The Scottish Independence Referendum: Lessons Learned for the Future
Lopez-Basaguren, A. and Escajedo San Epifanio, L. (Eds.) Claims for Secession and Federalism. The Spanish Case in the Light of Federal Experience, Springer (Forthcoming)
24 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2016 Last revised: 20 Nov 2016
Date Written: August 25, 2016
This paper analyses the lessons learned from Scottish independence referendum as a model for future referendums held by sub-state national units to decide on their constitutional future, either for Scotland and further afield. It begins by highlighting the main positive aspects of the process. It argues that the Scottish independence referendum was an example of political negotiation and agreement between the Scottish and UK governments that provided a solid legal framework for the referendum, including the setting of a clear, neutral and independently tested question. This enabled an extensive informed and deliberative process focused on the central issue to be decided: independence for Scotland. The paper then considers two factors that added unnecessary uncertainty to the referendum debate and had an impact on the decisiveness of the outcome. The first was the importance of continuing EU membership for Scotland and the lack of a clear position in EU law on what would happen in the case of a ‘Yes’ vote. The second was the removal of the intermediate option between ‘independence’ and the ‘status quo’ from the ballot paper, despite it being the preferred option of a significant majority of Scottish citizens. The paper concludes that a clear and effectively neutral position from the EU would be required to avoid this issue affecting the debate and decision on an internal constitutional issue, and that more generally a multi-option referendum may be more suited to providing an encompassing debate on the sub-state national unit’s constitutional future and a more decisive outcome.
Keywords: Referendum, Independence, Self-determination, Secession, Devolution, Scotland, Catalonia, Scotland and the European Union, Federalism
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