The Scotland Bill

By DeusExMacintosh

… is likely to be £6 – £8 billion.

That’s the likely oil-based revenue that stands to be removed from British coffers if Scotland restored Independence and withdrew its share of North Sea assets (previously established in both The Continental Shelf Act 1964 and the Continental Shelf (Jurisdiction) Order 1968 as the UK North Sea maritime area to the north of latitude 55 degrees) from the Westminster Treasury. Estimates by Aberdeen University researchers in their study The Hypothetical Scottish Shares of Revenues and Expenditures from the UK Continental Shelf 2000 – 2013 see a new national government in Scotland walking away with the equivalent of 80% of current revenues. That’s not some Chavezian nationalisation of the industry — BP and other operators in the region need not take flight — just the transfer of existing revenues to the bank account of a different government. This may just be enough to nurse a small nation of just over five million people for the first decade it will take to re-establish itself as a sovereign state. There need not be a republican debate, simply a reorganisation to a commonwealth-style arrangement that keeps the existing monarch and establishes a new upper chamber, most likely an Australian-style senate if the current ‘mixed use’ Holyrood system of MSPs and regional lists is anything to go by.

Make no mistake, Independence for Scotland is an entirely viable option. The country has a remarkably stable concept of its own identity with clearly recognised ‘Scottish Values’ (thrift, hard work and entrepreneurism) inherited from the Scottish Enlightenment of Adam Smith and cohorts. The economics also works, with the potential to become a net exporter of renewable power to the rest of the UK and the declining North Sea fund to keep the lights on for the decade it will take to make the change. Yes, parts of our second-city Glasgow have become amongst the worst sinks of welfare dependence in the entire UK (a friend said it was as though “they’d forgotten how to be Scottish”) but culture can be changed. In the same way the Mechanics Institutes encouraged motivated workers to self-educate themselves in useful sciences during the Industrial Revolution and the ‘Make Do and Mend’/’Dig for Victory’ campaigns of WWII taught the British to achieve self-sufficiency under rationing, economic self-sufficiency at either national or household level can be taught.

Most importantly Scotland has a unique and complete legal system which is based on a ‘mixed regime’ of Roman and common law. Unfortunately this currently means that cases lost on appeal to Roman Law principles in the Court of Session (the highest Scottish civil court) or the High Court of Justiciary (highest criminal court) are regularly being appealed to the House of Lords (now Supreme Court) in England and being won on contradictory common law principles, most notoroiusly the Cadder ruling for the conduct of criminal matters. As the Acts of Union (which joined the two countries) were meant explicitly to preserve and maintain Scots Law, there is considerable disquiet about it being regularly undermined in this way.

The problem is that England simply can’t afford to lose Scotland. In simple environmental terms it is massively overpopulated for its land mass, supporting a fairly constant 84% of the UK’s 51 million souls. Many of the larger norther cities only exist thanks to the importation of water from Wales, and there will need to be a new accord negotiated with their own Celtic fringe.

The Welsh, like the Scots, were a unique nation (possibly two if you count the north/south language divide) with a distinct cultural and linguistic identity but unlike Scotland were subjugated by medieval conquest and their native legal system no longer survives. The language is thriving though and there is an extremely distinct ‘Welshness’ of culture that is perceptible, and persists despite the frequent claim of English migrants that it doesn’t actually exist. Having lived in a ‘tidy’ village in the South Wales valleys for several years, I would beg to differ. I noticed a surprisingly strong ‘sense of place’ throughout Wales, despite several decades of economic deprivation amongst formerly prosperous mining communities. Conservative ministers have been publicly urging locals to ‘get on the bus’ and commute to larger cities for work and privately admitting that the valleys will effectively need to be emptied in the name of economic sustainability, but I suspect that tie to place may prove harder to break than expected. Many Welsh people might well prefer to maintain subsistence levels of economic survival in preference to leaving the country and mountains they love. They’re already spectacularly good at small scale entrepreneurism: almost everybody in my village was “on the hobble” in the black economy in some way, whether that was importing tax-free cigarettes, doing building work for cash in hand or running an unofficial sweet shop.

Frankly, England is unsustainable in terms of natural resources without Scottish energy and agriculture. I really don’t see how they can AFFORD to let Scotland go, and that worries me about the lengths they might go to in order to prevent it. Energy renegotiation has already become an issue in the current Scotland Bill progressing through both parliaments – and according to the BBC includes a demand by the victorious SNP government to access revenue from the Crown Estates (the principal owner of the coastal seabed which has demonstrated massive potential for wind and tidal generation and is currently responsible for the allocation of commercial leases in what might one day become Scottish territorial waters).

Could Scotland’s first minister spark a constitutional crisis long before any referendum on independence, as he battles for more powers in the Scotland Bill?

Alex Salmond wants more powers for Scotland and he could derail a Westminster bill in his fight to get them.

The nationalist first minister wants legislation going through the House of Commons changed to give him more control. But unlike most people arguing with UK ministers Mr Salmond has a secret weapon: he can bring their legislation to a halt.

That would spark a battle over whether ministers in London or Edinburgh are masters of Britain’s constitution.

As it stands, the Scotland Bill would give Holyrood the power from 2015 to set a Scottish income tax rate each year, to raise some 35% of the revenue it spends and to introduce new Scotland-specific taxes if the Westminster Parliament agrees.

Mr Salmond, though, wants more.

He has long said the bill should be amended to give Scotland control of corporation tax, revenues from the Crown Estate in the nation and to bring forward new capital-borrowing powers. After his election as first minister Mr Salmond added three more demands to that list: control of alcohol duties, more say over broadcasting and more influence in Europe.

Negotiations between the Scottish Executive and Westminster government are under way.

Similar negotiations with the subsidiary authorities go on all the time when matters effecting devolution come up before Parliament. Wales recently voted down a crime matter and the constitution survived. The current Scotland Act might be an interesting focal point for long term strategising, but it’s the constant usurpation of Scots Law on appeal where you could argue that the constitutional crisis may have already begun.

Just a thought.


  1. Posted May 23, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Get into a conversation with a Scottish copper and it’ll take him about 5 minutes to start complaining about Cadder. That decision really put a lot of people’s backs up around these parts.

  2. Jacques Chester
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    This relationship rhymes with WA vs the Commonwealth, I think. Right down to the sense of aggrievement about meddling Southerners/Easterners and the relative resources wealth.

  3. Patrick
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    My perspective is a rugby one. Scotland suck at rugby.

  4. Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Scotland became unified with England by the Scots king inheriting the English throne (establishing at least notionally a peaceful border, though that was not definitely true for another 142 years), stage 1, and Parliamentary union with England to salvage their finances, stage 2. Sure, North Sea oil shifts the financial advantage, but not permanently.

    Separate defense forces and foreign policy would be a very different thing than domestic fights over law and revenue.

  5. Posted May 24, 2011 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    SNP used to be no nuclear… they might do a New Zealand and refuse port to British subs (though at the moment they ship mostly out of ports in Scotland).

    And they don’t suck at Rugby, Patrick… they suck at Soccer!

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