The Scottish Civil Service has taken this paper very seriously and already heads of directorates are warning their staff that their powers and roles may soon increase.
The document encourages a wide national debate and assesses the options for Scotland. Although the intention is fully fledged independence, the Nationalists are willing to look at other options, such as further devolution powers and renaming the United Kingdom to ‘The United Kingdoms’. The Head of State would continue to be the Queen of Great Britain, in this case renamed ‘Queen of Scots’.
First Minister Alex Salmond stated that the Conversation was based on the premise that the people of Scotland are sovereign and should decide on the way they are governed.
“The paper, Choosing Scotland’s Future, sets out the ground from the National Conversation by exploring the concept of independence and other constitutional possibilities. It is the starting point of the Conversation and the people of Scotland can now carry it forward to reach an informed decision on their future.”
Since the May election the SNP have demonstrated their proficiency to lead a serious government and have impressed public opinion. The Scottish pro-Union press is almost surprised at their ability to govern and the extent to which the Scottish people have been satisfied with their proposed reforms: scrapping of student fees, decentralising the health service and replacing council tax with income assessed tax. Recent research has revealed that over 60% of Scots believe that the break up of the Union is inevitable in the future, though only 23% would be willing to accept independence now. The SNP can only continue to prove themselves in government and they will be voted in again in four year’s time commented Sir Tom Farmer, a leading Scottish businessman. If a referendum is unlikely this time round, the separatist government may be forced to leave it out the agenda and hope for re-election next term.
The document encourages a wide national debate and assesses the options for Scotland.
The Unionist parties: Labour, Conservatives and Liberals have attacked the Nationalists, insisting that the White Paper is a waste of ‘Public funds’ since the minority Government would have no chance of passing a referendum bill in the Scottish Parliament. Only the two pro-independence Greens would support a yes vote in the chamber, which would not suffice. Without the consent of the Scottish parliament, a referendum would not be possible, thus leaving the SNP with their hands tied. Salmond has admitted that he has some ‘considerable persuading to do’, and that if he cannot get the bill passed in parliament, he will ‘take it to the people’, through a national campaign and movement. The National Conversation could therefore prove to become central to the decision making process, treated as a national forum for opinion and ideas. Already thousands of people have added their comments to the Scottish Executive’s website.
On the European level, the White Paper confirms Scotland’s commitment to Europe. Reference to the EU and the need for an independent Scotland to engage with Europe appears on almost each section of the document – from security to environment, from human rights to employment. The White paper affirms Scotland’s desire to join the Single Currency, most likely subject to a referendum, and the need to be in full control of fisheries and agriculture. Salmond asks whether it’s fair that Scotland, with around 68% of the UK catch and the largest fishing zone of any single EU country sits in a marginal position when fisheries decisions are made. The First Minister has asked the UK Government to allow Scotland to take fisheries decisions on behalf of the UK, though it appears that Gordon Brown is having none of it.
In a visit to Brussels in July, Salmond called for an increase of Scottish influence in Europe pointing out that countries such as Slovenia with a population half of Scotland’s are able to assume the rotating presidency of the EU. “We recognise the success of so many smaller countries in Europe, and we aspire to the independent membership of the EU that we enjoy”.
This White Paper puts the question of independence to the nation with concrete and credible proposals. It is the first serious step towards a possible break up of the current British institutional regime, giving Scotland a voice in the European and international arena.
A vote for independence was made clear in May and recent research suggests that independence will be inevitable in the foreseeable future. If the Scottish Government continues in the direction of economic and social reform and is able to demonstrate competence, professionalism and build trust with its people, then there is no reason to think why Alex Salmond could not lead the nation to the point of no return.