How will Scotland become independent?


What is the process for Scotland becoming independent in the event of a Yes vote?


The Scottish Government has set out details of how Scotland can move smoothly towards independence after a Yes vote in two documents.  Firstly, “Scotland’s Future: from the referendum to independence and a written constitution”, sets out a timetable for positive and co-operative negotiations between the Scottish and UK Governments, and proposes a modern written constitution to protect the rights of Scotland’s citizens and reflect the values of its people.  Secondly, further details of the transition process are contained in chapter 10 of the government's white paper "Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland".

When could Scotland become independent?

The Scottish Government proposes that Scotland’s Independence Day will be on 24 March 2016. That will ensure that the elections scheduled for 5 May 2016 will be the first elections to an independent parliament.

Will that allow enough time to complete negotiations?


The Scottish Government points out that since 1945, 30 countries have become independent following a referendum. The average length of time between referendum and independence day was about 15 months.  Even the legal exeprt appointed by the UK Government, Professor James Crawford, agreed this timetable was "realistic".  

After a referendum, agreement would be reached with UK Government about the transition to independence including the timetable for Independence Day. Aiming for March 2016 leaves 17 or 18 months for negotiations – more than sufficient by international standards.

Who will be negotiating on Scotland’s behalf?

The Scottish Government will invite representatives of other parties and wider Scottish civic society to negotiate for Scotland.

What needs to be done and agreed before independence?

The full range of issues that require to be negotiated include the division of assets and liabilities such as tax and oil revenues, military bases and overseas assets. Agreement would also be reached on the transfer to the Scottish Parliament and Government of control over a number of issues and institutions from Westminster; whether to continue a number of co-operative shared arrangements – eg the DVLA - for the benefit of the peoples of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and the timetable for the speediest safe removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland.

Not everything requires to be settled before independence. Some matters may require further discussion after Independence Day - as was the case with the Czech Republic and Slovakia for example.

What about the European Union and other international organisations?

Negotiations about our membership of the European Union would also be required. In the months between a Yes vote and March 2016, these negotiations would of course take place with Scotland still part of the UK, and therefore also part of the EU.  Given Scotland’s immense resources, it would be not just in Scotland’s interests, but the interests of the other EU states, for these negotiations to proceed quickly and smoothly towards agreed terms and conditions of Scotland’s continued membership after independence.  You can read more about Scotland's EU membership in this briefing.  

The speed at which Europe responded to German reunification shows that it can quickly evolve in response to new situations. Less than a year after the fall of the Berlin wall, German reunification came into effect, and the old East Germany became part of the EEC.

Similar negotiations will be required for other international organisations.

Why have a written constitution?

The vast majority of modern states have a written constitution which protects the rights of citizens and limits the powers of Government. Written constitutions improve transparency, and safeguard democracy and the rule of law. The UK is unusual – unique in the EU - in operating without a written constitution and without limits on the power of Parliament. It means that controversial and unpopular decisions such as the invasion of Iraq or the building of nuclear weapons are unchallengeable.

Why wait until after independence to draw up the written constitution?

A written constitution should reflect the values of the people as a whole and it is an exercise that will engage civic society and bring together the whole country after independence.

Who will draft the written constitution?

The first independent Scottish Parliament will be under a legal obligation, as soon as possible after Independence Day, to establish an independent Constitutional Convention charged with the task of drawing up a permanent written constitution.  

The Scottish Government believes that the process by which the constitution will become law should be based on international best practise and the practical experiences of other countries, such as the Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, Ontario and British Columbia which have all recently used citizen-led forums for similar purposes.  The project of drafting a written constitution will energise people from across the political spectrum and throughout the country. It is vital that the people of Scotland are centrally involved so the constitution properly reflects their values.

What should be in the written constitution?

That’s for the people of Scotland to say.

The Scottish Government believes that provisions on equality, a protection against discrimination, and the right to a minimum standard of living should all be considered for inclusion. There is the opportunity to consider whether there should be constitutional rights in areas such as welfare, education and health. We can debate whether protection of our natural resources and our ambitions for sustainable economic growth could be incorporated. A constitutional prohibition on weapons of mass destruction and other limits on use of military power are also possibilities.

As the Scottish Government states, it will be just one of very many voices having input into the content of the constitution.

What happens after independence but before the written constitution is in place?

Prior to Independence Day a “constitutional platform” will be required in order to provide a basis for the powers of the independent Parliament and Government from day one of independence. The platform will cover the legal, financial and other arrangements necessary for Scotland to be an independent country from March 2016.  For example, the platform will give the Scottish Parliament powers to declare independence in the name of the people of Scotland; extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government into all policy areas, and provide for the transition of Scotland’s status in the EU to independent membership.  It will be for the Scottish Parliament and Government to take the lead in putting the complete platform in place, working in tandem with the Westminster Parliament and Government in the spirit of cooperation outlined in the Edinburgh agreement.

And from Independence Day there will be an interim constitution in place, which will provide the legal basis for the government of Scotland until a permanent written constitution is completed.  The Scottish Government has already published a draft interim constitution for consultation.  You can view that draft and take part in the consultation (prior to Monday 20th October 2014) using this link.  

Of course we already have many of the institutions that a modern independent state needs: including a parliament elected by proportional representation, a government, civil service, independent judiciary and legal system.