The following represents my individual understanding, as a voter, of some essential facts about the background to the referendum vote in Autumn 2014. Since I am not an expert in any of the subjects covered, my understanding may well be in error: it is undoubtedly simplified. I speak for no one but myself.
I have tried to exclude any personal value judgements from the details set out below – I believe them to be factual, and not coloured by personal beliefs or political orientation. I am happy to accept correction of factual errors, but please don’t offer complex interpretation, since my objective is to contribute as an individual to my Voters in The Village initiative, and I want to keep it simple – but not simplistic.
I would ask particularly that you do not offer legal interpretations or views: almost everything to do with the referendum is contested by legal and other experts, all highly vocal – and in some cases abusive(!) – in their assertion of the absolute rightness of their particular perspectives.
The dilemma of the referendum voter will be how to decide between alternative legal, political and ‘expert’ views in deciding how to vote. Faced with conflicting views and interpretation of ‘facts’, ultimately the voter decision will be based significantly on belief and trust.
That’s democracy - that’s life …
MY UNDERSTANDING OF ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT THE REFERENDUM
In early 1706, Scotland and England were two independent kingdoms with the same monarch and had been since 1603. (If Scotland becomes independent, Scotland and England would again be two independent kingdoms with one monarch – the Queen will be retained as constitutional monarch, as will her lawful successors.)
Following negotiations between England and Scotland, a Treaty of Union was agreed on 22nd July 1706. The English Parliament then passed The Union with Scotland Act in 1706 and the Scottish Parliament passed The Union with England Act in 1707.
The two acts took effect on 1st May 1707, and both the Scottish and the English Parliaments united to become the Parliament of Great Britain based in the Palace of Westminster. (The two Acts are referred to as the Union of the Parliaments.
Ireland, the third kingdom, was not included in the Union. Ireland was legally subordinate to England (until 1784) but had its own Parliament. It asked to join the new Union of Scotland and England, but was refused. It eventually was accepted into the Union (The UK) on 1st January 1801
Ireland was partitioned into two parts on 6th December 1922 by The Government of Ireland Act of 1920, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, known as The Irish Free State.
For a very brief period, Northern Ireland was no longer part of The United Kingdom, but was given the right to opt out of the Irish Free state and did so on 13th December 1922. In 1937, The Irish Free state was renamed Ireland, then in 1949, The Republic of Ireland.
Wales was conquered by England in 1282, had a brief period of independence early in the 14th century, but then was re-conquered and under the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535-1532 became completely part of the English legal system and Parliament.
Scotland voted in a referendum for the creation of a Scottish Parliament in 1999.
Wales voted in a referendum for the creation of The National Assembly of Wales in 1999.
The Northern Ireland Parliament dates from home rule in 1920/22, and is now the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive.
Scotland has certain devolved powers under the Scotland Act but many power are reserved to the Westminster Parliament (The UK Parliament). The Westminster Parliament is sovereign, i.e. only Westminster can devolve powers and only Westminster can amend the Scotland Act. Westminster can add devolved powers or revoke those already granted.
A referendum is a direct vote in which the total electorate is asked to accept or reject a direct proposal, usually one of major significance. It is direct democracy, as opposed to elective democracy, where elected representatives then vote on issue in on behalf of their constituents.
Referendums are binding in some countries – in certain circumstance they can be mandatory - but not in the UK. In the UK, a referendum is neither mandatory nor binding, but the result is usually respected by government.
Only two referendums have involved the entire UK electorate – The UK European communities membership referendum in 1975 and The UK Alternative Vote Referendum 2011
A devolution referendum for the creation of a Scottish Assembly was held in in 1977. The vote was 52% to 48%, with 63.6% of those eligible to vote (the turnout) casting their vote. This meant that 32.9% of the electorate had voted yes, and since a condition of the referendum was that at least 40% of the electorate must vote, The Scotland Act 1978, designed to introduce devolution, was repealed.
The Scottish Parliament Referendum – the devolution referendum – was held in September 1997. 44.87% of the electorate voted and 74.3% of those voting voted for devolution. This means that 33.34% of those eligible to vote voted for devolution.
A referendum on the independence of Scotland will be held in the autumn of 2014. Autumn 2014 starts on the 23rd of September. The earliest date for the referendum is therefore 23rd September 2014, and the latest date is 20th December 2014.
The referendum will be a consultative referendum and will not in itself bring about independence. The Westminster Government and the UK Prime Minister have already confirmed that if the Scottish electorate vote for independence, the UK government will accept this outcome and will negotiate with the Scottish Government on the terms of independence. The negotiations are likely to take years to finalise.
The Scottish Government has an anti-nuclear weapons policy, and if the Scottish electorate vote for independence, nuclear weapons systems – i.e. the Trident weapons system - will be removed from Scotland and Scottish waters.
The anti-nuclear policy extends to any defence alliance committed to nuclear weapons. An independent Scotland will withdraw from NATO, but liaise with NATO through Partnership for Peace, a non-nuclear alliance involving other European countries.
An independent Scotland would have its own defence forces and its own foreign policy, and will participate in appropriate alliances and coalitions with other countries as circumstances dictate.
An independent Scotland will be a member of the European Union, but will not join the euro: it will continue to use sterling as a tradable currency, and will operate in a currency union. The Bank of England is independent of the UK government and sets its own interest rates and policy. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will continue to accept the Bank of England in that role. Scotland will accept the Bank of England as the central bank in a currency union until such time as it decides to change to another currency. It is highly unlikely that this could happen within a decade.