Scotland's Decision: What if Scotland votes no?

Published: 6 August 2014

This week, we are highlighting the contributions of our fellows to Scotland's Decision: 16 Questions to think about for the referendum on 18 September.  Today’s topic is what happens if Scotland votes no. The book is available as a free download.

Here, Charlie Jeffery looks at the question: If the vote is No, would we get more powers? What difference would they make?

He discusses the proposals that the three main pro-union parties - the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – have produced on more devolution in the event of a No vote, noting:

“The various proposals differ in detail and emphasis but have plenty of common ground, especially around more devolution of tax and some welfare policies. The three parties came together around this common ground in June 2014 with a joint pledge to 'strengthen further' the Scottish parliament and to put their proposals in their respective manifestos for the May 2015 UK General Election.”

The most important proposals are on income tax devolution, with Labour offering less than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. Jeffery notes:

“The effects of decision-making powers on income tax, whether the more limited Labour version or the fuller Liberal Democrat/Conservative version, would be very visible in people's pay packets and tax returns. Any changes would certainly prompt public debate and require the Scottish parliament to justify more fully the spending proposals that would be funded in this very direct way by the Scottish taxpayer (and rewarded or punished by the Scottish taxpayers' votes at the next election).”

He also notes the Yes side’s view: The Yes side's response to the pro-union parties' proposals on more devolution has been very simple: the pro-union parties cannot be trusted to deliver.”

So would the No side deliver? Jeffery sees two reasons why they would (and why, as he says, “they would certainly be foolish not to”):

“The first lies in the pledge made by the pro-union parties in June 2014. Although it was painfully thin on detail, it exists … If those parties are felt to have gone back on their pledge there is likely to be only one beneficiary, the SNP.

“The second lies in the process of legislating on more devolution. Assuming a Bill is brought in at Westminster it would also – as the 2012 Scotland Act did – need the consent of the Scottish parliament, which has an SNP majority until 2016. So more devolution is not just a matter for the pro-union parties, but one on which the SNP has a say. That would certainly keep the pressure on the pro-union parties to deliver.”

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