incorrectly predicting a narrow Labour victory or a hung Parliament, instead of the Conservative overall majority that came out of the actual vote. I won’t refute the argument that there might be a “shy No” factor that polls are failing to take into account – much like the “shy Tory” factor which underestimated the Conservative vote in 1992 – but all the same it seems to me that attempts to draw parallels with the general election twenty-two years ago are missing one important difference: the apparent movement of public opinion as registered by the polls themselves.

    Specifically, back in ’92 polls had been predicting on average that the then-ruling Conservatives – that year’s status quo option – would lose by a more or less narrow margin, which became a dead heat the day before the election, and finally a hung Parliament with a Conservative plurality on election day exit polls. However, this time around the status quo “No” option has been gradually losing ground, and what looked like a decisive vote against independence not so long ago now appears to be a virtual tie.

    Moreover, U.K. polling experts are cautioning that the Scottish referendum vote appears to be engaging substantial numbers of voters who had not been taking part in elections for quite some time, adding yet another uncertainty factor to the equation. In sum, polls could be wrong in either direction – or they could be right on target.

    Finally, the current Scottish referendum campaign is reminding me also of a far more recent event in the U.K., namely the general election there four years ago. Back then, as it became increasingly evident the country would end up with a hung Parliament, dire (and increasingly desperate) warnings were issued from various quarters, predicting an impending catastrophe if the country failed to elect a majority government capable of acting decisively. As it was, a hung Parliament was elected, a coalition government came to power, and all those dire predictions came to naught. These days, a fresh batch of dire (and increasingly desperate) warnings are coming from diverse quarters, predicting disaster once more, but this time around brought about by Scotland’s independence…

  7. Scotland independence, and the Scots will have the last laugh…. Any other cases of independence referendums? Any possible future ones? Is this the reason why Quebec and/or other jurisdictions won’t have another one because they are worried that it would pass even though opinion polls don’t show it? Is this referendum a bit like the 1993 NZ MMP referendum and/or other electoral reform referendums? The UK Alternative Vote was rejected by 69%, are Electoral reform referendums and independence referendums comparable? One that politicians call thinking that it will go their way. It’s because of opinion polls. Democracy is being ruined by the reliance on opinion polls.

  8. Well, the Scots will get Devo Max, and this referendum is like the famous quote that a little girl said, “If you a kitten, start off by asking for a horse.” The analogy to this would be if you want maximum autonomy, start off by asking for independence. This article shows the turnout of various countries

    Readers may have to go down the article and see the list and see. NZ in 1946 had the highest voter turnout ever, and that was when the FPTP worked well at the time and the country had a pure two party system.

    It looks like the UK is going to be a federation, but how can it be so without a codified constitution that is not entrenched? English Parliament? Elected by PR? The UK should embrace PR, and then the Tories would have an incentive to try to win votes in Scotland and Wales. I guess that the UK is now less likely to leave the EU now that Scotland is staying.

  9. Three quick observations:

    1) The referendum results are fairly in line with a YouGov election day re-contact poll, which had the No option ahead of Yes by 54% to 46% – a one point deviation from the actual outcome. Other polls were off by an average of three points, but Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report suggests it was a case of late swing rather than systemic error.

    2) The council area-level results correlate strongly with the outcome of the 1997 devolution referendum (0.82 on the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, 0.83 on the Parliament’s tax-varying powers). Without going into much detail, a comparison of early returns with results of the 1997 referendum in the same areas already suggested “No” was likely to prevail.

    3) The Tory right has already signaled its displeasure with the promises of maximum devolution to Scotland made by the three major party leaders, but they may be fighting a losing battle: even the Scottish Tories – including some party leaders who were staunchly opposed to devolution back in ’97 – have let it be known they too are now in favor of such proposals, and there’s a growing realization that it’s either moving in that direction (and not just for Scotland) or having to deal with yet another Scottish independence vote further down the road.

  10. While the pro-independence vote was respectable, the one place where it got a majority was Glasgow and some surrounding areas. This suggest that resentment of the English elite did play a big role in fueling the pro-independence movement. While the SNP has sometimes won Westminster seats in Glasgow in by-elections, their strongest area has usually been the rural area in northern Scotland, sandwiched between Lothain-Clydeside and the Highlands.

    The pro-independence vote was lowest in the council areas bordering England, and in the Western Isles-Orkneys-Shetlands, neither of which is a big surprise. There is actually a separate independence or autonomy movement in the Orkneys (given the low population, a movement to return to Norway would make more sense). You would also expect alot of “no” votes to come from areas where alot of UK civil servants and military personnel live.

  11. What a shame the No side forgot to mention the West Lothian question until immediately after the vote! personally I think the solution proposed by Cameron is an invitation to disaster that will lead only to constant dispute over whether a particular law is a UK law or an English law. No-one can say a majority of Scots would have differently had Cameron sprung this before the referendum, but certainly some of them would have.

  12. Michael F Graham, “Lessons From Scotland’s Failed Experiment With Federalism: In 1638, Scots drafted a plan for a decentralized United Kingdom. Four centuries later, it might become a reality.”
    The Atlantic (23 September 2014)

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