A big discussion point in the independence debate is international relations, and how the Scottish Government intends to deal with other countries and their institutions. The White Paper puts the cost of maintaining embassies and consulates worldwide at £120 million, which is claimed to be lower than Scotland’s current share in the cost of the UK’s programme. Scotland will apply to join the UN (whilst supporting the rest of the UK’s right to retain its’ seat on the UN Security Council) and EU. The Scottish Government say they will make a statutory commitment to maintain the UN’s policy of giving 0.7% of GDP as foreign aid.
On the EU, the White Paper claims that the Scottish Government will negotiate with the UK and EU on “the principle of continuity of effect”, meaning that the Scottish Government will claim membership based on the fact that all existing laws apply to Scotland already as part of the UK. Scotland will be an active member of the EU to “maximise the benefits of…membership”. Scotland will not join the Eurozone or the Schengen area, which is an area with travel between nations free of restrictions. The Scottish Government claim that we will keep our existing arrangement with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland in keeping a Common Travel Area, with freedom of movement within the British Isles, as part of a “social union” between the countries. A new points-based immigration system will be set up to try to meet specific needs, such as repopulating rural areas and bringing certain skills into the Scottish economy, along with a new student visa programme.
Another international relations topic is defence. The Scottish Government would seek to remove the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons from their Faslane base within the first term of an independent Scottish Parliament and that is estimated save the country £500 million per year. Scotland would start negotiations to join NATO as soon as there was a Yes vote, and would aim for a 20,000 strong army, made up of 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel. Faslane would be repurposed as Scotland’s naval base. The aim for the defence budget would be around £2.5 billion.
In terms of transport, the White Paper does not specify which model of control will be used for Scotland’s railways, but makes high-speed rail a priority. “Substantial investment” will be made in the Highland Mainline and the line between Aberdeen and Inverness, in addition to creating high-speed rail links between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Another headline claim is that air passenger duty will be cut by 50%, and even further if public finances allow. The Government claims that such a heavy duty costs the Scottish economy £200 million per year and its reduction would boost trade and tourism. The White Paper also sets a target of dualling the roads between all of Scotland’s cities (which would include the A9) by 2030.
The White Paper has come under some criticism for not delivering an action plan to build a high-speed rail link with the North of England, something that the SNP has been vocal about in requesting from the UK Government, but passing it off as only a ‘priority’ after independence has been achieved.
Agriculture, food and drink would all benefit under an independent Scotland, according to the Scottish Government, as it will use its’ seat in the EU to argue for greater subsidies and take a stronger role in policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. As part of its’ environmental approach, an independent SNP government would maintain fishing quotas to protect our maritime ecosystems.
In the realm of justice, the Scottish Government plan to build upon the formation of Police Scotland with new approaches to: firearm control, the drink drive limit and gambling control and drug control. The current court system would be retained with the “Inner House of the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal will collectively be Scotland’s Supreme Court”. A new Scottish intelligence agency would be formed, with close links with existing UK counterparts.
All of these policies will be made possible by a transition period, which is also outlined in the White Paper, between Westminster and Holyrood rule. From the day after a Yes vote, both the Scottish and UK governments will work together to create a timetable for independence and transfer power to the Scottish Parliament to build the new framework for Scotland. Discussions to be had cover a wide range of topics including: Scotland’s EU membership process, allocation of national debt (which the Scottish Government concede could be reduced by offsetting it against value of UK assets which would be owed to Scotland) and how provision of services will be handed over to independent Scottish institutions.
An independent Scotland would have a written constitution designed by a constitutional convention of many different bodies, including public input. It will enshrine rights such as education, equality and healthcare into the nation’s founding document. The constitution would also take measures to protect citizens such as banning nuclear weapons and requiring conservation of the environment.
The Scottish Parliament would be elected in the same way it is currently under the current Government’s plans. Local government and emergency services also continue as normal, with local government powers detailed within the constitution. The civil service will largely exist as it does today, but will be spread around Scotland more than it is already. The Queen will also remain as head of state, returning Scotland to its’ monarchical status between 1603 and 1707.
All in all, the message from the SNP Government is that although the nation will change into independent hands, the vast majority of society will remain the same. It’s important to remember that almost all of the policy above is far from set in stone, and parties would be fully at liberty to adopt different policies at the 2016 elections. As it says in the White Paper: “It will be up to the people Scotland to decide the approach that best suits our nation as we move forward”.
I’d urge you at some point over the next ten months to read through this white paper yourself. The first chapter of the White Paper summarises the whole document very well in only 32 pages. There is also a comprehensive question and answer section at the end, where 651 separate points are dealt with.
The whole document is daunting at 650 pages long but contains all you need to know about what an independent Scotland will be, and will definitely help you towards making a decision on which way you should cast your vote. It steers clear, for the most part, from political jargon and has been designed to be easy to read. It will be interesting to see whether the No campaign look to create a similar manifesto for their cause on the back of this White Paper’s successful launch.
You can access the “Scotland’s Future” White Paper online via the Scottish Government website in e-book, HTML or PDF format or order a printed copy by calling 0300 012 1809 or e-mailing email@example.com, letting them know your name and address.
Whether it is an illusion or a glimpse of the future, the vision of an independent Scotland is a lot clearer now.