The road to 2014
Between now and polling day, I will post updates on the Scottish Government’s plans for the referendum, my observations on the debate, our preparations for Scotland to become independent should the people of Scotland vote ‘yes’, and the reasons why we believe that bringing powers home will better equip us to build the kind of country we want Scotland to be.
Everything that is posted on this blog will be written personally by me or by people I invite to contribute. I hope you find it helpful, interesting and informative.
In my first post, I want to talk about the obligations that I believe politicians in both the Scottish and UK governments are under over the next couple of years to work in a way that puts the interests of the people of Scotland – and indeed the rest of the UK – before our own partisan interests.
There is no doubt that we will all argue our case passionately and vigorously – Scottish Government ministers will argue for a ‘yes’ vote and UK government ministers for a ‘no’ vote. But both Governments have a responsibility to ensure that this debate is well informed and constructive, and that we work together in advance to ensure that the outcome of the referendum is respected.
During this year the Scottish Government will publish a series of papers covering the main arguments for independence, leading to a white paper in the autumn that will set out the Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland. We have already set out our vision for the country we would like Scotland to be: a country that earns its wealth and shares it more fairly; a country where every child has the chance to grow up and fulfil their potential. These papers will provide detail on how to achieve that vision. Of course, in future elections to an independent parliament, other parties will be able to put forward positions and policies that are different to those in the White Paper. But it will be the White Paper that will set out the choice people will be making when they vote in the referendum – it will set out the structure of the state and the starting point of an independent Scotland.
The UK Government also plans its own papers to set out is case for a “no” vote.
The people of Scotland will expect both Governments to have open discussion, and full exchange of information, in preparing these arguments. While we might not agree on the conclusions to be drawn, we will be expected to be honest and candid in our dealings with each other to ensure a properly informed public debate.
Over these next two years, the Scottish Government will also be engaged in another
important, and related, strand of work to get us from a ‘yes’ vote in 2014 to Scotland actually electing the parliament of an independent Scotland at the 2016 election. All parts of the Scottish Government will be working on a transition plan considering what needs to be done to give effect to the decision of the Scottish people when they vote ‘yes’, as I believe they will – the administrative steps that will require to be taken, the legislation that will require to be passed, the matters that will require to be negotiated with the UK government and what negotiated outcome would be in Scotland’s best interests, including those areas in which we would be proposing continued co-operation and joint working with other parts of the UK.
This transition work should also be discussed, on an ongoing basis, with the UK government in order that we develop a shared understanding of what these issues are and, as far as we can, a shared approach to dealing with them. After all, on many issues, currency for example, our interests will align – what is in Scotland’s best interests will also be best for the UK.
Let me be clear – I am not suggesting that we should ‘pre-negotiate’ the independence settlement. But I am saying, very clearly, that we must do the groundwork now to ensure that, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, both governments are in a position to work together constructively in the best interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom – as the First Minister, Prime Minister, Michael Moore and myself agreed when we signed the Edinburgh Agreement in October last year.
So, in this regard, I disagree strongly with Michael Moore’s statement at the weekend that there should be no pre-referendum discussions between our two governments.
It is clearly in the interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK that such discussions do take place. I would have thought that the Secretary of State for Scotland, of all people, would see the sense in that. After all, even though he opposes independence, he will surely want the best deal for Scotland in the event that we do vote ‘yes’. Indeed, given that the Scottish Government has made clear its intention to involve other parties in the negotiation process, he may well have a part to play on Scotland’s behalf.
I hope, therefore, that common sense will prevail. Before Christmas, I wrote to Nick Clegg, who is responsible for constitutional matters in the UK government, to suggest this common sense approach: open exchange of information and sensible preparations for a ‘yes’ vote. I look forward to a constructive response – otherwise the responsibility for any so-called ‘uncertainty’ in the referendum debate will lie squarely with Westminster.