Twelve unresolved questions on Scottish independence
By Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland
Unresolved questions There are many unresolved questions – from getting rid of Trident to what currency Scotland would use
As the country begins gearing up for a Scottish independence referendum, debate surrounding how Scotland would go forward alone has been heating up.
But what would happen with defence, economic policy and other areas, should independence happen?
Can you think of other key questions which need answering? Let us know by sending your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and putting “independence questions” in the message field.
(Thanks for your suggestions so far, keep them coming in)
1) What would happen with Trident if Scotland dispenses with a nuclear deterrent?
Britain’s nuclear weapons system, made up of four submarines and based at the Faslane naval base, is strongly opposed by the Scottish government.
Westminster ministers have committed to replacing Trident – however, if Scotland became independent, the SNP would seek to see the removal of nuclear weapons from the Clyde.
The timescale for such a move is unknown, and would involve having to search for a suitable, alternative location for the nuclear deterrent.
In addition, UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had said Scotland would need to bear some of the relocation costs.
In response, Alex Salmond has branded him “arrogant” after the UK government, as the first minister puts it, imposed weapons of mass destruction and their associated clean-up costs on Scotland for 50 years.
The other issue is the question of what would happen to staff working at Faslane, an important local employer, should Trident be relocated.
2) What currency would Scotland have?
As a pro-European party, the SNP favours joining the single currency, “when the conditions are right” – remember the former UK government’s five economic tests for signing up?
Current issues in the Eurozone mean one could hazard a guess that the conditions are probably not right at the moment, so, in the meantime, the SNP supports continued use of the pound.
Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling says there is precedent here – Panama uses the Dollar – but he also argues Scotland may essentially find itself in a position where its interest rates, through the Bank of England, are set by a foreign country.
In response, the SNP says the pound is a fully “convertible currency”, namely that it can be bought or sold without government restriction.
3) Who owns North Sea oil/gas and what happens to off-shore wind-power rights?
“It’s Scotland’s oil” is the long-held mantra of the SNP and, while it has sometimes been seen as more of a romantic declaration, expert opinion suggests it would be technically possible to designate Scottish waters as a specific area.
Like many other issues, resolving the issue would take a lot of complex negotiation – but there is a lot more to it than simple geography.
An independent Scotland could expect to have more than 80% of the UK’s oil and gas revenue, subject to negotiation with the Westminster government.
The offshore industry delivers huge sums of tax money to the Treasury – possibly as much as £54bn in the next six years – and wouldn’t be something it would be happy to give up lightly.
At the same time, Alex Salmond knows how much north sea oil could do for the Scottish economy – Norway’s oil-fuelled state pension fund hit the 3 trillion kroner (£324bn) mark in 2010.
Billions of barrels of oil have been pumped from the North Sea since the mid-70s and it is believed between 25 and 30 billion could still be recovered over the next 40 years.
Shetland, site of the strategically vital Sullom Voe terminal, already has its own oil fund.
During the 1970’s, a period of significant oil discoveries in the north sea, the UK government of the day did consider a suggestion to buy the north sea’s major fields from BP.
This was ruled out largely, it is said, because of concerns over state interference.
4) What happens to MPs in Scotland?
It is likely that Scottish MPs, of which there are currently 59, would become a thing of the past.
This is based on the logic that an independent Scotland would recognise Holyrood as its full, national parliament.
5) How much debt would Scotland take on?
There’s little doubt that Scotland would be expected to take on a share of UK national debt – the size of the share and the basis on which it should be calculated is up for discussion.
Alex Salmond would like it to be based either on a share of the UK’s GDP, or population, which could put the figure at some £80bn.
But there are other issues to consider.
The debt could be serviced issuing bonds. An independent Scotland – would need its own credit rating.
SNP ministers say the UK government’s own figures show that Scotland – whose budget is currently funded through a Treasury block grant – had a surplus of £19bn compared to the UK as a whole, between 1980 and 2009.
With no credit history, an independent Scotland may run into problems with the bond markets.
However, the SNP says it’s “entirely confident” Scotland could, taking into account its own assets and resources, secure a top credit rating.
6) Would there be a separate Scottish military?
Yes. Or at least that would be SNP strategy.
Alex Salmond says the make-up of a new “Scottish Defence Force” would comprise one naval base – namely Faslane sans-Trident – one air base and one mobile armed brigade.
It’s thought UK armed forces personnel would be given some kind of option on terms of joining the new service.
Like the Trident issue, this is also the subject of fierce debate, with UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond saying any plans to take British military units into a SDF would be “laughable”.
Mr Salmond said his suggested SDF configuration is based on the outcome of the UK defence review – which seems at odds with his previous campaign to retain all three of Scotland’s air force bases, amid the Westminster cuts.
7) What would happen to the BBC?
The future of the national institution that is the BBC in an independent Scotland is a grey area at the moment.
Taking the two extremes of what could happen – and there’s currently no serious suggestion that they could – BBC Scotland could remain as is, it could be replaced by a new public service broadcaster, or any eventual reforms could be somewhere in-between.
In the context of Scotland as part of the union, the SNP, which has long advocated the devolution of broadcasting powers to Scotland, had previously called for the set up of a new, digital channel.
8) What would happen to Scotland’s membership of the EU, the UN and IMF?
The debate in terms of these kinds of organisations has come down to what an independent Scotland’s starting position would be when it comes to membership talks.
Taking the European Union issue as an example, one school of thought is that an independent Scotland would have to start membership talks as a total outsider.
Indeed, it has also been suggested that what remains of the UK, post-independence, would also have to renegotiate EU membership.
Alex Salmond disagrees, and says Scotland would be able to begin talks on its EU status “from within”.
9) What would happen to Scotland’s membership of Nato?
The SNP supports Scotland’s withdrawal from Nato. However, in an independent Scotland the SNP might not be the party in government, so a Labour, Lib Dem or Tory government might choose to stay in.
10) Would there be border controls between Scotland and the rest of the UK?
There’s currently no suggestion of a closed border between Scotland and England, with associated immigration controls.
11) Would Scottish students be charged EU tuition rates, and vice versa?
The current, devolved Scottish government has taken the decision that no Scottish student studying at home will pay fees, either up-front or post-graduation, while students coming from other parts of the UK will pay charges.
SNP ministers are also currently trying to find a way to end the current position where EU students coming to Scotland have their fees paid.
12) What would happen to the pandas?
Don’t laugh – this has been asked as a serious question.
The two giant pandas resident at Edinburgh Zoo – the first to live in the UK for 17 years – came under an agreement with China.
Regardless of the constitutional path Scotland takes, it’s likely Tian Tian and Yang Guang, would remain under the 10-year agreement with the zoo.
Source: BBC news item 25th January 2012