John Osmond reports on advice given to the Welsh Government to make contingency plans for any outcome of the Scottish independence vote
An IWA/UK’s Changing Union exclusive video discussion with James Mitchell
Whatever the outcome of next September’s vote on Scottish independence the country faces future referendums in the years ahead, an informed observer said yesterday. Speaking at a seminar on Scotland’s future in the Senedd James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at Edinburgh University, said the word ‘Neverendum’ described what he was predicting.
In the event of a No vote, Scotland would likely be offered more powers for its Parliament, and if Wales set any precedent, that might entail a referendum. In any event within a few years it was likely that Scotland would participate in a British-wide referendum on EU membership. And if Britain as a whole voted in favour of that but Scotland didn’t that might precipitate another independence referendum within a matter of years. Professor Mitchell said he thought that it was likely Scotland would have another independence referendum by 2029 whatever happened.
This is the first of a series of articles prompted by next year’s referendum on Scottish independence.
Tomorrow: Walter Humes, visiting professor of education at the University of Stirling, says there is likely to be only a few percentage points between the Yes and No camps
On Sunday: Stephen Noon, former senior policy adviser to Alex Salmond and now Chief Strategist with the Yes Scotland campaign, envisages circumstances in which he might vote Labour or Liberal Democrat in an independent Scotland.
On the other hand, in the event of a Yes vote, the SNP Government had promised there would be a constitutional convention in Scotland to draw up a written Scottish constitution that would need to be approved in a further referendum.
Professor Mitchell said Wales faces major change whichever way the vote goes. “Carwyn Jones has put forward a vision of a different kind of United Kingdom, even in the event of No vote, advocating a federal perspective on future relationships, ” he observed, commenting that the First Minister’s call for a constitutional convention was gaining some traction. “Maybe we’re edging towards a federal political culture at the centre, a prospect that may be helped by a shift in generations in the personnel at Westminster.”
However, he warned against over-estimating the influence Wales could have. Referring to the First Minister’s recent speech in Edinburgh when he rejected the idea of an independent Scotland joining a currency union with the remainder of the UK, he said, “The idea that Wales could veto Scotland’s participating in the pound following independence is unrealistic.” He added that the reality was that very few politicians in either London or Edinburgh took much notice of Wales.
His advice was for the Welsh Government to adopt a position of what he called “purposeful opportunism”, saying, “Wales could be presented with opportunities in the event of a No vote. There’ll be a reluctance in London to offer unilateral concessions to Scotland. It would make it easier to make concessions if Wales was also on the receiving end.”
The key area for negotiations would be funding and the operation of the Barnett formula, which he conceded currently benefit Scotland at the expense of Wales. A Yes vote in Scotland would mean a rebalancing of the constitution of the rest of the UK, and an end to the formula. A substantial No vote might embolden Westminster to tackle the funding question without any fear of a Scottish backlash. On the other hand a Westminster government would be more cautious in the face of a narrow No vote.
Professor Mitchell reflected that until a few months ago he was pessimistic about the conduct of the referendum campaign in Scotland, believing that it would descend into a nightmare of an adversarial contest that would leave the essential issue of the country’s constitutional future unresolved. More recently, however, he begun to take a more optimistic view as a range of policy questions had found their way into the debate.
He gave two examples. One was the Scottish refugee Council that had taken raised the question of the position of people in the debate who were without the advantage of a settled citizenship status. Another was the coming together of the three Scottish island communities – Orkney, Shetland, and the Outer Hebrides – which had come together to put forward a collective set of demands in the context of the referendum.
In each case he said the issue raised were not concerns, bit they had, as he put it, insinuated them as a part of the referendum debate, albeit on the outer perimeter of mainstream vision. He said the Welsh Government should take a lesson from these initiatives and insinuate its own interests in a similar way: “My advice to the Welsh Government is to make contingency plans for any outcome.”