Proposed second Scottish independence referendum

The Scottish Government has proposed holding a second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom (UK). A first referendum on independence was held in September 2014, with 55% voting "No" to independence. Ahead of that referendum, the Scottish Government stated in its white paper proposing independence that voting Yes was a "once in a generation opportunity to follow a different path, and choose a new and better direction for our nation".[1]

Ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) said that a second independence referendum should be held if there was a material change of circumstances since the 2014 referendum, and specified one of those as the UK leaving the European Union ("Brexit").[2] The SNP formed a minority government after the 2016 election,[3] and the "leave" side won a referendum on UK membership of the EU in June 2016, although 62% of votes in Scotland were opposed to Brexit.[4]

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gained approval of the Scottish Parliament to seek a Section 30 order under the Scotland Act 1998 to hold an independence referendum "when the shape of the UK's Brexit deal will become clear".[5][6] No UK Prime Minister has approved the transfer of power for another independence referendum under Section 30,[7][8][9][10] and current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will not sanction it while he is in office.[11]

In January 2021, the SNP stated that, if pro-independence parties win a majority in the upcoming election, the Scottish Government would pass a bill allowing a referendum to take place without a Section 30 order.[12] The Scottish Conservatives have said they would boycott such a referendum.[13] A case was brought to the Court of Session regarding the legality of Holyrood holding a referendum without a Section 30 order, but was dismissed as being "hypothetical, academic and premature".[14]


2014 Scottish independence referendum

Results by council area of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum:

The referendum on Scottish independence held on 18 September 2014 saw Scotland vote to remain part of the United Kingdom (UK), with 55% voting against the proposal for Scotland to become an independent country and 45% voting in favour.

Uncertainty over Scotland's European Union (EU) membership was a topic in the run-up to the referendum vote, as unionists argued that Scotland would not automatically become an EU member and would instead have to apply for that status.[15][16] The UK Government and some mainstream political parties argued that remaining in the UK was the only way to ensure that Scotland would remain part of the EU.[15][17][18] Independence supporters pointed out that the UK Prime Minister David Cameron had already pledged to hold an "in-out" referendum on UK membership of the EU if the Conservatives won the next UK general election.[15]

Other issues, such as the economy, played a large part in the debate. Financial groups, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, were reported to be considering moving their registered offices to London, as a result of a European law stating that banks should have their head offices in the same member state as its registered office, as well as implying that these offices should be in the location where they conduct most of their activity – which would be the remainder of the UK in the event of Scottish independence.[19][20]

The Scottish Government's White Paper on independence stated that "It is the view of the current Scottish Government that a referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity",[21] a point reiterated a few days before the vote by the SNP's then-leader, Alex Salmond, noting the eighteen-year gap between the devolution referendums held in 1979 and in 1997 as an example of the generational opportunity.[22] Three months later, Salmond reversed the position, highlighting the UK's EU referendum as a factor.[23] The UK Government had also portrayed the independence referendum as once-in-a-generation[24] and Nicola Sturgeon described it as a "once in a lifetime opportunity".[25]

Though the proposal for Scotland to become an independent country was voted down in 2014, the referendum resulted in the Scottish Parliament gaining additional powers through the Scotland Act 2016, which increased the devolved powers in areas such as taxation and some aspects of welfare provision.[26]


2015 United Kingdom general election
Results of the 2015 United Kingdom general election

The 2015 UK general election was held on 7 May almost eight months after the independence referendum was held. In their manifesto, the SNP said the following in response to the Conservatives' manifesto pledge promising a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017 if elected:[27]

The European Union is far from perfect, however, we believe that it is overwhelmingly in Scotland’s interests for us to remain a member, engaging with the institutions as fully as we can, and to argue for reform from within. We will oppose UK withdrawal from the EU and will propose that, in any future referendum, there should be a double majority requirement. Each of the four constituent nations of the UK would have to vote for withdrawal before the UK as a whole could leave the European Union.

The SNP went on to win 56 of the 59 Scottish seats that were contested in an unprecedented landslide winning 50% of the national vote and left just three unionist MPs in Scotland; Labour saw their worst result in Scotland since 1918, the Liberal Democrats fell to their lowest level since 1970 and the Conservatives received their lowest vote share in Scotland since 1865.

Across the UK, the Conservatives led by David Cameron won an unexpected overall majority, their first since 1992 and following their victory passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015 which legislated for the holding of a national UK-wide referendum on EU membership which would be held following the conclusion of a renegotiation of the UK's membership to the EU.


2016 Scottish Parliament election
Results of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election

The elections to the Scottish Parliament took place on 5 May 2016, seven weeks before the holding of the EU Referendum. In their manifesto for the 2016 Scottish elections, the SNP stipulated conditions under which they would seek a second independence referendum:[28]

The SNP were re-elected in the 2016 election, winning 63 seats in the 129-seat chamber, although the result meant that they no longer held an overall majority.[29] The pro-independence Scottish Green Party won 6 seats,[29] meaning that pro-independence MSPs maintained a majority.[30]

The Green manifesto stipulated that a second referendum should be held if there was a public demand for one, rather than as a result of "calculations of party political advantage". The party specified that their preferred method of showing support for a referendum was via a public petition, although their manifesto didn't clarify how many signatories there would have to be to receive their support:[31]

2016 European Union membership referendum
Every council area in Scotland returned majority votes in favour of remaining in the EU, contrasting with other parts of the UK, who ultimately carried the overall UK leave vote.

In the EU membership referendum held on 23 June 2016, 52% of voters across the whole UK voted to leave the European Union, with 48% voting to remain; majorities in England and Wales were in favour of leaving the EU, with majorities in Scotland (62%), Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to remain a member of the EU.[32] All thirty-two council areas in Scotland voted by a majority for the UK to remain a member of the EU.

Before the referendum, leading figures with a range of opinions regarding Scottish independence suggested that in the event the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU but Scotland as a whole voted to remain, a second independence referendum might be precipitated.[33][34] Former Labour Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish asserted that he would support Scottish independence under such circumstances.[35]

A report for the European Parliament regarding the impact on the United Kingdom's exit from the EU on devolution suggested that "there now seems to be a consensus that, were Scotland to become independent by legal means, it could join the [European] Union", something which had been questioned before the 2014 referendum.[36]

In response to the result, on 24 June 2016, the Scottish Government said officials would begin planning for a second referendum on independence.[37][38] Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union" and that Scotland had "spoken decisively" with a "strong, unequivocal" vote to remain in the European Union.[39] Sturgeon said it was "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland could be taken out of the EU "against its will".[37][40]

Scottish Secretary David Mundell stated, on 26 June 2016, that "if the people of Scotland ultimately determine that they want to have another [independence] referendum there will be one", and added "Could there be another referendum? The answer to that question is yes. Should there be another referendum? I believe the answer to that question is no."[41]

On 13 October 2016, Sturgeon announced that an Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation the following week.[42]

In February 2017, the Scottish Parliament voted 90 to 34 to oppose the UK leaving the EU and to oppose invoking Article 50 in a non-binding vote.[43]


First Minister Sturgeon delivering her 13 March announcement

On 13 March 2017, Nicola Sturgeon announced she would seek Scottish Parliament approval to negotiate with the UK Government for a Section 30 order enabling a legally binding second independence referendum.[5]

On 16 March 2017, ahead of the scheduled debate, Theresa May responded by broadcasting a message where she said that "now is not the time" for a second referendum on Scottish independence, as it would be unclear what the people of Scotland would be voting for.[7] Ruth Davidson later appeared at a press conference in Edinburgh and stated her position that "we will maintain that it should not take place when there is no clear public and political consent for it to happen".[7]

On 28 March 2017, the Scottish Parliament voted 69–59 on Motion S5M-04710, in favour of holding a second referendum on Scottish independence.[44][45] Prior to the passage of the motion, a Green Party amendment was passed, by the same margin, that seeks to enable 16 and 17 year-olds and EU citizens the opportunity to vote in a referendum.[46]

June 2017 United Kingdom general election
Results of the 2017 UK general election in Scotland

The 2017 UK general election returned a hung parliament resulting in Theresa May's Conservatives returning as a minority government through a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party.

The SNP remained as the third-largest party in the UK House of Commons with its representation reduced to 35 of the total 59 Scottish MPs. The SNP had 21 fewer seats than they won in the 2015 general election and its popular vote in Scotland reduced from 50% in 2015 to 37% in 2017 with a lower voter turnout. The Conservatives, who oppose independence, saw their best election in Scotland since 1983, winning 29% of the vote and increasing their seat total to thirteen, compared to one in the previous parliament.

During the election campaign, Sturgeon was asked about the prospect of further referendums if the proposed referendum did not result in a vote in favour of independence.[47] In response she said that, "I don't think it's right for any politician to dictate to a country what its future should be. I think that should be a choice for the people of Scotland."[47]

Sturgeon stated: "Undoubtedly the issue of an independence referendum was a factor in this election result, but I think there were other factors in this election result as well".[48] Opposition to a second referendum is one of the issues that former SNP MP Angus Robertson and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have attributed to reduced support for the SNP.[49]

The SNP lost seats that voted for independence. Glasgow North East was gained by Labour despite consisting mostly of the two Scottish Parliamentary constituencies with the largest support for independence within the Glasgow City council areaGlasgow Maryhill and Springburn and Glasgow Provan.[50]

A Survation poll the day prior to the election found that 71% of 2014 independence voters planned to vote for the SNP,[51] significantly lower than the 87% of 'Yes' voters who were planning to vote SNP at a comparable time in 2015.[52] A large amount of support from independence voters had moved to the Labour Party, with the party increasing their vote share among independence supporters from 6% to 21%.[51][52] The Conservatives had a smaller rise among independence supporters, gaining 7% of their votes in 2017, compared to 2% in 2015.[51][52]

A realignment also occurred among those who opposed independence in the 2014 referendum. In 2015, Labour had the highest vote share among unionist voters at 42%.[52] This dropped to 33% in 2017.[51] The Conservatives became the largest anti-independence party increasing their votes from 27% to 46% of unionist voters.[51][52] Elsewhere, 11% backed the SNP and the Liberal Democrats in 2017, compared to 15% and 10% respectively in 2015.[51][52]

Following the 2017 UK general election, Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would postpone legislation on the proposed second referendum on Scottish independence until at least autumn 2018 when it was believed that the outcome of Brexit negotiations would become clearer.[53]


On 25 May 2018, the Scottish National Party published its "Growth Commission" report, which detailed the economics of an independent Scotland when maintaining close alignment to British fiscal policy. The report noted that it would take £450 million to set up an independent state, with an initial budget deficit of around 6% of GDP. The report, additionally, suggested that an independent Scotland would negotiate a share of the UK national debt, while continuing to use the Pound Sterling as currency for at least a decade. Scotland would only consider an independent currency, once certain economic goals had been met. Despite not having a separate currency on independence, the report suggested that Scotland would set up a central bank to act as a lender of last resort. According to the Growth Commission, Scotland would seek an open migration policy to allow for its population to grow.[54]

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson responded to the report by saying: "For me, the most important issue is making sure our children get a good education. The first minister used to claim that that was her priority too—how times have changed. It's hard to see how dragging Scotland back down the rabbit hole of a debate on independence is going to improve our schools." Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour's leader, stated that the report, "will exasperate millions of people around the country who just want the first minister focused on public services".[55]


In March 2019, the SNP conference adopted an amendment version of the Growth Commission as party policy on the economics of independence. This amended version established that it is now SNP policy for an independent Scotland to create a new currency at the earliest feasible point of independence to enable fiscal sovereignty, with Pound Sterling being a transitional currency for Scotland.[56] First Minister Sturgeon also announced the establishment of a 'Social Justice Commission' to develop the social argument for independence to complement the SNP's new economic policy.[57]

In April 2019, Sturgeon proposed holding a second referendum before the end of the Scottish Parliamentary session in May 2021.[58] Legislation was introduced to Parliament to govern any future referendums on any subject held by the devolved institutions. The Scottish Government was working on a three-pronged approach to constitutional change:

  • A referendum on independence is a matter of intent of the government to allow Scotland a say on independence.
  • Cross-party talks are to be held to enable any areas of agreement on changes to devolution to be explored.
  • The Scottish Government established the Citizens' Assembly of Scotland to discuss the most prominent issues faced by contemporary Scottish society and governance.[59]

The civic campaign group Voices for Scotland launched in April 2019 to secure a pro-independence majority in Scotland through societal engagement. This group was established by the Scottish Independence Convention which is made up of cross-party and grassroots organisations.[60]

On the same day as the passing of the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020, Nicola Sturgeon officially published the Scottish Government's request to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the transfer of legal authority to hold an independence referendum. This request set out the constitutional history of Scotland's place in the UK and that the Scottish Government would deem either a Section 30 order or an amendment to the Scotland Act as a satisfactory means of transferring the power over independence referendums.[61] Sturgeon's intention was for the referendum to be held in 2020.[10]

2019 United Kingdom general election
Results of the 2019 UK general election in Scotland

The 2019 UK general election resulted in a majority parliament for the Conservatives led by Boris Johnson. The SNP held the position of the third-largest party in the House of Commons, gaining 13 seats from the previous election to a total of 48. The policies of the SNP included a second referendum on Scottish independence next year as well as one on Brexit, removing Trident, and devolution across issues such as employment law, drug policy, and migration.[62]

The SNP garnered 45% of the popular vote in Scotland, an 8% gain from the 2017 UK general election.[63]

Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, said after the election that "it couldn't really be any clearer from the results of this election that Scotland doesn't want a Boris Johnson government, it doesn't want to leave the European Union, and it wants to be able to determine its own future, whatever that future turns out to be."[64] This was in response to the Scottish Conservatives campaign, that, according to Sturgeon, focused solely on opposing a second referendum on Scottish Independence.[64] Given Johnson's opposition to a second referendum, Sturgeon stated the Scottish Government could pursue a legal course of action to try to give the Scottish Parliament the power to call a referendum.[63][65]


Nicola Sturgeon's request for a referendum was rejected by the UK Government in January 2020.[66] In his official response, Boris Johnson wrote that Sturgeon and Salmond had promised that the 2014 referendum would be a "once in a generation" vote, that both the Scottish and UK governments had pledged to implement the outcome of that vote, and that his government "cannot agree to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to further independence referendums".[66]

The Scottish Parliament passed a motion introduced by the Scottish Government on 29 January 2020 to endorse a new independence referendum. The motion was carried 64 votes to 54.[67] This was on the same day that the Parliament resolved to continue flying the flag of Europe after the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.[68]

In March 2020, the Scottish Government halted plans for a referendum due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[69] Five months later, Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government was planning a new draft referendum bill.[70]

Support for independence reached record levels during 2020. In October 2020, an Ipsos Mori poll for STV News showed 58% of Scots in support for independence[71] and that, if there were an economic case for Scotland becoming independent, 75% of Scots say they would support.[72]


In January 2021, the SNP announced an 11-point "roadmap" for holding a referendum in the event that pro-independence parties win a majority in the upcoming election. The roadmap states that if the UK Government refused Section 30 consent to a referendum, the Scottish Government would introduce and pass a bill allowing a referendum to take place, and would oppose any legal challenge from the UK Government.[12] In response to the SNP proposal, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, said his party would refuse to take part in any referendum that was not agreed with the UK Government, and called on Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats parties to do likewise.[13]

The legality of holding a referendum in such circumstances is unclear.[13] A pro-independence group, "Forward As One", asked the Court of Session in January 2021 to investigate the legality of a referendum held without a Section 30 order, but their case was dismissed as being "hypothetical, academic and premature".[14] The judge, Lady Carmichael, ruled that the group lacked standing, as they were not directly affected by the legal question involved, and consequently she did not make a ruling on the issue in question.[14]

In March 2021, the Scottish Government published the Draft Independence Referendum Bill it had announced a year earlier. Its contents outlined the intent to use the same question and form of ballot paper used in 2014 with the Electoral Commission's input, provided both in English and Scottish Gaelic. Furthermore, foreign nationals with leave to remain in Scotland would be eligible to vote.[73]

2021 Scottish Parliament election

The 2021 Scottish Parliament election had a turnout of 63%.[74] The SNP gained one seat, leaving it one short of a parliamentary majority; the Conservatives remained on 31 seats, with Labour down 2 on 22, the Green Party up 2 to 8, and the Liberal Democrats down 1 on 4.[74]


The legality of a referendum is important. Receiving effective independence is a matter of securing recognition by other sovereign states, including the former parent state (namely the UK). This recognition would be more forthcoming with a referendum seen as legitimate. A referendum is not legally required for independence, however Chris McCorkindale and Aileen McHarg argue that it is a constitutional requirement, due to the precedent set by the 2014 referendum and the Northern Ireland Act 1998.[75]

The ability for the Scottish Parliament to hold an advisory referendum on the question of independence without the approval of the UK Government is disputed[76] and has never been conclusively settled.[77] The Scottish Parliament is not allowed to pass legislation relating to reserved matters. One of these is the "Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England".[78] According to the Insititute for Government, this has been interpreted as meaning a second referendum would require the approval of the UK Government or Parliament.[79] The Scottish Government's mandate to hold a referendum, though politically important, is legally irrelevant.[77]

A binding referendum would likely require a section 30 order from the UK Government, or an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 by the UK Parliament.[80][81][78][82][83] For a referendum result to be "beyond doubt or challenge", it would also need a section 30 order.[84] Under the Sewel Convention, the Scottish Government is able to issue a "legislative consent motion", which would signal to the UK Parliament that Scottish Government has deemed it necessary to alter a law enacted by the UK Government, or to change the scope of the devolved government's powers in some manner.[85]


Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020

In May 2019, the Scottish Government introduced the Referendums (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament. This Act forms the statutory basis for all future referendums being held under Scots Law under the instruction of the Scottish Government.[86] It lays out the framework for referendums within devolved competence.[87] This legislation would form the legal basis of a further independence referendum. The current Scottish Government intends to seek a Section 30 order or an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 to ensure that the result of a future referendum can be indisputably binding.

The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 19 December 2019[88] and received royal assent on 29 January 2020.

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020

The Scottish Government introduced the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill to the Scottish Parliament.[89] This Act makes changes to who is eligible to vote in elections and referendums under the remit of the Scottish Parliament. This includes Scottish Parliamentary elections, local authority elections and referendums under the Scottish Parliament's remit. This Act extends voting rights to anyone legally resident in Scotland over the age of 16, regardless of nationality or citizenship, and extends voting rights to some prisoners if they have less than 12 months to serve in prison. This is counter to the voting franchise in the 2014 referendum which was limited to British, Irish, Commonwealth and European Union citizens resident in Scotland over the age of 16.[90]

The Act was passed by the Parliament on 20 February 2020 and received Royal Assent on 1 April 2020.


European Union

Until 2016, the United Kingdom was formerly a member state of the European Union, and therefore part of the EU Single Market and EU Customs Union. On 23 June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum. The Scottish Government advocates that Scotland should be a member of the EU both as a part of the UK and as an independent state.[91]

The results of the European Union membership referendum by voting areas.

Following the EU referendum result, Sturgeon said she would communicate to all EU member states that Scotland had voted to stay in the EU.[92] An emergency Scottish cabinet meeting on 25 June 2016 agreed that the Scottish Government would seek to enter negotiations with the EU and its member states, to explore "options to protect Scotland's place in the EU".[93][94] On 28 June 2016, Sturgeon said that "independence [...] is not my starting point in these discussions. My starting point is to protect our relationship with the EU."[95]

After a summit of EU leaders on 29 June 2016, Sturgeon held meetings with some EU officials.[96] She raised the possibility of parts of the UK remaining within the EU, or for these areas to have special arrangements with the EU, after the UK leaves.[96] David Edward, a former justice of the European Court of Justice, suggested that these arrangements would relate to policy areas that have been devolved to Scotland.[96]

Sturgeon also met European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who commented that "I will listen carefully to what the first minister will tell me... but we don't have the intention, neither Donald Tusk nor myself, to interfere in an inner British process that is not our duty and this is not our job."[97] Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party Group, and Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, indicated that they were supportive of Scotland remaining an EU member.[98][99][100] Gunther Krichbaum, head of the Bundestag's Committee for EU Affairs, made supportive comments about Scotland becoming a member state of the EU.[101]

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said: "[be] very clear Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union."[97] He also stated his opposition to the EU negotiating with "anyone other than the government of United Kingdom" and that "if the United Kingdom leaves... Scotland leaves."[97] Similarly, the French President, François Hollande, stated: "The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom."[97]

The Scottish European and External Affairs Committee held an evidence session on 30 June 2016, asking a panel of four experts (Dr Kirsty Hughes of Friends of Europe, Prof Sionaidh Douglas-Scott of the Queen Mary School of Law at the University of London, Sir David Edward and Prof Drew Scott of the University of Edinburgh) what they felt was the best way to secure the Scottish-EU relationship.[102] Hughes stated that "the simplest and most obvious way would be to be an independent state and transition in and stay in the EU", Douglas-Scott said that "Legally there are precedents. [...] But there were also political difficulties", referring to Catalonia in member state Spain. Edward believed "Scotland makes quite a good fit with Iceland and Norway", referring to the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association, while Scott hinted that Scotland could be a successor state, meaning the rest of the UK (rUK) would leave but Scotland would retain its seat.[102]

The new UK Prime Minister Theresa May met with Sturgeon on 15 July 2016 in Edinburgh, when May stated that she was "willing to listen to options" for Scotland,[103] although she later stated that some options were "impracticable".[104] Sturgeon then publicly stated that she had five tests for any future arrangements.[105] The IPPR thinktank stated that Scottish unionists needed to provide options for Scotland, if they wished to retain the British union.[104] The Scottish Labour Party published an "Action Plan" in July 2016, focusing on the economy.[106]

In their manifestos for the 2017 German federal election, the Free Democrats and the Greens stated that EU membership would remain an option for Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as for the rest of the UK), if they left the UK.[107]

In April 2017, a report for the European Parliament Committee on Constitutional Affairs was published to look at the implications on the UK's withdrawal from the European Union on Scotland, Wales and Gibraltar and their future relations with the EU. The report suggested that Scotland would be unlikely to be rejected as a member of the EU, should it become independent, noting that "not since de Gaulle’s veto on UK membership in the 1960s has a democratic country respecting the rule of law been refused admission." However, it affirmed that Scotland's independence would have to be accepted by the UK for Scotland to obtain EU membership: "There now seems to be a consensus that, were Scotland to become independent by legal means, it could join the [European] Union."[108]

Agriculture and fisheries

Under the UK's EU membership, Scottish farmers had been entitled to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, with fisheries receiving support from the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). With Brexit, such support was due to be ended with a new payment system introduced. The Scottish Government would be required to negotiate a new settlement on agricultural subsidy and fishing subsidies and regulations with the European Union upon seeking membership.[109]


In November 2016, Sturgeon confirmed to members of the Scottish Parliament that the Scottish Government was considering joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA), based on the model of Norway and some other countries, to "protect [Scotland's] place in the single market" of Europe even if the UK as a whole does leave in a "hard Brexit".[110] The SNP's 2017 General Election manifesto stated that "the Scottish Government [led by the SNP, had] published proposals that would keep Scotland in the Single Market, even as we left the EU."[111] Christophe Hillion, a Professor of European Law at the University of Oslo who was invited to deliver an expert opinion to the Scottish Parliament, said that while there is scepticism about UK accession to EFTA in Norway, Scotland is viewed much more positively and that the EFTA member states would likely welcome an independent Scotland as a member.[112]



In the 2014 referendum, the Scottish Government had advocated remaining in a currency union with rUK. This was refuted by the UK Government and opposition parties as a policy that no party would support in government.[113] The SNP's Sustainable Growth Commission developed a new party policy that, if in government, the SNP would aim to create a new Scottish currency after a future referendum. However, the currency would not be adopted until several key economic tests were satisfied, and until then an SNP government would have a policy of Sterlingisation of the Scottish economy and state.[114][115] This position was criticised by pro-independence think tank Common Weal who propose that Scotland should adopt a new currency as close to Day 1 of independence as possible, as a means to have full fiscal and monetary sovereignty.[116]

The move to establish a separate currency was criticised by City AM for bringing risk to those who hold debts in sterling but would receive income in the Scottish currency, which it said would be "practically every resident of the newly independent state".[117]


The GERS statistics compiled by the Scottish Government estimated a public spending deficit of £15.1 billion in Scotland during the 201920 fiscal year.[118] This equates to £1,941 per person[118][119] or 8.6% of Scotland's GDP in 201920, while the actual figure for the whole of the UK was 2.5%. The EU has set a target for member states to have annual deficits of no higher than 3%, and the highest deficit figure of any EU member state in 201920 was 3% (France).[120] The UK Government argues that this data proves that Scotland benefits from pooling and sharing of resources.[120]


Trade flows between Scotland and England are substantial,[121] and the rest of the UK (rUK) is Scotland's largest trading partner when good and services are considered together. More than 60 per cent of total Scottish exports go to other UK countries, more than the rest of the world combined. UK trade accounts for around £51.2 billion of Scottish exports, compared to £16.1 billion for EU trade.[122] In 2013, Scotland exported around three and a half times more to the rUK than to the rest of the EU,[123] while in 2015, that had increased to around four times more to the rUK than to the rest of the EU.[124] These figures refer to total trade (goods and services). The UK is by far the dominant market for services exports (around £28 billion, compared to total international trade of services of £12 billion). According to the Scottish Government, the total value of Scotland's exports of manufactured goods to countries outside the UK as of June 2020 was larger than the value of such trade within the UK, though the rUK is still Scotland's largest single export desitnation for manufactured goods.[125] Around 40% of goods imported into Scotland from outside of Scotland come from the EU.[75]:105

Due to Brexit, the UK has left the EU single market and customs union. Scotland has tariff- and quota-free trade between itself and EU member states under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, however it does not guarantee frictionless trade between the EU and UK. Scotland trades with the rest of the world under trade deals established by the UK Government. Ultimately, international trade is a reserved matter, and Holyrood does not have the powers over interntional trade. If it left the UK, it could rejoin the EU (or simply the EEA) and benefit from membership of the EU single market (along with which comes no tariffs, non-discrimination, mutual recongition and regulatory harmonisation).[75]:106110

Of significant concern is the future trade deal between Scotland and rUK. Trade currently domestic, within the framework of the UK internal market, would become international trade. The intra-market integration established by the UK Internal Market Act 2020 would no longer be in force, except by the agreement of the independent state. Scotland could join in a customs union with rUK, which would ensure against the establishment of customs controls between the two states, however this would undermine Scotland's autonomy, especially to join the EU or to conduct separate trading arrangments.[75]:111

The Anglo-Scottish border

In the event that Scotland becomes independent and joins the EU, the England-Scotland border would become an EU-UK border, and would operate under the same trading rules as the current EU-UK borders.[121] SNP MP Ian Blackford stated in 2020 that the EU-UK border created by the Brexit deal would "impose mountains of red tape, added costs and barriers to trade for Scottish businesses."[126] Anti-Brexit arguments that raise concerns about "border frictions" between the UK and EU translate over to the England-Scotland context. As a member of the EU, Scotland would not be part of the UK customs territory or part of any of its present trade deals made as part of the UK. The border checks may be significant. Wherever the UK is treated by the EU as a third country, there would need to be checks to ensure tariffs and VAT are paid, among other checks.[121] The pro-union organisation Scotland in Union has suggested that an independent Scotland within the EU would face trade barriers with a post-Brexit UK and face additional costs for re-entry to the EU.[123]

Nicola Sturgeon has stated that independence will create "all sorts of issues" and "practical difficulties" for trade and that a physical border with England would be created. On 23 April 2021, she said no one in the SNP wanted to see a border between Scotland and England.[127] A candidate running for the SNP during the 2021 elections in Galloway & West Dumfries stated that the new trade border could create jobs.[128]

Immigration and borders

The Common Travel Area

In 2014, it was expected that Scotland would continue to be an EU member state and would remain a part of the Common Travel Area, not the Schengen Zone, however there was disagreement about the scale of the issue of managing the borders, citizenship and immigration. However, the cirucmstances have somewhat changed as the UK is no longer an EU member state.[75]

Despite Brexit removing EU citizen-status from British citizens and removing Freedom of Movment, the Common Travel Area within the British Isles remains due to a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2019, including freedom of movement for British and Irish citizens within the area. Presumably a similar arrangement could be negotiated with an independent Scotland, however its operation may prove difficult should Scotland join the Schengen Zone. Both zones require a common external border and both are mutually exclusive.[75]

If Scotland remained in the CTA on the same terms as it does currently as part of the UK, Scottish citizens would have the right to travel and reside within the remainder of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man without the need for border controls, as well as continued access to voting rights, employment, social security, education and healthcare, although non-citizen residents of Scotland would not enjoy those rights in the other states. An independent Scotland in the CTA would retain full control over immigration control, however there may be complications due to Scotland's land border with England, which could become a route for illegal immigration, if Scotland and the remainder of the UK diverged on immigration rules.[75]

Therefore, an independent Scotland, if acceded into the European Union, would be required to negotiate an opt-out of the Schengen Area (in a similar manner to Ireland, and previously the UK) to continue to form part of the Common Travel Area (CTA) alongside Ireland and the rest of the UK. Without such an opt-out, passport controls may be required between Scotland and the CTA members.[129]

The SNP argues that the "current UK one-size-fits-all approach" does not work for Scotland, since Scotland has "unique circumstances" and that independence would allow Scotland to develop an immigration system "geared to meet Scotland's needs".[130] As of 2020, the current UK and Scottish governments continue to diverge on goals regarding immigration. The UK Government aims to introduce a points-based immigration system and a reduction in rights of future EEA migrants, while the Scottish Government aims for a policy that attracts more migration to Scotland, and in the event of joining the EU, a re-introduction of Freedom of Movement with the EEA.[75]


There is not currently any legally defined category of "Scottish citizenship". Citizenship laws in Scotland are currently managed at a UK level and Scottish people are generally speaking British citizens. In 2014, the suggestion was that British citizens resident in Scotland and Scottish-born British citizens would become Scottish citizens.[75]

In 2014, it was planned by the Scottish Government, in the event of independence, that Scottish citizens would be entitled to a Scottish passport; that the passport would be similar to the current UK passports (in design and layout); and that UK passports would continue to be valid until expiry date.[131]

Scottish citizens would continue to be able to hold a British passport; the UK has a history of tolerance towards plural nationality. It is not however guaranteed that all those in Scotland would continue to have the citizenship of the remaining UK state. A child born to a British parent in an independent Scotland would not be able to pass on their British citizenship to their children.[132]


Key issues of security and defence during the previous referendum campaign included the viability of a separate Scottish defence force, nuclear weapons and membership of NATO.[75]:190

In a 2020 interview, SNP Defence Spokesperson Stewart McDonald said that an independent Scotland would not be a "scaled-down version of the United Kingdom" when it comes to defence and security. He said the state's armed forces would reflect the nation's "maritime" status. He also stated that Scotland would seek to be a "good global citizen" and assist with international peacekeeping missions, as well as helping secure the North Atlantic.[133]

The SNP hope to remove the UK's nuclear deterrent, Trident, from Scotland in the event of independence. If the last referendum had returned a positive result, the UK Government planned to ensure special status, similar to the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus, for the Faslane base.[134] But the SNP said it would not negotiate with the UK on the matter. Any alternative solution to its current location at Falsane would come at huge cost and take decades, according to then-Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.[135] The Trident site is linked to at least 11,800 jobs in Argyll.[136] The Scottish Government has previously proposed, in the event of independence, that the site could be converted to a conventional naval base and the joint headquarters for the new armed forces.[75]:191

A study conducted by the LSE concluded that an independent Scotland would be able to provide for its own security, though not immediately following the proposed 18-month transition period after the referendum and not entirely replacing the extensive UK security apparatus. For example, an independent Scotland would likely lose a dedicated intelligence service, the advanced security capabilities provided by GCHQ and may lose intellengence sharing within the Five Eyes network. An independent Scotland may also lose high-level technical protections against intellectual property theft and economic advantages of the UK-wide foreign intelligence capabilities.[137]

Political response

See also, for comparison 2014 Scottish independence referendum#Responses

Responses by politicians to the possibility of a referendum have been both pro-referendum and anti-referendum. This generally tends to show independence supporters favouring a referendum, with those against independence being against one.

In support of a referendum

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie, on 13 March 2017 welcomed the confirmation from the First Minister that she is seeking a Section 30 Order from the UK Government to give the Scottish Parliament temporary power to hold an independence referendum.[138] This was re-affirmed in the Scottish Parliament on 29 January 2020 when the Greens voted with the government for a referendum to be held.

Scottish Socialist Party spokesman Colin Fox said the SSP would "work as hard as anyone to deliver a Yes vote for independence", but warned that making Scotland's EU membership a central and “overarching” issue of the debate would be “a risky strategy” and said it ran the risk of side-lining economic and social challenges facing Scots.[139][140]

The Scottish Independence Convention backs calls for a referendum. As a result, the Convention established Voices for Scotland as a civic campaign for independence based on conversations and discussions of what Scotland could look like.[141][142]

Alison Evison, President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Scottish Labour councillor for Aberdeenshire has stated her support for a referendum on independence, stating "We can strengthen it [democracy] by enabling the voice of Scotland to be heard through its formal processes and that must mean a referendum on independence"[143]

Former First Minister Alex Salmond has shown support for a further independence referendum, claiming it is inevitable, but predicting that only after the "humiliation" of Brexit becomes apparent, can a clear choice be made.[144]

Opposed to a referendum

British party leaders

In November 2019 during the lead up to the UK general election, leader of the Conservatives and Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that a Conservative government would not permit a second independence referendum, vowing to "protect our magnificent union".[145]

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said in March 2017 that a referendum would be "absolutely fine" and that "I don't think it's the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda." However, a spokesman for Corbyn later said: "Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament and would campaign against independence if one were held."[146]

Former Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron in March 2017, said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats stood for election last year on a platform to oppose a new independence referendum. That is what we will do."[147]

A spokesperson speaking on behalf of Cameron's successor as Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister, Theresa May, said in October 2016: "The prime minister and the government does not believe that there is a mandate for [a second referendum]. There was one only two years ago. There was an extremely high turnout and there was a resounding result in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK."[148]

Scottish party leaders

Former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw has stated his opposition to a referendum. He has said, "We will not support another independence referendum for a generation," and that the Scottish Government should focus on its domestic agenda. He has stated that 40 years is what he sees as the time needed between referendums.[149]

Former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is against an independence referendum. He has stated that Scotland should seek a new devolution settlement rather than becoming an independent country.[150] However, Leonard has said that UK Labour Party policy on independence and a referendum should be decided by the Scottish branch of the party rather than by the whole UK party.[151]

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said in March 2017, "We stood on a platform last May where we said we were against independence and against another independence referendum."[152] He also stated, "No independence referendum, either at Westminster or in the Scottish Parliament – that's the view of the Liberal Democrats."[153]

Opinion polling

Since the referendum in September 2014, opinion polls have asked how people would vote in a hypothetical second referendum. These polls have been carried out since six weeks after the referendum.[154] Twenty-five opinion polls were conducted in the year after the referendum, with seventeen of them having "No" to independence as the predominant answer, seven having "Yes", and one having an equal proportion of respondents for each opinion.[155] During the period of 18 September 2015 to 18 September 2016 a further twenty-four opinion polls were conducted, of which twenty had "No" as the predominant answer while four had "Yes" as the predominant answer.[156] From 18 September 2016 to 18 September 2017 twenty-six polls were conducted with twenty-five returning "No" as the most popular answer and only one returning "Yes" as the most popular answer.[157]

"No" continued to show a lead in opinion polls until July 2019, when one poll by Lord Ashcroft showed a narrow majority for "Yes".[158] Professor John Curtice said after this poll was released that there had recently been a swing towards "Yes", and that this was concentrated among people who had voted to "Remain" in the 2016 Brexit referendum.[158] This trend continued into January 2020, when three polls put "Yes" support at between 50% and 52% (excluding undecideds).[159] During the spring there was essentially equal support for the two options, however from June onwards polling showed a consistent lead for "Yes".[160] In October 2020, "Yes" received its highest ever rating when an Ipsos MORI poll for STV News showed 58% of respondents in support of independence.[160][161]

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