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19 January 2012

Road to Scottish independence?

Road to Scottish independence?

This article is published in accordance with the Alliance's Basis of Faith; however, this is a comment piece and therefore is unable to reflect every detail and nuance of belief held by Alliance members. Comment pieces may express views on which there is a divergence of opinion or understanding among evangelicals

The debate over Scottish independence became UK national news as Prime Minister David Cameron entered head first into the debate, muddying the waters over a future referendum on independence. One thing, at least, is now very clear - after 300 years of union, the Scottish people are to be given the chance to vote for independence. The rest, including details of when, where and how, is still up for grabs.

Recent polls on independence continue to remain around the 30 per cent mark though most Scots would like to see more powers shift from Westminster to the Edinburgh Parliament. The Scottish National Party hope these figures will rise substantially over the next three years as they push for a referendum vote predicted in the Autumn of 2014 - the year, incidentally, of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. It's also the year Scotland will be hosting of the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup golf tournament. First Minister Alex Salmond admits 2014 will be a "good year to hold a referendum".

You may remember that the SNP spent its first four years of government focusing on developing it abilities and credentials as a viable governing party. Their success was evident by a huge win in last year's elections. Without a majority in Parliament the SNP were always restrained from pursuing independence with full gusto. After last year's Scottish Parliament elections the tables have no doubt turned. With a majority of MSPs in the Parliament (and therefore, the SNP insist, a mandate from the people) nothing north of the border is stopping the SNP pushing forward with a Bill on an independence referendum.

David Cameron however would like to suggest otherwise. A vote held without the authority of the UK government, he suggests, could be unlawful as issues over the constitution are reserved to Westminster. Instead, the prime minister has offered the SNP government a "concession" - the offer of a "legal, fair and decisive" plebiscite made possible through the appropriate transition of powers to the Scottish government. In return, the UK government will insist on a single question (a yes or no on independence), the help of the electoral commission to ensure the referendum is properly run and steer on the most appropriate date. This is a tricky path to tread for the prime minister. Too much interference in Scottish matters may create antagonism among Scottish voters and push them further towards independence.

The SNP insist that they can hold a referendum with or without the authority of the UK government and do not accept there is a legal issue with the referendum. With a successful Bill won in the Scottish Parliament, nothing is stopping them holding a consultative non-binding referendum which would ultimately pave the way for the final negotiations for independence.

Let's be clear - the last two weeks has brought the issue of Scottish independence right to the forefront of hearts and minds not only in Scotland but right across the Union. But the actual details of what an independent Scotland would look like (e.g. North Sea oil, currency, defence, membership of the EU) are nowhere near being decided or even debated. For now negotiations will only focus on the details of a future referendum.