The Lords Constitution Committee was in the news yesterday because they made some proposals concerning the aftermath of a Yes vote.
Most of the headlines were caused by some comments that I didn’t find particularly interesting, but Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the committee, also said this:
We urge the UK Government to put the rest of the UK’s interests first in the event of independence negotiations.
This is a rather interesting statement. After all, the UK Government will still be the government for all of the UK between a Yes vote and Scottish independence day, and indeed it will still contain Scottish government ministers and be served partly by Scottish civil servants. Nevertheless, the noble Lords will want this UK government to function as the rUK government for the purpose of negotiations.
I really can’t see how this would work. They would either have to purge the UK Government of all Scots immediately (but I’m not sure how they could legally do that), or they would live in fear that Scottish moles (mowdiwarps?) would leak parts of the negotiation mandate to the Scottish negotiation team.
Surely the only solution will be to create an rUK negotiation team to match its Scottish counterpart, rather than using the UK government for a purpose for which it isn’t suited.
I cannot see how the Westminster government can conduct the negotiations while it’s still Scotland’s government, too. Only after Scotland’s independence day will the rUK government be able to conduct the remaining negotiations on its own.
Baroness Jay added:
The Prime Minister should feel under no obligation to conclude negotiations by March 2016. The Scottish Government’s proposed timetable has no legal or constitutional standing.
As I’ve argued before, I’m not sure it makes any sense for the negotiations to be dragged out. Does anybody really think that the UK can be governed as if nothing had happened between a Yes vote and independence day?
For instance, what happens if the Westminster government wants to do something that Scotland is 100% against (the Bedroom Tax and the privatisation of the Royal Mail are obvious examples from the recent past)? Will they go ahead and tell Scotland to reverse the decision afterwards? That wouldn’t be acceptable to Scotland after a Yes vote, so in practice a legislative moratorium will be put in place, meaning that only uncontroversial legislation can be passed, and I cannot imagine Westminster would put up with that for very long.
So although I agree with the noble Lords that the Scottish Government’s proposed independence date is only a proposal, my guess is that once the Westminster politicians get their heads round these issues, they’ll actually want Scottish independence to happen sooner than March 2016, not later.