Independence movement in Scotland

Scottish independence


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Scottish independence (Scots: Scots unthirldom, Scottish Gaelic: Neo-eisimeileachd na h-Alba) is a political ambition of political parties, advocacy groups and individuals for Scotland to dissolve the United Kingdom and become an independent sovereign state, separate from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Supporters of Scottish independence claim that Scotland's inability fully to control its own affairs, both nationally and internationally, is detrimental to Scottish interests. They argue that, as the British government acts primarily in the interest of the entire United Kingdom (of which England is by far the most populated part), it is to the detriment of Scottish interests to remain in the United Kingdom. Those who oppose Scottish independence and endorse the continuation of a form of union believe being part of the United Kingdom to be in the Scottish national interest, and argue that there are benefits enjoyed by Scotland as part of a great power, which do not compromise its distinctive national identity.


Scottish home rule

1970s resurgence


SNP government

In the 2007 Scottish parliament election the Scottish National Party became the single largest party by a margin of one seat. Lacking an overall majority, the Scottish National Party formed a minority government, installing leader Alex Salmond as First Minister of Scotland.

The Scottish National Party went on to win the 2011 Scottish General Election with an overall majority of 69 out of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament and around 45% of all votes cast; enough to hold a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.

Proposed referendum


A referendum for Scottish independence or a bill of the Scottish Parliament seeking to change the constitutional status of Scotland would not, under the British constitution, be legally binding on the UK government, because all UK referenda are only advisory. The British parliament claims absolute parliamentary sovereignty, but this is disputed by those who contend that the Scottish people, rather than the Scottish Parliament, are the legal sovereign authority in Scotland, a status explicitly proclaimed in the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath and reasserted by the all-party Claim of Right 1989. This position was legally supported by the Lord President of the Court of Session, Lord Cooper of Cardross, in the case of McCormick v The Lord Advocate (1953), in which Lord Cooper confirmed that "the principle of the unlimited sovereignty of (the Westminster) Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish Constitutional Law." The United Nations Charter also enshrines the right of peoples to self-determination while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantees their right to change nationality, and the UK is a signatory to both documents with the UK Parliament having no power to unilaterally revoke them.

Any changes to constitutional status are one of the reserved matters for Westminster under the Scotland Act 1998. At any time Westminster could amend the Scotland Act, changing the powers of the Scottish Parliament and allowing Westminster to legally block any bill for independence brought by the Scottish Government. Westminster has previously amended the Scotland Act to maintain the number of MSPs, which would otherwise have been reduced in line with the reduction of Scottish MPs in the 2005 UK general election. However, such powers with regard to a referendum on Scottish independence would be conditional on both the UK Parliament's absolute sovereignty being accepted, and it being deemed to take precedence over the rights guaranteed by the UN Charter and Declaration of Human Rights, issues which might be subject to dispute in the event of a vote for independence.

The legality of any British component country attaining de facto independence (in the same manner as the origins of the Irish Republic) or declaring unilateral independence outside the framework of British constitutional convention is uncertain. Some legal opinion following the precedent set by the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on what steps Quebec would need to take to secede (Reference re Secession of Quebec) is that Scotland would be unable to unilaterally declare independence under international law if the British government permitted a referendum on an unambiguous question on secession. It is uncertain how the unilateral 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence and subsequent recognition by the UK and some EU member states has affected this legal position. Former British Prime Ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher have recognised a right of the Scottish people to determine their own future.

Support for independence


Form of government

The independence movement is a disparate one that covers varied political standpoints. While many are republican, this is not Scottish National Party policy. The SNP styles itself as an inclusive institution, subordinating ideological tensions to the primary goal of securing independence, with Scotland becoming a Commonwealth realm, similar to Canada or Australia, if independence should occur. This would effectively return Scotland to its previous constitutional state of dynastic union, after the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is not only the descendent of the Kings and Queens of England but also through the Kings and Queens of Scotland, before the two nations' union in 1707. The situation would become like between 1603 and 1707 where the countries were separate yet shared the same monarch. Proportional representation has led to the election to the Scottish Parliament of smaller parties with various political positions but which have independence as a goal; in the 2003 Scottish Parliament election the gains made by the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party boosted the number of pro-independence MSPs. The Scottish Socialist Party has led republican protests and authored the Declaration of Calton Hill, calling for an independent republic.


A number of cross party groupings have been established with the aim of widening the scope of the pro-independence viewpoint and campaigning for a referendum on the issue. The most significant being the Independence Convention which seeks "Firstly, to create a forum for those of all political persuasions and none who support independence; and secondly, to be a national catalyst for Scottish independence." Another being Independence First, a pro-referendum pressure group which has organised public demonstrations.

Political parties

Scottish independence is supported most prominently by the Scottish National Party, but other parties also have pro-independence policies. Those who have had elected representatives in either the Scottish Parliament or local councils in recent years are the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity.

Seventy-two of the seats in the Scottish Parliament are now held by parties/members who have expressed pro-independence sentiments, over 55% of the total. These are the 69 Scottish National Party members, the two Green members and Margo MacDonald, an independent politician.


Public opinion

Polls show a consistent support for a referendum, including amongst those who support the continuation of the union. Most opinion polls performed have a figure of in-principle support for a referendum around 70–75%. In March 2009, The Sunday Times published the results of a YouGov survey on Scottish support for independence (mirroring the earlier 2007 poll). Support for a referendum in principle was found to have fallen to 57% of respondents, with 53% of respondents stating they would vote against independence and 33% stating they would support independence. The Times reported that the fall in support for independence was likely linked to economic recession.

In August 2009, a YouGov survey with the Daily Mail asking if Scottish voters would support independence found that 28% would vote Yes, 57% would vote No, 11% did not know and 5% would not vote.

Another YouGov Opinion poll in October 2010 showed 34% saying Yes, and 50% not in favour of independence, with the other 16% not sure how they would vote.

A December 2010 face-to-face poll by TNS-BMRB showed 40% supporting independence, 44% opposing, and 16% unsure.

In June 2011, after the SNP majority election win, a poll by TNS-BMRB, with a 1,022 sample, showed independence support up 6% from 18 months previously, with 37% favouring independence in a potential referendum, with 45% against the proposal, and 18% not sure. The poll indicated 46% of people in Glasgow, and 51% of people under 24 supporting independence.

In September 2011, according to a TNS-BMRB/Herald poll, support for independence overtook opposition to independence for the first time since 2008, with 39% of voters saying they would vote yes, 38% saying they would vote no and the remainder of 23% was undecided or refused to say. This poll was the first one out of a series of ten conducted which all showed support for independence greater than outright opposition and as such was celebrated by the SNP as a positive sign that they may be able to reach the 50% mark.

An ICM poll in November 2006 found a high level of support in England and Scotland for Scottish independence.

See also



  • Murkens, Jo Eric (2002). Scottish Independence: A Practical Guide. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1699-3.
  • Keating, Michael (2009). The Independence of Scotland: Self-Government and the Shifting Politics of Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

External links

Pro-independence party websites

Unionist party websites

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