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The context for the independence debate

Updated Monday, 29th April 2013

This collection of articles considers the prospect of Scottish independence as the central constitutional issue in the period after 2007. 

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Scotlands First Minister Alex Salmond at the launch of the Burns Light festivities in Dumfries on Burns Night launching Scotlands Homecoming 2009 event Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond


The prospect of Scottish independence is an issue that has not only Scottish, but UK-wide and indeed European significance. The key political outcome of the period was an agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments (the latter having reserved sovereignty over all constitutional matters) to hold a referendum on independence on Thursday 18th September 2014.

Attaining the right to ask the question ('Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes or No') was a milestone for the Scottish National Party (SNP). This is especially because Scottish devolution and the voting arrangements for the Scottish Parliament were designed not only to prevent any one single party achieving an overall majority but also to avoid the possibility of pro-independence parties winning a majority, as it's been widely claimed.

‘A few years ago the idea of a Scottish Parliament, if not absurd, was at best unlikely... the Parliament is here...celebrating its tenth birthday. Then the idea of having a SNP Government in that Parliament...of Labour losing an election for the first time in 50 years in Scotland – if not absurd was at least unlikely. Now that’s happened, they lost and the SNP won. So the idea of having a Scotland which is independent is neither absurd nor unlikely. I think it is inevitable...’ (Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party leader and Scotland’s First Minister, BBC1 Panorama, ‘Will the Scots Ever Be Happy?’, 8 July 2009)

Devolution, as implemented by the 1997 New Labour Government of Tony Blair, was intended to foreclose further constitutional change; that is, to prevent any drift towards Scottish independence. However, the election of the SNP as the largest party in May 2007, followed by its resounding success in being returned as a majority government following the May 2011 Scottish elections, not only overturned such assumptions but also paved the way for the ensuing independence debate and the referendum on independence in 2014.

Independence was not the only option being advanced during this period. Indeed, the earliest SNP proposal for a ballot paper involved a 'double question', providing a choice between full independence and some form of extra powers being returned to Scotland. This indicates that the path towards the referendum in 2014 was never clear cut, even for the SNP.

While this collection covers the political context of Scottish independence and how the referendum came into being, it does not examine the arguments for and against independence. These are outlined in a related collection entitled The debate on Scottish independence. Another collection looks specifically at issues relating to social welfare in the independence debate: Independence, social welfare and a fairer Scotland.

Read the first article from the collection


All the articles in the collection

Article 1: Re-establishing the Scottish Parliament

Article 2: Proportional representation (PR) and the power of mandate

Article 3: The 2007 Scottish elections

Article 4: The 2007 SNP minority government and cohabitation

Article 5: Power sharing and responsibility

Article 6: The National Conversation, Calman and ‘Devo Plus’

Article 7: The 2010 UK elections and the democratic deficit

Article 8: The 2011 Scottish elections

Article 9: Voting becomes imperative

Article 10: The Edinburgh Agreement and Summary


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