Opinion: What to do in the event of Scottish independence

At the time of writing people across Scotland are voting in the independence referendum to decide whether to stay in the UK or leave. The polls all seem to indicate a narrow lead for a No vote to independence and I personally expect that will be the outcome as well.

However, in the event of a Yes vote then practically everything in politics will change as Scotland and the rest of the UK are committed to (at least) two years of negotiations followed by independence. So, here’s a handy guide on what Liberal Democrats should do in the event of a Yes vote:

    1. Accept and embrace the result – while I believe that both countries would be poorer because of Scottish independence, the decision won’t be able to be unmade and the inevitable period of upheaval which follows will be an opportunity for liberals to achieve radical change in both countries before things settle down again.

    2. Oppose an early or postponed general election – several proposals for moving the date of the general election to either come before the start, or after the end of, independence negotiations have been floated but they’re all non-starters. No party is ready to fight a general election right now and extending parliament would be highly undemocratic as well as impractical.

    3. Split the Scottish Liberal Democrats from the rest of the party – the entire party will need major reorganisation in the event of Scottish independence but if we’re going into a general election in less than a year then it is vital that Scottish Lib Dems are able to campaign in Scotland as an independent party rather than as part of a party which will soon be part of another country. This change could be made at Glasgow and would allow Lib Dems north and south of the border to go into the general election free to campaign on what makes the most sense in their respective countries.

    4. Call for a cross-party negotiating team – with a general election coming right in the middle of independence negotiations the best way to ensure continuity in negotiations while avoiding disruption resulting from a possible change of UK government is for both Scotland and the rest of the UK to each form cross-party teams to handle the negotiations with all parties committing to stick with the terms they negotiate.

    5. Reinvent the Liberal Democrats party structure – with the constitutional upheaval flowing from Scottish independence it would be vital for the party to begin a process of reform designed to result in a strong English party capable of campaigning successfully in England while allowing the Welsh party to do the same. This would take time but would need to start immediately following the general election.

    6. Call for constitutional conventions – the remainder UK would be left heavily unbalanced without Scotland, making it vital for a constitutional convention to decide how the UK should work in future and for another constitutional convention for England to decide how England should fit into this radically altered UK.

Hopefully none of this will be necessary. But assuming the brown stuff really does hit the fan today then it might be useful to have some sort of fallback plan in mind.

* George Potter is a Vice-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum and a campaigner for Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Many of these would be good ideas even if No wins.

  • What David said

  • Nothing. It won’t happen right now

  • Well George Potter for a practical and sensible list of suggestions.

    5. Reinvent the Liberal Democrats party structure –

    We need a structure which is designed to facilitate and support campaigners and local action. A structure that recognises that a party members and activists are more than drones. We need to move away from everything be ingsubservient the the leader of the MPs. We need to recognise the importance of elected representatives at all levels.

    After the next general election (and following George’s scenario of an Independent Scotland) we will probably have only around 20 MPs from England and Wales , over 100 members in the Lords, one MSP and around 2000 councillors (that figure may be reduced further if the Clegg impact is as before)
    We need a structure which recognises the realities of thosebnumbers and does not continue with the fantasy of the ‘party of government’ brigade, who seemed to think repeating those words would make it happen
    I hope it will also be a Clegg-free scenario because he is part of the problem and has no interest in a democratic, accountable and campaigning party. His top down, lobbyist friendly, Centre Party by stealth is already a busted flush.

  • Richard Dean 18th Sep '14 - 9:29pm

    Not changing the date of the general election would surely mean that the Scots wouldn’t agree to anything they thought a Labour government would concede until after the election? Before then, they may also try to extract binding guarantees for things they could agree with the present government, though perhaps these would not bind the new government.

    So, would not the effect simply be to postpone the real negotiations until the new government comes in in 2015?

  • The idea of constitutional convention(a) makes sense whatever the outcome, so we can think through the implications — most crucially if there is a “no” vote and weird ideas about how to balance things south of the border.

  • The Liberal Party was and as The Liberal Democrats is the party of Home Rule

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