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.


Scotland's right to decide

In 1997, the people of Scotland exercised our right to choose and chose devolution. In the 2014 independence referendum, the people of Scotland exercised their right to choose and chose, albeit narrowly, to continue to be a nation of the United Kingdom. In the aftermath of that referendum, the cross-party Smith Commission agreed that:

"nothing in this report prevents Scotland becoming an independent country in the future should the people of Scotland so choose."[134]

The people of Scotland's decision in 2014 did not cancel our democratic rights.

Scotland's place in the United Kingdom requires the ongoing consent of the people of Scotland.[135] For the multi-national character of the United Kingdom to be meaningful, and for the right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs to be more than an aspiration, the people of Scotland must be able to decide whether and when they exercise their right to choose.

The people of Scotland express themselves politically through elections. Both in elections to the UK Parliament under the first-past-the-post system, and elections to the Scottish Parliament under a broader electoral franchise and a more proportional voting system, the people of Scotland have repeatedly returned a majority of parliamentarians committed to an independence referendum:

  • After the 2016 elections to the Scottish Parliament, a Scottish Government was formed with a manifesto commitment that "the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum … if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will", and in March 2017 the Scottish Parliament mandated the Scottish Government to seek an agreement with the UK Government for an independence referendum to be held.[136]
  • In the 2017 elections to the UK Parliament, a majority of Scottish MPs were elected on a manifesto that reinforced that commitment: "Last year's Holyrood election delivered the democratic mandate for an independence referendum. The recent vote of Scotland's national Parliament has underlined that mandate. If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats in this election [the 2017 UK Parliament election], that would complete a triple lock, further reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists."[137]
  • In the 2019 elections to the UK Parliament, a majority of Scottish MPs were elected on a manifesto commitment that "the people of Scotland have the right to choose their own future in a new referendum on becoming an independent country" and that "it must be for the Scottish Parliament not Westminster to decide when an independence referendum should be held."[138]
  • In the 2021 elections to the Scottish Parliament, a majority of MSPs, 72 out of 129, were elected on manifesto commitments to holding an independence referendum within the current Scottish Parliament (2021-2026), and in August 2021 the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party concluded the Bute House Agreement, which commits them to "secure a referendum on Scottish independence […] within the current parliamentary session on a specific date to be determined by the Scottish Parliament. If the Covid crisis has passed, our intention is for the referendum to be within the first half of the five-year parliamentary session."[139]

In two successive Scottish and UK parliamentary elections, the results have therefore been clear majorities in favour of offering the people of Scotland the right to choose their own constitutional future once again. These have been democratic decisions.

It is not consistent with the UK as a voluntary association of nations, expressing themselves through democratic institutions, for anyone other than the people of Scotland, through our elected Scottish Parliament, to decide when a referendum should take place.

The Scottish Government is committed to a lawful and constitutional process for holding a referendum, and for Scotland becoming independent in the event of a vote for independence. We have called on the UK Government to enter discussions about a transfer of power that would put beyond doubt the Scottish Parliament's competence to legislate for an independence referendum.[140] And in the absence of any willingness to engage by the UK Government, we have sought legal clarity on the Scottish Parliament's powers to legislate for a consultative referendum, by asking the Lord Advocate to refer the matter to the UK Supreme Court.

The starting point of any discussions with the UK Government must be a recognition that it is for the people of Scotland to decide whether and when they will exercise their right to choose, and that the results of successive elections show they wish to do so.

In a nutshell

It is widely accepted that Scotland's continuing place in the Union depends on the consent of the people of Scotland, who have the right to choose independence if they wish.

The people of Scotland have given the Scottish Parliament a mandate to offer the choice of independence and the Scottish Government intends to deliver on that mandate.

Contact

Email: ConstitutionalFutures@gov.scot

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