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Your Scotland, Your Voice: A National Conversation




2.1 Devolution was never intended as a fixed arrangement: it was and is a process which should respond to political, economic and social circumstances over time to ensure that Scotland is well-positioned to address the challenges it faces and take advantage of opportunities. Nor does devolution need to be Scotland's final constitutional destination.

2.2 The tenth anniversary of the Scottish Parliament offers a suitable moment to consider these issues in depth, and invite the people to have their say on the next steps in Scotland's constitutional journey.

2.3 The National Conversation has identified many areas for further devolution, as well as the arguments around independence. The National Conversation has illustrated that the constitutional debate raises issues across the whole range of government activity and Scottish life, from economic policy, taxation and benefits, foreign affairs and defence to human rights, broadcasting and responsibility for airguns and drink-drive limits. In these and many other areas, decisions for Scotland are not made by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, but by their United Kingdom counterparts.

2.4 This paper covers many of the most important policy areas which would be affected by different constitutional arrangements. However, it is not exhaustive: it focuses on those areas where new constitutional arrangements, whether full devolution or independence, would provide the greatest opportunities to develop Scotland-specific approaches to particular issues. 16 It also discusses significant areas of Scottish life which are already largely devolved, such as health, education and justice. The achievements in these areas since devolution illustrate the potential for Scotland to tackle its problems and promote its successes with the right responsibilities and opportunities.

2.5 The paper describes the opportunities that increased responsibility would provide for Scotland to develop policies to address its issues. The use made of these opportunities would depend on the policy choices of future Scottish Governments and the make up of future Parliaments. The examples in the paper therefore illustrate the benefits and challenges of these responsibilities, and are neither a programme for government nor commitments to future action.

2.6 There are four broad options for Scotland's future:

  • the status quo: Scotland retains its current responsibilities with gradual evolution in response to particular events or pressures
  • implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Scottish Devolution
  • full devolution of the maximum range of responsibilities to Scotland while remaining in the United Kingdom (sometimes called "devolution max")
  • independence: Scotland has all the rights and responsibilities of a normal independent state


2.7 Under the Scotland Act, amendments can be made to the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and the executive responsibilities of the Scottish Government. While the devolved responsibility of the Scottish Ministers has been adjusted relatively frequently, extension of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament has been rarer. 17


2.8 The Commission carried out a review of devolution, although it did not consider the possibility of independence, and was prevented by its terms of reference from examining some of the more significant options such as full fiscal autonomy. 18 The Commission nevertheless proposed a package of alterations to the devolution settlement that embodied new principles, such as giving the Scottish Government a limited ability to borrow. It also recommended ways to improve the relationships between the Scottish Government and Parliament and the United Kingdom Government and Parliament. The advantages and drawbacks of their main recommendations are discussed in detail later in the paper.

2.9 The Commission did not make recommendations in a number of important areas including economic issues, employment and company law, and foreign affairs. The Commission's recommendations on benefits fell short of further devolution, but recognised the interest of the devolved government of Scotland in reserved policy making. Devolved competence could therefore be extended beyond the recommendations of the Commission.


2.10 Under full devolution the existing devolution framework would be retained, and Scotland would remain within the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Government and institutions would continue to have responsibility for many matters, for example the currency and monetary policy, and decisions on peace and war. Full devolution would give Scotland more responsibility for domestic matters, and would extend the range of measures the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament could take to encourage greater sustainable economic growth. Nonetheless, there would be continued interaction with matters reserved to the United Kingdom, for example foreign affairs, defence, macroeconomic policy, some taxation and, possibly, social protection and pensions. Existing areas of disagreement would continue. Improved inter-governmental relations, including enforceable principles of parity of esteem, would be required for Scotland to get the most out of its increased responsibility.


2.11 The Scottish Government's favoured policy is independence, which would bring all the possibilities of full devolution with the additional responsibilities that could not be devolved within the United Kingdom, such as foreign affairs and defence. Under independence Scotland would be responsible for:

  • the economy, including decisions on the currency and the macroeconomic framework
  • investment in education, enterprise and infrastructure including transport and housing
  • the environment, energy and climate change
  • the taxation and benefits system
  • the full range of public services, including benefits and health
  • foreign affairs, defence and security matters
  • equality legislation and human rights
  • the constitution and government of Scotland, including Parliament, the courts, local government

2.12 Independence would complete the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and Government, while allowing existing structures and services to continue. Aspects of an independent Scotland would be familiar: services and entitlements continuing to be delivered; pension and benefits continuing to be paid at a similar level as now. Services such as the NHS and education are already largely devolved, and so would continue in much the same form as they do now. Over time, the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament could develop and implement Scotland-specific solutions.

2.13 As an independent nation, Scotland would be similar to other sovereign nations across the world. In recent years, many countries have gained independence, recognising that it is right that sovereign nations are responsible for their own decisions, while still working in partnership with other nations. At the moment, Scotland is a nation within a larger state, unable to speak for itself on all relevant matters. Independence would give Scotland the responsibility for making decisions about its future as part of an international, globalised environment, making a full contribution to the interdependent world.

I found this event very interesting … it
was refreshing to see that the Scottish
Government want the people of Scotland
to decide its own future - the Calman
Commission, although it has some great
ideas, is based on what three political
parties want.

(Aberdeen Summer Cabinet, 18 August 2009)

I can see no way forward for the country
other than full fiscal autonomy. But my
question is, would it be better to do this
and share some common resources as part
of the United Kingdom (e.g. armed forces,
embassies around the world, etc). Or can
a case be made that this would be better
done independently?

(National Conversation website, 18 November 2008)

How will independence benefit
young people in Scotland?

(Inverness Summer Cabinet 5 August 2008)