The establishment of the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998 gave the people of Scotland a direct democratic voice in decisions across a wide range of government activities already administered in Scotland. The devolution settlement explicitly recognised that the responsibilities given to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in 1999 could be changed, and important mechanisms were included in the Act to allow for further devolution.
Significant powers are currently reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament and the United Kingdom Government. Further devolution in these important areas would allow the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to take their own decisions on these issues in the interests of Scotland and reflecting the views of the people of Scotland. In some areas, further devolution could also provide greater coherence in decision-making and democratic accountability for delivery of policy.
To go beyond enhanced devolution to independence would involve bringing to an end the United Kingdom Parliament's powers to legislate for Scotland, and the competence of United Kingdom Ministers to exercise executive powers in respect of Scotland. All of the remaining reservations in the Scotland Act would cease to have effect, and the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government would acquire responsibility for all domestic and international policy, similar to that of independent states everywhere, subject to the provisions of the European Union Treaties and other inherited treaty obligations.
The nature of the constitution of the United Kingdom is changing. There have been historic developments in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom Government has published proposals to develop further the governance of the United Kingdom. Scotland, whether in the United Kingdom or independent, should continue to play a leading role with our neighbours, taking the opportunity to improve the mechanisms for joint working between governments across the current United Kingdom and with the Republic of Ireland.
Enhanced devolution or independence would require legislation, probably at both Westminster and Holyrood. Substantially enhanced devolution would arguably, and independence would certainly, require the consent of the Scottish people through a referendum. Such a vote, while not constitutionally binding, has been accepted as the correct way of determining Scotland's constitutional future. There must, therefore, be due consideration of appropriate forms of legislation for such a vote, and of the question of how a referendum could be initiated by the Scottish Parliament.
In the Scottish Government's view there are three realistic choices. First, retention of the devolution scheme defined by the Scotland Act 1998, with the possibility of further evolution in powers, extending these individually as occasion arises. Second, redesigning devolution by adopting a specific range of extensions to the current powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, possibly involving fiscal autonomy, but short of progress to full independence. Third, which the Scottish Government favours, extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to the point of independence. These possibilities are described more fully in this paper.
This paper is the first step in a wide-ranging national conversation about the future of Scotland. This conversation will allow the people of Scotland to consider all the options for the future of the country and make informed decisions. This paper invites the people of Scotland to sign up for the national conversation and to suggest how the conversation should be designed to ensure the greatest possible participation.