A quickie divorce?
The Scottish Government suggested in the White Paper that a year and half would be sufficient to conclude the independence negotiations, leading to an independence date of 24 March 2016 (in other words, 554 days including the end points). This has always seemed to me like a very sensible suggestion.
However, many unionists have been complaining for a while that a year and a half is a ridiculously short time to unravel a 300-year partnership, and recently they even started threatening that they could stall the negotiations.
This threat was first made by one of David Cameron’s colleagues:
The planned Independence Day of March 24, 2016, will not happen, leaving the current set-up as the “default option”, unless negotiations between Edinburgh and London are completed satisfactorily, according to one of Prime Minister David Cameron’s most senior colleagues.
Dismissing the SNP Government’s 18-month timescale for completing negotiations as “totally unrealistic”, the source said: “A Yes vote in the referendum would be the start of a process, not the end of one; we would start negotiations. But if Alex Salmond made impossible demands, we would not just roll over and agree to everything he wanted. If we could not reach agreement, the status quo would be the default option.”
The senior Coalition figure said one such impossible demand would be the First Minister’s threat, repeated yesterday, that Scotland would not pay its share of UK debt if it were denied a currency union by Whitehall.
He was soon after backed up by a Labour peer:
Independence will “not automatically” follow a Yes vote in September’s referendum, according to a Labour peer and expert on the constitution.
Baroness Jay echoed claims of a senior Coalition source last week that the status quo could continue despite a vote to leave the UK.
Added Baroness Jay: “You can’t just start unpicking the constitutional arrangements. There would have to be paving legislation at Westminster first, then there’s the question of who would carry out the negotiations.
“These issues raise the idea that just because Scotland voted for independence in the referendum, it wouldn’t automatically happen.”
Finally, David Mundell has now also joined the bandwagon:
On what many see as a hostage to fortune – the First Minister’s declaration of March 24 2016 as Independence Day in the event of a Yes vote — the Scotland Office Minister appears clear that the timescale is wholly unrealistic, has “no legal status” and is just “an aspiration”.
“It’s only achievable if he was willing to make huge concessions on what his position is. Either he is immediately going to throw the towel in on a whole range of issues or it’s simply not achievable.”
He goes on: “It’s going to be more than 18 months if there is going to be meaningful negotiation on significant issues. I don’t suggest it’s a direct comparison but many people who have been through a divorce know that 18 months can be quite an optimistic timescale to get through that; that’s just two individuals trying to disentangle their lives. It can only be achieved from very significant concessions.”
However, if we look at other countries that have gained their independence, we find that most of them went through a much more rapid independence process.
For instance, when Czechoslovakia was dissolved, the amount of time from the Slovakian declaration of independence to independence day was 168 days (17 July to 31 December), although many details didn’t get sorted out till years later. However, after 31 December the negotiations took place between two independent countries.
Most other cases I’ve found were even faster — frequently practically instant.
It makes sense if you think about it. It will be almost impossible to concentrate on normal politics while independence negotiations are happening, and as the quotes above demonstrate clearly, there will be a huge incentive for Westminster to stall the negotiations until they get what they want. (“We won’t agree to independence unless you agree to a 100-year lease for Faslane, sign over 90% of the oil fields and take on half the UK’s debt.”)
If the independence negotiations get stuck, it might become necessary to declare UDI, telling the international community that Westminster has reneged on the Edinburgh Agreement which compelled them to negotiate in good faith: “The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.”
However, threats such as the ones mentioned above make me wonder whether there is any point in negotiating for 18 months if it’s likely we’ll be forced into declaring UDI anyway. Wouldn’t it be better simply to declare independence a few months after the referendum and then negotiate with Westminster as two independent countries?
The most likely reason why the White Paper is suggesting a long negotiation phase is to ensure that EU membership can be put in place before independence day. There’s no reason for the EU to act in a petty or vindictive manner, so it makes sense to negotiate the continued membership terms slowly and carefully.
I’d like to think that the Westminster politicians will become reasonable soon after a Yes vote. However, I fear it will become necessary to say in no uncertain terms that Scotland will declare independence on 24 March 2016 whether the negotiations have been completed or not in order to remove Westminster’s incentive to drag their feet.
We should also plan for the possibility that Westminster won’t negotiate for real at all, in which case we might as well declare independence in 2015. It might become a quickie divorce after all.
30 thoughts on “A quickie divorce?”
RT @arcofprosperity: New blog post: A quickie divorce? http://t.co/I8NZJkokFt #indyref
RT @arcofprosperity: New blog post: A quickie divorce? http://t.co/I8NZJkokFt #indyref
Isn’t there a point where international law may have to come into play? I mean I’d like to think WM won’t act like Moscow in this scenario.
Well, I am not a lawyer, so I’m not really the right person to ask, but I presume the Scottish Government could say that a referendum has been held according to rules agreed with Westminster and that the result was clear and undisputed, so Scotland has the legal right to declare independence and that Westminster has a legal and moral duty to recognise this.
My fear for Scotland would be that if the negotiation process is short-circuited like this, the economic uncertainty would make the large employers hot-foot it south more quickly than they otherwise would. I am worried about what independence will do to Edinburgh’s financial services sector.
Rob, Standard Life said in 1997 they’d leave Scotland if we voted for devolution. We did, they didn’t. They have intervened in every major constitutional discussion over the last 30 years. You can’t base your future on scare-mongering from people like Standard Life.
I wouldn’t even call it ‘intervening’ … SL were asked the question; they had to make a statement of some sort to inform their policyholders, and it wasn’t actually them doing the scaremongering – their statement was pretty cautious and benign – but the media, who took the opportunity to put hysterical spin on it as usual.
A typical press tactic: ask a very loaded question and then use it as a headline as if the person/entity asked it actually said it without provocation. “Rob Scovell Denies Slaughtering Cute Little Puppies” kind of thing …
I think there are some potential issues around those financial institutions that are based in Scotland but have the bulk of their customers in England. Obviously it would be bad for Scotland’s employment situation if they have to move so that they are in the same country as their customers. This is the kind of situation that will need careful negotiating so that they can continue to operate from Scotland. The No campaign is a somewhat hysterical about the issues they raise but on the other hand, they are not non-issues. It’s a real issue for me: my mother’s pension is domiciled in Scotland and it’s one of the things I’m nervous about. But not hysterically so — as long as there is a decent negotiation process.
“the BBC reported that a 1995 European Commission directive could result in Lloyds and RBS moving their registered HQs from Edinburgh to England.
The directive says that a bank must have its head office “in the same member state as its registered office”.
According to the BBC, it implies that registered and head offices should be located where a group has the bulk of its activities, which, in the case of Lloyds and RBS, would be England after Scottish independence.” <-- it's hard to tell if that is scaremongering or not.
I’m not trying to be argumentative by the way — I just think that there needs to be a decent period of negotiation to deal with a whole bunch of issues.
Does anybody here know the EU rules for cross-border banks, btw? Is it OK to open branches in other EU countries without having a local HQ there? To be more specific, will an English bank with Scottish customers need to create a Scottish HQ to deal with those customers, or can the Scottish branches be managed directly from England?
A quickie divorce? http://t.co/Z0jM8U4RvQ
I don’t think it will be as easy as separating Czechoslovakia was. That was a very different scenario. That country had a system of failed socialist institutions. Both daughter states were starting afresh with new capitalist institutions. In the UK case, we’re dealing with long-standing, functioning institutions.
I am imagining that the ‘injured party’ who doesn’t want the divorce will simply try every delaying bluff in the book till the one who does want it walks out and they then have to talk for real – I wonder what is making me assume that…?
Let’s hope it’s all a whole lot more mature than that …
Well they’ve followed every other step up till now so am not holding out any hope.
I’m very torn here. I want what’s best for England obviously but I don’t want the process to end up creating a whole lot of hatred and resentment between the 2 countries.
Well Santander is a spanish bank.
Personal experience Phyllis?
Melissa, sure, but AFAIK they have a UK HQ, too. For instance their web pages say “© Santander UK plc”.
It can only go 2 ways as far as I can see Rob. The vote is Yes and England is stunned or the vote is no and the 40+% of yes voters who have now analysed the situation are seriously pissed off and over time the 20+% who voted no because they believed the scare stories will start to question why they aren’t getting more devolution, why the things that weren’t going to shut did etc and will also be seriously pissed off. But the Scottish Tory voter(s) will probably live in a happy bubble oblivious to the rest of us.
Don’t get me started on Santander! I was a member of the Abbey National Building society as a child. Then they became Abbey, the bank — with the claim (which I swallowed at the time) that demutualisation was necessary to ‘improve customer service’. They went downhill from there … and Santander just about finished them off from my point of view. Went from being a perfectly good BS to the worst bank ever. I could rant for England on Santander …
I hope the negotiations will be carried out in a spirit of what’s best for both countries. (If you’re wondering about NI and Wales — I think their ‘voices’ will get drowned out.) It could be win-win but I fear it will be zero-sum attitudes prevailing.
My point about Santander is that if they need a UK HQ in order to operate as a retail bank here, then surely they’ll need a Scottish HQ after independence, too. In other words, RBS, BoS and Standard Life might need to move some operations to the rUK, but Santander, the Coop Bank and many more financial institutions will then have to create Scottish HQs, too, and that will mean that employment in the financial sector in Scotland won’t change dramatically.
As for the negotiations, my worry is simply that Westminster might drag out the negotiations in order to win concessions. E.g.:
Scotland: “We’ll give you ten years to shut down Faslane. Not a single day more!”
rUK: “No, we need at least twenty years. And we won’t grant you independence until you agree, even if we have to stare each other out for the next twenty years!”
What does Scotland reply then? I think the only reasonable answer is this: “If you don’t agree to ten years, we’ll declare independence tomorrow and deny you access to Faslane. And if you’re not happy with that, you can then take us to the International Court of Justice.”
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