Yesterday’s poll suggesting that the ‘Yes’ campaign is edging ahead of the ‘Nos’ has probably been blown out of proportion by the media, and I remain unconvinced that the polls reflect what will happen on the day (one should never underestimate the power of apathy and fear). However, it is becoming very evident that people in England are far more frightened now by the prospect of Scottish independence than people in Scotland are. Let us suppose for a moment that the ‘Yes’ campaign does succeed – in that case, my principal worry would be that Scotland’s political system will not be fit-for-purpose for an independent state. The SNP’s vision of Scotland’s future constitution must be challenged by other political parties, which means that Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives must get over their post-referendum hangovers as quickly as possible and engage in a robust debate on the future of an independent Scotland. Given the intransigence of the unionists, I cannot see this happening: I anticipate that the unionist parties will end up in denial about the reality of independence, and will try to sabotage the transition process by various legal and constitutional means.
The trouble with this is that the SNP will then enjoy free-rein to impose its particular vision of independence on Scotland. Immediately after a pro-independence vote, the unionist parties must reconstitute themselves as parties distinct from their Westminster counterparts, offering a distinct vision for Scotland. I am deeply concerned that the SNP thinks that the present Scottish Parliament can simply step into the role of a sovereign legislature, something it was not designed to be. I am even more troubled by the idea that the present collection of MSPs, elected to the devolved Scottish Parliament, will simply become the legislators of a sovereign state. Inevitably, in spite of the extensive powers already devolved to the Scottish Parliament, Scottish electors still take elections to that Parliament less seriously than they take a General Election. After independence, a new Scottish Parliament needs to be created from scratch – preferably a bicameral one with some sort of Senate. Opposition parties will need to challenge the idea that Scotland needs a separate armed forces and civil service. Most importantly, they will need to challenge the premise of the SNP’s draft constitution that the people of Scotland, and not the Crown, is sovereign.
This latter point is crucial, because if the SNP’s constitutional proposal is accepted, Scotland will be profoundly separated from the common constitutional doctrine that binds together the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other realms, where the Queen is sovereign in her own right. If the SNP manages to assert the sovereignty of the Scottish people, the concept of the ‘British Crown’, which long pre-dates the Union of 1707, will be broken. Alex Salmond is regularly described pejoratively by the ‘No’ campaign as a ‘separatist’ – and he is, but not because he wants an independent Scotland. Independence is no more than what Scotland deserves, but the separation of Scotland from the British Crown by the assertion of a novel notion of sovereignty is an existential threat to the Union of Crowns and the concept of monarchy itself. The notion that Salmond is advocating was never accepted by James VI and his legitimate successors, who asserted the Crown’s undoubted and unqualified sovereignty over the Three Kingdoms – and all right-thinking people in Scotland must now assert it again.