So, let’s imagine ourselves in the not-too-distant future. We’ve fought another independence referendum and, this time, we’ve won. Scotland shall be an independent country.

What now?

Back in the last campaign, we posited an 18 month negotiation phase to sort out things like the split of debt and assets and how we’d share government functions into a transition phase (a fair bit of civil service work is done in rUK for Scotland and quite a bit of social security and pension admin is, or was at the time, done in Scotland for England).

But 2014 was an eternity ago in political talk and the landscape of the independence campaign has changed significantly and so must our approach to it.

Common Weal’s new book, How to Start a New Country, doesn’t deal directly with the question of should we be an independent country but it does lay out a blueprint of what we need to do once we’ve decided that we should.

Some have questioned the need for this – after all, if we don’t get that Yes vote then all of this planning is for naught, isn’t it? But there’s an object lesson ongoing nearby which shows what happens when one clings too tightly to that stance. Look at Brexit. More than 18 months after the EU referendum and the decision for the UK to Leave the European Union, the UK Government is so far away from coming to even a semblance of agreement over basic strategy even within itself that the EU has simply gotten fed up waiting and has published its own draft treaty. I expect that the final version will soon be passed over to David Davis with a pen and a polite request to either sign or walk away. This is obviously the very opposite of a “Strong and Stable” negotiating position – at least, from the perspective of the UK.

So, assuming that Scotland doesn’t want to find itself in a similarly clueless position, we should start planning now so that we can get cracking as soon as we can.

In writing this book we also sought to take as future-policy neutral a position as we could on as much as we could, it’s certainly not our place to tell people what kind of Scotland we HAVE to be – though we certainly have views on what kind of Scotland we’d LIKE to be.

There are inevitable limits to this. One thing we don’t want to do is weaken our case for independence by giving the power of veto on our negotiations to the UK – this is what torpedoed our debate about currency last time; no matter the economics of a currency union, the UK could and did simply say “No” – so we’ve designed this timeline based on the stance that Scotland asks the UK for as little as possible and thus stands in as strong a negotiating position as it can. As it turns out though, there’s probably not much that we need anyway. Whilst Scotland’s “share” of the UK’s debts may stand at something like £150 billion, the value of the assets that we might need to set up a new country, including the costs of building up foreign reserves for a new currency and equipping a new defence force, might only stand at about £25 billion. So when the rUK comes round saying again that if we don’t take the UK’s debt then we don’t get any assets we might well say “Fine. We’ll just buy the stuff we need ourselves.”

Incidentally, the fact that the rUK requires recognition as the “continuing state” of the former UK so that it can keep its permanent seat on the UN Security Council – much as Russia upon the demise of the USSR – may well prove to be the deciding factor in it laying claim to all of the UK’s debts and mobile assets just as it did in 2014.

How to Start a New Country is the culmination of our 18 month long White Paper Project and, as such, covers everything from transition costs, through finding the people with the skills we need, building the infrastructure, government departments and IT systems required in a 21st century nation-state, out to securing the foundations of our democracy via a written constitution and a fair, modern tax system.

We’re not downplaying the challenge of all of this. Many of these jobs will be hard work. Some might even be quite difficult – although that’s rarely stopped other independent countries from doing them. We do, however, believe that they’ll be worth doing and that as many people will find the act of doing them inspiring as there will be those who see those tasks as daunting. Independence offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do some of these things and to do them right – once a state is running and inertia sets in, change becomes harder. Imagine the UK deciding to tear up its entire tax code and starting from scratch. Even if the desire was there, the political will simply couldn’t be. But if we plan now. If we lay out the groundwork before the task is thrust upon us, we can embrace the change and transform a new country and an entire nation of people.


How to Start a New Country is being published in two formats. The full version is available for £10 and a shorter, summarised version for £5. A package of both books can be purchased for £12. Copies can be pre-ordered on the CommonWeal shop and will ship by 8 March.