The surprise win of the SNP at the Glasgow East by-election on the 24 July 2008 -- which may or may not be a by-election blip -- has put the focus on the concept of "independence" for Scotland.
But what does it actually mean?
"Independence" presumably means the ability of the Scottish Parliament to exercise all the powers which are presently reserved at Westminster.
So, let's look at the powers of the present Scottish Parliament, and what remains "reserved" at Westminster.
These powers are set out in the Scotland Act 1998. You can find it at www.statutelaw.gov.uk
The important parts, for our purposes, are Sections 28-30 which confer the power to make laws, Schedule 4 which sets out the enactments protected from modification by the Scottish Parliament, and most relevantly, Schedule 5 which lists, extensively over 18 pages, the powers which are reserved to the UK Parliament.
The Scottish Parliament has power to make laws in all areas which are not listed in Schedule 5 and not in contravention of the provisions of sec 29.
Schedule 5 is divided into three parts: Part 1 General Reservations, Part 2 Specific Reservations, and Part 3 which is General Provisions relating to miscellaneous matters. Each Part includes the subjects which we have listed below.
To take each Part in turnů
General Reservations includes aspects of the Constitution of the UK including the Crown, the Union, and the UK Parliament. Foreign Affairs, including international relations, matters relating to the EU, and the regulation of international trade and development assistance. The Defence of the Realm is reserved, although not "civil defence". Other reserved matters in this section include registration of political parties, the civil service, and treason.
Specific Reservations includes Financial and Economic Matters including taxes, excise duties, exchange rates and so on. Home Affairs includes immigration, nationality, extradition, dealing with terrorism, firearms and so on. Trade and Industry includes company law, import and export control, weights and measures, postal services and other matters to ensure a level playing field throughout the UK. Energy includes the generation, distribution and supply of electricity, the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas deposits, coal, nuclear and so on. Transport includes certain aspects of regulation including safety. Social Security schemes financed by central or local expenditure which provide benefits to individuals. Regulation of the Professions -- certain professions. Employment rights and duties and industrial relations are reserved. Certain Health and Medicine matters including abortion and genetic research. Certain Media and Culture regulations are reserved. Miscellaneous includes equal opportunity regulations, but not "encouragement" of such.
General Provisions deals with the powers of public authorities such as councils which are dealing with reserved matters and also devolved matters.
To summarise, we can say that the matters reserved at Westminster are the Constitution, defence, foreign affairs, immigration, nationality, energy, social security policy, central economic and fiscal responsibilities, common markets for UK goods and services, employment legislation, the regulation of certain professions, transport safety and regulation, and other matters such as the regulatory framework for broadcasting, abortion, and equality legislation.
The broad devolved areas upon which Holyrood can legislate are health; education and training; local government, social work and housing; economic development and transport; law and home affairs; environment; agriculture, forestry and fishing and; sport and the arts. However, within those broad headings, certain areas are still reserved to Westminster. (1)
"INDEPENDENCE" IS UNFAIR TO ENGLAND
Scotland would be "independent" if it took control of all the reserved matters.
But ultimately, why should it bother? What would be the point? It is all so unnecessary and problematical and potentially fraught!
And anyway, even if Scotland has the right to do this, it would not be fair to England!
It would be like a man divorcing a woman against her will, or without even consulting her.
An "independent" Scotland would mean that England would be forced to go "independent" also on these issues, and independent foreign, immigration, defence, energy, and economic policies would be as much against England's best interests as they are against Scotland's!
It is essential that saner voices must prevail in the forthcoming debate than those we have heard from the recently elected SNP candidate to Westminster!
(1) We have compiled this material by using the helpful book by Jean McFadden and Mark Lazarowicz, The Scottish Parliament: An Introduction (Edinburgh: Lexis Nexis, 3rd edition, 2003), especially Ch. 2. Also see our March 2007 issue "Understanding the Scottish Parliament", at 6.