The precedent of 2011 and the road to the 2014 referendum
In 2011, the Scottish National Party's manifesto contained a commitment for a referendum on independence to be held in the following session of the Scottish Parliament. Following that election, the SNP formed a government with a mandate to hold a referendum.
The UK Government accepted the Scottish Government's mandate, and accepted that it was based on the SNP manifesto pledge for a referendum on independence.
In January 2012, in a consultation on an independence referendum in Scotland, the then Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said-
The Scottish National Party entered the May 2011 election with a manifesto pledge for a referendum on independence. They have campaigned consistently for independence, and while the UK Government does not believe this is in the interests of Scotland, or the rest of the United Kingdom, we will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence: the future of Scotland's place within the United Kingdom is for people in Scotland to vote on.
In January 2012, the Scottish Government published a consultation on its proposals for organising, running and regulating the referendum. It set out plans for a referendum legislated for in the Scottish Parliament, and conducted to the highest international standards. That consultation paper also committed the Scottish Government to working with the UK Government to agree a legal basis for the referendum that would put it beyond challenge.
The UK Government acknowledged that it would not be appropriate to seek to prevent a referendum from taking place. Instead, it accepted that it had a duty to facilitate one, and acknowledged that such a referendum should be "made in Scotland".
The Scottish Government and UK Government then entered into constructive discussions. These discussions were not about whether the Scottish Government had a mandate to hold a referendum, nor whether such a referendum should be legislated for in Scotland. They were concerned with how the question over the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum could best be put beyond doubt, and about certain matters relating to the conduct of the referendum that both governments wished to see addressed.
Agreement was reached in October 2012. Known as the 'Edinburgh Agreement', this expressed both governments' intention that the referendum should-
- have a clear legal base;
- be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament;
- be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, governments and people; and
- deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.
The Edinburgh Agreement also committed both governments to working together constructively following the referendum result.
Following the Edinburgh Agreement, the UK Government and Scottish Government promoted an Order in Council under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 to allow a referendum to be held before the end of 2014. This Section 30 Order was approved in the Scottish Parliament and in both Houses of the UK Parliament. It became law on 13 February 2013. It clarified that a referendum on independence would be within the powers of the Scottish Parliament provided that it was held before the end of 2014 and gave voters a single choice between two alternatives.
Two Bills were passed in the Scottish Parliament to allow the referendum to take place-
- The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill set out who was entitled to vote, on a franchise including 16 and 17‑year‑olds and EU citizens.
- The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill set out the question that would be asked in the referendum, provided rules for the conduct of the referendum and the counting of votes, and set out the referendum campaign rules, including the role of the Electoral Commission.
On 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland were asked 'Should Scotland become an independent country?' 2,001,926 votes were cast for 'No', and 1,617,989 votes were cast for 'Yes'. The result of the referendum was accepted by the Scottish Government.
The Electoral Commission concluded that the 2014 independence referendum was "well run".
A referendum made in Scotland
The Scottish Government is committed to the rule of law.
In 2014, the independence referendum was held on an agreed basis. Both the UK and Scottish Governments agreed that the referendum should be held, agreed its timing and its franchise, and agreed to respect the result.
The Scottish Government is committed to agreeing a process for giving effect to its mandate for a further independence referendum. When they make a decision about their future, the people of Scotland must do so in the knowledge that their decision will be heard and respected and given effect to: not just by the government in Scotland, but also by the UK Government, by the European Union and by the international community.
For a referendum to have this legitimacy, it must have the confidence of all of those that it would effect. This means not just the UK Government acknowledging and respecting the Scottish Government's mandate, but the Scottish Government and UK Government seeking to agree the proper lawful basis for the referendum to take place.
Ultimately, this will mean that in the event of a vote for independence, the decision of the people of Scotland to become independent will be recognised and respected in these islands, in Europe, and internationally. Scotland will have become an independent state, constitutionally and lawfully.