Scottish Referendum- Political and Foreign Policy Implications of an Independent Scotland

May 07, 2014 13:30

Sir Richard Ottaway MP, Dr Andrew Blick, Prof. Malcolm Chalmers and Dr Jo Eric Khushal Murken.

Date: Wednesday 7th May 2014, 1.30-3.30pm

LCSS held the first of its two roundtable discussions on the Scottish referendum with a focus on the possible EU, legal, constitutional, defence and foreign policy implications for both Scotland and the Rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) in the event of Scottish independence. Scotland will be going to a referendum on September 18th 2014 to decide whether it wants to become an independent nation or to remain a part of the UK. The prospect of Scotland becoming independent has a raised a number of questions with regard both to its own future and to that of the rUK.  The roundtable discussion benefited from the participation of a range of experts from different disciplines on the subject of Scottish independence, with an intriguing discussion taking place covering many potential implications.  The event was chaired by Professor Trevor Taylor of the Royal United Services Institute.

The event commenced with Sir Richard Ottaway’s speech, touching upon many factors associated with the Scottish referendum and independence. The issues highlighted by Sir Richard included the growing strength of the pro-independence camp which leaves the referendum outcome in the balance. Sir Richard also stated that Scotland would see its international standing diminish by no longer sharing the benefits which it enjoys by being a part of the UK, including membership of the G7/G8, the UK's permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and both NATO and EU membership. Sir Richard outlined some difficulties Scotland would face in reapplying to the EU, and that there was a big chance membership talks would be stalled. Were Scotland able to reapply for membership it would be unlikely Scotland could negotiate an EU budget rebate or the opt-out from the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Joining the eurozone and Schengen area are conditions for new member states; participating in the latter would automatically necessitate a border separating Scotland from the UK common travel area. The removal of Trident submarines and nuclear weapons, as the Scottish National Party has pledged, would hinder its chances of being reaccepted as a member of NATO. Scotland would also need to setup its own diplomatic services and as an independent state it would need to seek representation in about 170 countries at significant cost. The United Kingdom would still be the eighth largest economy in the world but it would lose reputation and its hard and soft power would diminish.  Sir Richard's last point was that the United Kingdom would have to withdraw its nuclear submarines from the Clyde at an unknown cost.


Dr Andrew Blick’s keynote speech concentrated on the constitutional debate, as well as an historical perspective shedding light on how the United Kingdom actually came into being. Dr Blick pointed out that religious discrimination (between Protestants and Catholics) had accompanied the union and that such worries had now been replaced by fear of euro-zone hegemony. Dr Blick also highlighted that the UK as the biggest single market in Europe had now been replaced by the European Union and that EU membership should be an important factor in the debate for independence. Since the end of the British Empire the constitutional debate had gained prominence. Dr Blick said the difference between an independent Scotland and “devo-max” Scotland (as part of the United Kingdom but with a maximum amount of powers devolved to the Scottish parliament) might not be as great as could first seem to be the case. Dr Blick stated that the UK has been moving towards a federal constitution since the 1990s, although this applies more to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland than it does to England. He concluded that the referendum on independence might not settle the issue and questioned whether the Scottish nationalists would give up in the event of a “no” result, stating that the independence camp had only to win once.


Prof Chalmers remarked that the whole issue of independence was being handled in a non-violent manner in stark contrast to the current troubles taking place in Ukraine. He claimed that the debate would be settled in the end not by cost-benefit analysis but rather by identity and emotional attachment.  He explained that certain structures put in place after World War II made it easier for smaller states to exist, citing the examples of Norway, Holland and Belgium, and he added that the argument of an “inability to run its own affairs” was not valid and did “not wash” in Scotland.  In the event of a “yes” to independence, a period of disruption would be expected, and certain industries would probably decline while others would thrive. Prof Chalmers said he expected the creation of an independent Scotland to go smoothly, unlike Irish independence from Britain.  Prof Chalmers said that path-dependency would be very important and that the solution would be to make it technocratic, with a feasibility study for the rebasing of Trident. He said that it would not be feasible to develop a Scottish defence force in the first couple of years, but he said that it should not be assumed that Scotland would join the end of the queue for EU membership, citing the incorporation of East Germany into the EU as a precedent.  He argued that Scotland should be treated as a special case and that with UK support there would be a fair chance of there being some sort of settlement, unless the threat of a UK referendum on the EU in 2017 overtook this.  For this reason, Prof Chalmers concluded that the 2016 date for an independent Scotland was quite unrealistic.


Dr Murkens offered a talk from a public-law perspective with coherent legal answers on both sides of the debate. Dr Murkens commented that while the Scottish National Party was apparently working from a “wish list”, it was surprising that George Osborne and Danny Alexander had taken a stance on the currency issue even before negotiations have taken place.  He said that he expects a period of uncertainty if the result is “yes” to independence, not least because of the difficulty in defining independence.  Dr Murkens said that while secession would not be necessitated, a result of “yes” would kick-start negotiations between London and Edinburgh as well as between Edinburgh and Brussels at a later date with the outcome unknown with many possibilities. He suggested that while many might answer “yes” to the question, “Do you want Scotland to be an independent state?”, they might answer “no” to “Do you want Scotland to be an independent and separate state?”  Because of this, “inde-light” (light form of independence) or “devo-max” (maximum devolution of powers to the existing Scottish Parliament) might yet be tabled before the referendum. Dr Murkens argued that since no mandatory form of referenda exists in the UK political system, their actual meaning is unclear. He claimed that the longer the debates continued, the more nervous people would become and that people were inherently impatient.  He suggested the need for a menu of options for a compromise, as in the case of a divorce of a married couple, but said that such a list is currently missing and will still be missing during the negotiations process.  Therefore independence would in reality depend fully on the success of negotiations between Edinburgh and London.  Dr Murkens said that Scotland would be obliged to offer more than the United Kingdom has done for the European Union to accept their application for membership, but that special accommodation of Scotland within the EU was conceivable. Dr Murkens concluded by saying that the Scottish National Party was making a strategic mistake in claiming that things would go according to plan.


After the keynote speeches the roundtable was then opened for a Q&A and discussion session with the participants asking the keynote speakers questions as well as offering their own views on the prospect of Scottish independence. Some of the topics to emerge from this included asset and debt sharing, whether the outcome of the vote would be legally-binding, the impact of independence on the UK wanting to remain in the EU, the role of emotion in voting as well as the impact of independence for other nations including Turkey. Prof Taylor concluded the roundtable with a question on what the new UK should be called, suggesting simply “The Kingdom”.  He proposed that the legal profession would be praying for a “yes” result but then warned more seriously that people often talk with their hearts while they vote with their wallets.  He reiterated Sir Richard's words about a result of yes for Scottish independence being a “seismic event”.



Sir Richard Ottaway MP (Conservative Member of Parliament for Croydon),

Dr Andrew Blick (Lecturer in Politics & Contemporary History, King's College London),

Professor Malcolm Chalmers (Research Director / Director, UK Defence Policy Studies, RUSI) 

Dr Jo Eric Khushal Murken (Associate Professor in Law, London School of Economics).

Professor Trevor Taylor (Professorial Research Fellow in Defence Management, RUSI)

Dr Nagore Calvo (Lecturer in European & International Studies and Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies, KCL),

Mr. Sebastian Payne (Lecturer in Law, University of Kent),

Professor Steven Peers (Law School, University of Essex),

Ms Merry Amos (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Law, Queen Mary, UoL),

Mr Richard Reeve (Director, Sustainable Security Programme, Oxford Research Group)

Mr Alp Mehmet MVO (Vice-Director, MigrationWatch UK)

Ms Jamiesha Majevadia (Public Policy Advisor, British Academy)

Ms Barbara Mitosek (Parliamentary researcher for Rt. Hon Sir Richard Ottaway MP)

Dr Sibel Safi (Visiting Fellow, QMUL)

Dr Tom McKenzie (Research Fellow, Cass Business School)

Dr Latif Tas (Post Doc. Fellow, Faculty of Law, SOAS)

Ms Gonenc Uysal (PhD candidate, Dep. of War Studies, KCL)

Mr Selcuk Aydin (Postgraduate student, KCL)

Dr Zeynep Engin (Director, LCSS)

Mr Ufuk Ucar (Director, LCSS)

Ms Kubra Uygur (Associate, LCSS)

Mr Ozdemir Ahmet (Project Coordinator, LCSS)


Venue: 2nd Floor 227/228 Strand London WC2R 1BE




Dr Andrew Blick

Institute of Contemporary British History, King's College London

Dr Jo Eric Khushal Murkens

Department of Law, London School of Economics

Prof Malcolm Chalmers

Research Director, RUSI

Prof Trevor Taylor

Professorial Research Fellow, Defence, Industries and Society, RUSI

Sir Richard Ottaway MP

Conservative Party


London Centre for Social Studies (LCSS)

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