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What happens after a YES vote in #indyref2?

What happens after a YES vote in #indyref2? – the question of Holyrood Government status, by Peter Curran.


This analysis is predicated on two assumptions –
1. That an SNP-led independence-supporting government is elected on May 6th
2. That that government calls a referendum – UK-sanctioned or not – at some point during its term of office a referendum that delivers a simple majority of 51% or above of the voting electorate for YES.

There are clearly many other possible scenarios that could include variants on achieving independence without a referendum, some with a legal action/validation base, others on a spectrum of defiance, mass protests, civil disobedience etc. culminating in a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). These are beyond the scope of my analysis, but aspects of it would undoubtedly still be relevant in any scenario in which Scotland was de facto independent and was entering negotiations on terms.


Scotland doesn’t become independent the day after a Yes vote in a referendum – devolved government continues until Westminster reaction is determined, and if it’s reluctant acceptance, then an extended and complex negotiation starts.

(If the UK rejects the referendum result, then a complex dynamic begins to unfold that’s well beyond the scope of this limited analysis – see Preamble above.)
The 2013-2014 Referendum campaign was run on the largely unchallenged assumption that after a YES vote, the SNP Holyrood devolved government would run its full term from September 19th 2014 until May 2016, a period of just under 18 months.

It was no accident (in my view) that the SNP estimate of the time necessary to negotiate and finalise the independence settlement was also 18 months, because this led to the logical assumption that the SNP would not only conduct the negotiations, but would, of necessity, have to continue in government on an interim basis – unspecified – until a new fully independent Scottish government could be elected: this also embraced the assumption that in the event that negotiations were not concluded by early May 2016, there could be no election for a new government, since this would disrupt the continuity of the negotiations.
Among the matters not reflected on – or expediently ignored – was the fact that the UK General election of 2015 could result in a change of UK Government eight months into the independence negotiations – a potentially seismic event for the negotiating climate.

The Holyrood elections taking place on May 6th 2021 will be pivotal and crucial for independence, and the election of an SNP-led government fully committed to independence and a referendum is vital – and is the only viable route to independence available at this time.

The formal campaign for that election is underway. It therefore seems necessary to consider the key questions of continuity of government and the question of who will conduct the negotiations after a YES vote, for the pertinent reason that it will determine what can – and must – be said in the campaign about the nature of the new independent Scotland and the negotiating issues that flow from that policy intent.

Key Questions

After a YES vote, but before the reactions of Westminster have been tested, and before negotiations are entered into to determine the terms and mechanics of separation of powers and allocation of resources, etc. should the existing May 6th-elected Holyrood government consider itself the de facto transitional government of a Scotland that had voted for independence?
What are the implications after negotiations have been concluded of a newly elected fully independent Scottish government and when would that happen?
Let’s examine the options in answering each question more closely –


After a YES vote, but before the reactions of Westminster have been tested – and before negotiations are entered into to determine the terms and mechanics of separation of powers and allocation of resources, etc. – should the existing May 6th-elected Holyrood government consider itself the de facto transitional government of a Scotland that had voted for independence?

Option One

There is probably little doubt that the 2021 SNP Government would prefer to define themselves as the de facto transitional government – the sitting government, democratically elected with its full term to run.
From a short-term political self-interest standpoint that would seem a no-brainer for SNP, but considered objectively, it can be argued that any other option would be risky, potentially leading to the unionist opposition questioning the mandate for indyref2 implicit in a new Holyrood election. The Holyrood Opposition parties might well contest such a decision, if made unilaterally by the sitting SNP government.

Option Two

The alternative to the above is that, following the YES vote, the 2021-elected devolved government calls an election at the earliest possible date to elect a new devolved government to negotiate independence terms with UK. Calling such an election would be an act of the Parliament after consultation with all parties, and the 2021 government would only call providing there was an agreement that whatever the political shape of the newly-elected Scottish government, it would respect the referendum result and pursue independence.
Failing such agreement, the SNP Government would revert to Option One.


What are the implications after negotiations have been concluded of a newly elected fully independent Scottish government and when would that happen?


There would not be immediate election of an Independent Scottish Parliament.
The devolved SNP-led Scottish Government that led the negotiations to their succesful outcome would declare itself the de facto interim independent Scottish Government and would continue in that role throughout the process of implementing all the complex aspects of separating from the UK – legal, administrative, civil service, borders, defence, armed forces, nuclear weapons and bases, economic and social aspect and the nature of the future trading, diplomatic and defence relationship of Independent Scotland with r-UK.
It is virtually certain that Option One would be contested by the Opposition parties and perhaps by the Greens and and other indy-committed MSPs and parties, since it would mean that an SNP-led Government would remain in goverment until implementation of the independence agreement terms, a process that could take years.


The devolved SNP-led Scottish Government that led the negotiations to their succesful outcome would call an election for the First Independent Scottish Holyrood government as soon as possible.
This option obviates challenges to the legitimacy of the continuance of the 2021 elected devolved government by other parties, but runs the obvious risk – a high one if the YES referendum vote was a narrow majority – that the unionist Opposition parties would try to undo the referendum outcome. The interim Government would have to require a hard agreement with them that the referendum result and negotiated agreement were both inviolable.

If this option was implemented and the composition of the Holyrood Government changed radically after the election, a residual risk would remain, with a new government trying either to unwind the referendum result and change key aspects of the independence agreement with rUK, or elements of that agreement, e.g. on currency, Europe, borders.
I believe such a risk would be low.


The above question may well have been addressed, or at least considered by the SNP and Greens and by the Opposition Parties. They have almost certainly been considered by other branches of the YES Movement. But they have not, to my knowledge, led to a public statement of intent by SNP.
My view is that the questions will inevitably arise sooner rather than later, and will be hotly debated. Let’s try for some clarification now, ideally in the campaign and before the election.

Comments (15)

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  1. Blair Breton says:

    Could call a national unity of parties to join up. If Tories refuse then unity of others.

  2. Ann Rayner says:

    My ideal scenario, whch has been suggested by others as a possible route to Independence, is that the MPs in Westminster should be recalled, plus possibly those MEPs who are not already back in politics (such as Heather Anderson and Christian Allard), to form a Scottish Grand Committee.
    This Committee would then vote on whether Scotland should leave the Union, and would declare the end of the Union if the vote is Yes.
    These former MPs and MEPs could then form the basis of the group negotiating with London possibly with input from experts on, for example, currency, foreign affairs, consitutional matters etc. Though the newly elected Holyrood government would expect to continue with the ‘day job’ of continuing to run the country, obviously this would not exclude the First Minister and MSOs having an input into these negotiations.
    Following these, by which time people would know what kind of newly independent Scotland they were voting for, a referendum could be called to ratify the secession from the UK but under our control, our franchise and rules.

  3. Pub Bore says:

    Seems an awfie faff.

    In the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, then, assuming the Scottish government has managed to get all the necessary infrastructure in place (if it hasn’t, there might have to be a transition period), all that needs to happen is that the UK government transfers the functions it still retains in respect of Scotland to the Scottish government and lets the latter get on with it, with the Scottish parliament monitoring the latter in its performance of those functions.

    There’s no need for a new parliament to be specially elected; it will simply be a matter of transferring powers between executives, leaving the Scottish government independent of the UK one.

    The key thing is to have the bureaucracy in place.

    1. Moridura says:

      Gee, thanks – I never realised it was that simple !

      1. Pub Bore says:

        Well, it won’t be that simple, because the parties involved in the process will each be pursuing its own ideological agenda.

        ‘Independence’ isn’t really about independence; it’s about remaking ‘Scotland’ in obedience to whichever value system, from among the many competing systems on offer, one buys into. Nobody wants independence for its own sake; everyone who wants it wants it because they hope that, by decreasing the size of the pond, it will increase their chances of acquiring the power they need to make Scotland ‘a better place’ according to their values.

        F*ck*ng bourgeois idealists! Colonial scum, the lot of them!

  4. David B says:

    If the ‘Yes’ majority is so slim and ephemeral that it might be overturned at the very next election then there are deeper questions that need to be asked.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      If a future Scottish parliament resolved that we should revive the UK, then the Scottish government would be obliged to seek to negotiate the terms and conditions of such an arrangement; a treaty of union, if you will. It would be the same sort of process the Scottish government would have to follow if a future Scottish parliament resolved that we should join the EU. I don’t see the problem.

      If the UK parliament was wise, it would make it a condition of the Scottish government’s independence from the UK government that the Scottish parliament couldn’t surrender back that independence for at least a generation.

      Of course, as more and more of our civic life becomes virtual, the governance of our public affairs and our participation therein could become less delimited by strict geographical boundaries. Then each of us could choose to which government jurisdiction s/he’s subject – a bit like the people could back in the days of the Icelandic þjóðveldið. Not that that’s ever going to happen!

    2. Elections wouldn’t overturn an independence referendum.

      1. Pub Bore says:

        But surely the hope is that the forthcoming elections will overturn – or at least trump – the result of the last independence referendum.

        1. They will re-assert an existing mandate for a referendum. After a referendum elections are to a sovereign parliament in an independent Scotland?

          1. David B says:

            Bella, I’m a wee bit confused. I thought one of the scenarios in the article was that the next Holyrood elections could return a government (or a majority opposition) that was opposed either to independence per se, or to the particular settlement negotiated by the SNP. If that does become the case it won’t be enough to say “there was a referendum, get over it”.

            I also think one of the biggest barriers for ‘soft no’ voters switching to ‘yes’ is the fear that they’d be giving the SNP a blank cheque to negotiate whatever form of independence they want, however harmful or internally incoherent. I’d be talking about citizens assemblies and a confirmatory referendum rather than extending parliamentary terms until everything is done and dusted. Anyone who’s in favour of self-determination shouldn’t fear those processes.

          2. Pub Bore says:

            Right enough. I imagine a third referendum would need to be called and won by any future pro-union Scottish parliament in order to overturn the result of a second one.

  5. Graham Ennis says:

    I have strong feelings that we would be on the edge of a political cliff if there was a yes vote.
    the London regime would first of all do all it could to cheat, lie, and steal votes, and do other de-stabilising things
    to the Country. Any idea of accepting that a London Goverment is going to obey international law, is insane.
    Their calculation, like that of the Spanish Goverment, would be that they could suppress Scotish freedom using Spanish tactics.
    The inclination would be to use those tactics, to gain, at the very least, some space for negoiating a sort of “Irish Free State”, as they
    did in Ireland. With demands, of course, of retention of military facilities, strategic nuclear weapons storage, etc etc.
    It too 30 years to end the recent Irish war. They fought on until the bitter end, having a sort of colonial war against the Irish,
    Until new weapons and tactics meant that to continue would lead to serious mainland casualities.
    The experience of many colonies is that they had to fight hard for freedom, and that force was always the ultimate negotiating tactic.
    At the very least, this has got to be considered in the policies regarding Independence.
    The Americans would have the ultimate say, and they would be as bad as the French were in Algeria.
    Their interest would be strategic and also their own self interest.
    This is not to discourage independence, but to realise it is not going to be easy.
    Contingency plans have to be made. Pretending that no violence would or could take place,
    is a serious business. A careful and discreet discussion has to be made in Scotland, on this issue.
    Its pointless to go the Catalan route, and then find that the entire Scottish Goverment is locked up and
    facing decades in Prison, that a quisling goverment is in place and that this is what the future could be like.
    I may be brutal in saying this, but everything needs to be taken into acount, before there is even a basic plan for negotiations.
    If the London Goverment refuses to nehtiate, and uses repression of the Scottish Goverment, what then?
    This would inevitably lead to a “Long insurection ” and all the horrors of Ulster.
    The key point to make to london is that if they do not go for a settlement the alternative is political violence,
    not because the Scottish Goverment wants it, but that it would immediatly result in the spontaneous appearance
    of violence, from a sector of the population that absolutely not accept the situation, and was beyond Scottish Govermental control.
    Beleive me, as an irish citizen, who has read deeply and carefully into what happens in these circumstances, a Scottish Goverment,
    if it was not suppressed by the UK, would become largley irrelevant.
    Sadly, Mao’s dictum that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, would hold true.
    Whoever leads the Goverment then can say, bluntly, that they have no control over events, and shut themselves down,
    and go into exile in Dublin. (where they would get support. )
    Awful, is’nt it.
    But these are raw truths. They have faced, after May, and a strong debate started.
    From day one of the elected Edinburgh Goverment, the clock starts running.
    After six months, if all of this is not sorted out, then time will expire for them to do a peaceful transfer.
    Events, and history, will take over.
    Saor Alba!

  6. Graham Ennis says:

    Remember that Mao said that “Power comes out of the barrell of a Gun.”
    If any settlement with London resulted in a very weak “Scottish free State”
    like that was the result in Ireland, in 1921, then it would split the nationalist movement.
    Paradoxicly, this gives an SNP goverment a considerable leverage in negotiations. as to
    quote the Last French King: “Apre Moi, Le Deluge”. Better the demon you hate, than the
    unknown demon that you would hate a great deal more.
    Its great territory for Sabre rattling, parades, rallies, and obscurely phrased demands for
    “Total independence”. I think this is called “Psy-ops”. The fear that can be induced in a london Goverment
    is massive. Also the SNP could formally ask the American Goverment to be an arbiter, with the spectre
    of zero bases, neutral Scotland leaving a huge hole in the defences opf nato. Likewise thew United Nations.
    Plus asking the EU to support them. Etc etc. This is known as assembling your big guns, before a battle.
    Comments welcome. there are just the few months after May elections, to sort all this out.
    My personal recommmendation is to put the fear of God into london, and lots of “Co-Intel-Prop. ”
    This is a game of Wolves, with the Scottish Government desperately short of Wolves. So there is a rapid need to create some, after the May vote.

  7. Scott Mckinlay says:

    So much for one independence referendum in a generation. People are investing their future in a woman who buckled under questioning on the stand, plagiarism and still can’t answer the same questions that salmond failed to. Brexit has been a disaster and we’re still to reep the consequences of it. Brussels issued a statement that Scotland wouldn’t be able to opt back into the EU . So where will the trade embargo come from what currency will we be using , what about the overall deficit that the past recession has us still paying off . Nicola sturgeon has one goal to get her way like a toddler stamping their feet in a toy shop because she can’t get what she wants . I guarantee if she gets her way she’ll cash in her 6 figure salary retire and bail out whilst we pick up the pieces .

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