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Scotland: Independence

Volume 751: debated on Wednesday 29 January 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the event of the result of the Scottish referendum in 2014 being in favour of independence, whether they expect Members of Parliament from Scottish constituencies to be eligible to stand for election in the 2015 General Election; and, if so, what will happen on the date of Scottish independence in 2016.

My Lords, in the event that a majority of people in Scotland vote for independence in the referendum in September, Scotland would leave the United Kingdom and all its institutions, including the UK Parliament, after a process of negotiation. The timing for any changes would have to be settled in the event of a vote for independence.

My Lords, I am sure we all hope and expect that the Scottish vote will be in favour of the union but, surely, all eventualities need to be catered for. If Scotland votes for independence, it would be inappropriate for there to be Scottish MPs at Westminster thereafter. What precisely are the arrangements before implementation of Scottish independence, should it be voted for, in 2016?

My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, there would be a process of negotiation. Obviously, laws passed by this Parliament set out the arrangements for elections and it would be a matter for Parliament to change the arrangements if it so wished. I take the first point of my noble friend’s Question. I think I say for colleagues on all sides of the House that, while we support the integrity of the United Kingdom, we should be making every effort to ensure that the eventuality of a yes vote in the independence referendum simply does not arise.

My Lords, one issue that those Members of Parliament might have to address in that eventuality would be the position in relation to the currency. Does the noble and learned Lord welcome the very thoughtful and balanced contribution to the debate on the currency in Scotland made today by the Governor of the Bank of England? Will he join me in urging others who head up our great national institutions, whether in Scotland or throughout the UK, to contribute in a similar fashion to ensure that the complexities of the decisions that are required afterwards are fully understood and that the people in Scotland have all the information they need to make the right decision?

My Lords, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has previously said, the current arrangements of a full monetary, fiscal and political union bring benefits to all parts of the United Kingdom. I certainly have noted that the Governor of the Bank of England today has highlighted the principal difficulties of entering into a currency union—losing national sovereignty, the practical risks of financial instability and having to provide fiscal support to bail out a foreign country. That is why we have consistently said that, in the event of independence, a currency union is highly unlikely to be agreed so the Scottish Government need a plan B. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that people who, from experience, have an important contribution to make should make it. Indeed, this month, Better Together has published a very good pamphlet which quotes many people showing how untenable the position of the Scottish Government is on the issue of the currency.

My Lords, is it not vital that we all spend the time between now and the referendum in September working together and positively campaigning in favour of Scotland staying part of Great Britain and part of the United Kingdom? Speculating on the constitutional detail of what will happen if there is a yes vote in the referendum does not necessarily help in that united campaign.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is vital that our focus is on ensuring that there is a substantial no vote in the referendum in September and that we set out the benefits. Ahead of the debate in your Lordships’ House tomorrow morning, I hope later this afternoon to send out to noble Lords the 20 positive reasons—there are many more—that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set out earlier this month together with links to the 10 analysis papers published so far in Scotland, which make a very compelling case for the integrity of the United Kingdom and for Scotland remaining part of it.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that even in the event of a no vote in Scotland, which I very much hope for, there are questions to be addressed about our variegated devolution settlements with parts of the United Kingdom? Does he not further agree that thought about that should take place now rather than in a rush after an unexpected and unhoped for yes vote?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. There are important issues about our current constitutional arrangements in all parts of the United Kingdom. The Government have shown by our implementation of the Calman report proposals, through the Scotland Act 2012 and the way that we are taking forward the proposals of the Silk commission in relation to Wales that we are alert to these. But I am certain that a no vote in September will not bring an end to these discussions. All parties and even people without parties have an important contribution to make to those discussions.

My Lords, if there is a yes vote, it is important to remember that the rest of the United Kingdom will be diminished as a result; by one-fifth of our land mass, 5 million of our population and 10% of our GDP. The big picture is that both national and international issues are involved. Therefore, the voices of the Scottish diaspora need to be mobilised, and also the voices of the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish who value an entity that is greater than the sum of its parts.

My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord. It is important that people not only from the diaspora but from other parts of the United Kingdom speak up and say how valued Scotland is as part of a family of nations, which is one of the great success stories of modern history. Scotland is obviously better within the United Kingdom, but the United Kingdom is also better with Scotland in it.

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend not agree that the answer of the Scottish Nationalists to my noble friend Lord Flight’s question is symptomatic of the fantasy politics that they are putting forward? When he asks what the position of Scottish MPs would be in the House of Commons if they were elected after a vote for independence, their official policy is that we should postpone the date of the general election until 2016.

My Lords, I did in fact notice that. I am not quite sure what it says about democracy—that people should be denied the chance to elect new Members of Parliament. I also bear in mind that the date that they set for this referendum was after this Parliament had agreed to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which had already set the date for the next general election.

My Lords, would there even be a United Kingdom if the vote was a positive one? After all, Northern Ireland is not a kingdom and never has been, and Wales is a Principality. “United Kingdom” refers to the fact that there are the two kingdoms of England and of Scotland. Will we have to change the name of this country in such an eventuality?

My Lords, it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All I would say is that, having been part of a party which merged and spent a long time deciding its name, I do not want to start speculating about what might happen if we start breaking up.