Renewing democracy through independence

This paper sets out the Scottish Government’s view that people who live in Scotland have the right to choose how they should be governed and to decide if Scotland should become an independent country. It is the second in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series, focusing on independence.

Executive Summary

This is the second paper in the Building a New Scotland series, which is intended to give the people of Scotland the information required to make an informed choice on our future.

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's view, and the evidence supporting it, that independence is the only realistic way to renew Scotland's democratic institutions, respect the voice of the people of Scotland, and secure Scotland's democratic future. The paper rests on the fundamental belief that decisions about Scotland are best made by the people who live in Scotland through our own, independent parliament. It presents evidence to show that the tradition and practice of parliamentary sovereignty as exercised by the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament is eroding and constraining Scotland's democracy, and undermining a devolution settlement that is already too limited to enable Scotland to fully address the challenges of the future.

The United Kingdom – at least until now – has been considered a voluntary union of countries. Scotland is a nation, not a region of a unitary state. In line with the principle of self-determination, therefore, the people of Scotland have the right to determine our own future – in the words of the Claim of Right for Scotland, to choose the form of government best suited to our needs, including whether or not to become an independent country.[2]

However, the UK constitutional system is based on the unlimited sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament.

As a result, there is a clear misalignment between the reality of Scotland as a nation and a Westminster system which claims the right to make decisions for Scotland whatever the views of the people who live here.

Compounding this misalignment is the democratic deficit that Scotland all too often experiences.

UK governments are often elected with a small proportion of the vote in Scotland. Features of the UK system, such as the unelected House of Lords and the First Past the Post voting system for UK general elections, add to the democratic deficit.

Devolution has addressed aspects of this democratic deficit by giving Scotland a range of powers over domestic policy issues. However, since the EU referendum in 2016, this paper shows that the assertions of Westminster authority have become more pronounced. Devolution is being weakened – arguably deliberately – by the actions and decisions of the Westminster Government, for example, the passing of legislation on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the constraining of devolved powers in key areas.

In this paper we present evidence to show how significant decisions made at Westminster recently – for example, on Brexit, energy, social security and immigration – are having detrimental effects on Scotland. There are no constitutional safeguards for the Scottish Parliament or democratic mechanisms that can be exercised by the people of Scotland to prevent these or further damaging decisions. Indeed, the intention of the current UK Government to pass legislation in breach of international law even calls into question its willingness to respect the democratic, rules-based, international order.

Pledges of more devolution – even if the intention to deliver was in any way credible – would not resolve the democratic deficit because ultimate power would be retained by Westminster.

In any event, no UK government of any party has ever shown the appetite for the fundamental reform required to provide effective and guaranteed self-government for Scotland within the UK.

The Scottish Government is committed to respecting, protecting and strengthening Scotland's democracy. The choice that would secure Scotland's democratic future, where decisions about Scotland are taken by the people of Scotland through our democratically elected and accountable Scottish Parliament, is independence.

Scotland's two futures

Who decides

If Scotland does not become independent

The people of Scotland – through the Scottish Parliament and Government – will make decisions about devolved matters, but the UK Parliament will continue to have ultimate control of what is devolved and will be able to override devolved decisions.

Decisions on reserved matters, such as most social security, tax, employment and macroeconomic policy, will continue to be made at Westminster by governments which can hold power without the support of the people of Scotland.

If Scotland becomes independent

Decisions about Scotland will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland – those who live here – through our own, independent parliament.

The Government of Scotland will be determined by the results of elections in Scotland.

These islands

If Scotland does not become independent

Control of the arrangements for governing the relationships between the nations of the UK – and ultimate decisions on their application – will remain at Westminster.

While there is no devolved parliament in England, UK governments will represent England as well as their responsibilities for reserved matters UK-wide.

If Scotland becomes independent

The sovereignty of the people of Scotland – rather than the sovereignty of any parliament – can be written into a constitution.

The Scottish and Westminster Parliaments, and the Scottish and UK Governments, can co-operate with each other as equal partners.

Scottish Governments will – when Scotland becomes independent – continue to participate, as now, in the British-Irish Council (BIC) alongside the independent governments of the UK and Ireland, the devolved governments of Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Indeed, the BIC has the potential to become a much more powerful forum for co-operation and collaboration across these islands.

The EU

If Scotland does not become independent

The UK has left the European Union, and neither the Labour nor the Conservative party in the UK Parliament proposes re-joining. Under the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, Scotland is outside the European Single Market and Customs Union. Scotland has been taken out of a range of EU programmes which were to our benefit, including the Erasmus programme of student exchanges.

In spite of our substantial vote to remain, Scotland is outside the EU and, given the position of UK-wide parties, this will continue to be so if we do not become independent.

If Scotland becomes independent

With independence, Scotland would be able to apply to re-join the EU as soon as possible, and thereby benefit from being part of the world's largest single market, with the opportunity to represent Scotland's interests directly for the first time.

The world

If Scotland does not become independent

Scotland remains subject to the foreign policy of the United Kingdom, with no guarantee that Scotland's interests, or the views and aspirations of the people of Scotland will be considered or heard.

If Scotland becomes independent

Scotland will become an independent state, and the 194th member of the United Nations, able to conduct independent foreign and development policies according to Scottish interests and values, while working closely with the rest of the United Kingdom, our fellow Europeans and other international partners.

The economy

If Scotland does not become independent

Significant economic powers – including macroeconomic policy, immigration policy, and employment, competition and company law – will remain at Westminster.

On past and current trends, the prevailing UK economic model – the result of policy choices taken over decades, and long distinct from those of its European peers – will continue to generate relatively poor outcomes.[3] Outside the EU, the UK economy is likely to be less successful than if it were an EU member. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast assumes a long-run productivity decline of 4% for the UK outside the EU relative to it remaining in the EU.[4]

If Scotland becomes independent

Economic policy will be in the hands of the elected Scottish Parliament and Government and can be tailored to Scotland's needs.

Across a range of economic indicators independent western European countries comparable to Scotland's have tended to outperform the UK.[5]


If Scotland does not become independent

The UK Government retains responsibility for the majority of taxes and the macroeconomic levers that help to drive tax revenues.

The Scottish Government retains a limited set of tax powers, including only partial control of Income Tax.

If Scotland becomes independent

By deploying the tax powers conferred in the Scotland Acts 2012 and 2016, the Scottish Government has delivered a fairer and more progressive tax system in Scotland, through its distinctive Scottish Approach to Taxation.[6] Full powers over taxation would build on this approach and allow the Scottish Government to create a modern and efficient tax system, tailored to Scotland's needs.

Social security

If Scotland does not become independent

The UK Government retains responsibility for the majority of welfare benefits for people of working age, including key income replacement benefits like Universal Credit and the State Pension.

The Scottish Government has a limited set of social security powers, primarily targeted at people who are ill, disabled and their carers.[7]

If Scotland becomes independent

Full powers over social security and state pensions would enable Scotland to build on the existing approach for those benefits that are under devolved control, based on dignity and respect, and with access to social security as a human right.

The progressive use of limited powers, most notably the establishment of the Scottish Child Payment, demonstrates the difference that could be made with the full powers that independence would provide.


If Scotland does not become independent

Energy policy is largely reserved to the Westminster Government. Current market approaches incentivise nuclear power, in preference to renewable technologies where Scotland has significant natural resources. Currently, generators in Scotland also pay the highest charges in the UK for access to and use of the GB grid system.

If Scotland becomes independent

Scotland is an energy rich nation, with a unique mix of energy resources in and around Scotland.

Independence will provide Scotland with the means to build greater energy security, maximise our energy assets and deliver economic and social benefits, including better consumer protection. It will also enable us to prioritise and incentivise investment to decarbonise our energy systems and so accelerate our just transition to net zero.

Environmental and regulatory standards

If Scotland does not become independent

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 requires Scotland to accept different, and potentially lower standards set elsewhere in the UK, even in devolved areas (including environmental protection and animal welfare).[8]

The Scottish Parliament has no power to refuse to allow the import and sale of goods into Scotland which the UK Government may decide to accept in order to secure Free Trade Agreements.[9]

If Scotland becomes independent

Standards in Scotland will be set by the Scottish Parliament and Government.

As a member of the EU, Scotland would take part in decision-making on common European standards.

Equality and Human Rights

If Scotland does not become independent

While important human rights safeguards, drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights, are currently written into Scotland's devolution legislation, these rights are not secure and can be changed or repealed by the UK Parliament at any time. The Westminster Government is proposing to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a "modern Bill of Rights"[10] that will weaken and undermine important protections.

If Scotland becomes independent

With independence, the Scottish Parliament and Government will be fully responsible for all aspects of equality and human rights law.

Human rights can be entrenched in a written constitution.



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