Scotland politics

Scotland a year on from the referendum

As the first anniversary of the Scottish independence referendum approaches, the BBC's Stuart Nicolson looks at what has happened since - and what might happen next.


What happened after the referendum?

Image copyright PA

As soon as it became apparent that Scotland had voted against independence by 55% to 45% in the referendum on 18 September 2014, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would be setting up a cross-party commission headed by Lord Smith of Kelvin to examine what further powers could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Cameron said this would fulfil "the Vow" - a pledge to give Scotland more powers which he had made along with Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg just two days before the referendum.

The commission met for the first time on 22 October, and published a series of recommendations on 27 November. Mr Cameron, along with the leaders of the other two main UK parties, immediately pledged to implement the proposals after May's general election.

The election saw Mr Cameron's Conservatives win an overall majority in the House of Commons - but the pro-independence SNP, which saw its membership surge to about 110,000 after the referendum, won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland, leaving Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with just one each.

In the first Queen's Speech of the new parliament, the Conservative government introduced a Scotland Bill, which it said would turn the Smith Agreement into legislation. The bill is currently working its way through the usual parliamentary process before becoming law.


So what powers are heading to the Scottish Parliament?

Media captionThe Queen delivered her speech in the House of Lords

Assuming the Scotland Bill receives parliamentary approval, it will give the Scottish Parliament new powers which will include:

  • setting income tax rates and bands
  • controlling a proportion of VAT raised in Scotland
  • full control of air passenger duty
  • powers over certain aspects of welfare and housing-related benefits and to make discretionary welfare payments
  • managing the assets of the Crown Estate

The Scottish Parliament has already been given the power to extend voting to 16 and 17-year-olds in time for the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections.

These are in addition to the more limited powers set out in the Scotland Act 2012, which included giving Holyrood the ability to raise or lower income tax by 10p in the pound. This will come into force in April of next year - ahead of the more substantial powers over income tax included in the Scotland Bill, which are expected to be introduced in 2018.


Is everyone happy with the proposals?

Media captionJohn Swinney says the Smith Commission proposals will not give Holyrood sufficient welfare and job creation powers

In a word, no. The SNP's representatives on the Smith Commission - John Swinney and Linda Fabiani - signed the final agreement, but immediately made it clear they did not think it went nearly far enough.

The party has argued for Scotland to be given much greater powers, including full control over National Insurance, the minimum wage, Corporation Tax, welfare and employment and trade union law in addition to those outlined in the Smith document.

The SNP also sought to amend the Scotland Bill to include a provision which would have allowed the Scottish Parliament to start moving towards Full Fiscal Autonomy at a time of its choosing. This would essentially have given MSPs control over everything except defence and foreign affairs, but the proposal was voted down by MPs from other parties.

However, it is not just independence supporters who are unhappy, with several prominent pro-Union politicians arguing that the Smith Commission process was rushed through without the wider implications being fully considered.

Ahead of the general election, former prime minister Gordon Brown argued that the Smith proposals were not strong enough, and called for a "fairer" and "more radical" solution that would help "advance social justice" in Scotland.

Scottish Labour said it wanted Holyrood to also have the power to top up and vary the UK's state pension, unemployment and child benefit, as well as the full devolution of housing benefit as part of a package Mr Brown described as the "Vow Plus".

Lord McConnell, a Labour peer and former Scottish first minister, described the Smith Commission as a "shambles" and said the UK instead needed a constitutional convention to tackle the "disillusionment with the way the country is governed", adding that feelings ran "deeper than just what happened in Scotland".

And Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former Conservative secretary of state for Scotland, has also called for a Royal Commission to consider giving more powers to all parts of the UK.

But both Mr Cameron and Scottish Secretary David Mundell have insisted the Smith proposals were the "right package" for the country.


Has the Scottish government said how it would use the new powers?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she is in favour of a 50% top rate of income tax - but any changes are unlikely to be made until 2018 at the earliest

The first real indication of how the new devolved powers might be used came at the start of this month, when the Scottish government published its annual Programme for Government. It said that, assuming the SNP was still in power after next May's Holyrood election, it would begin to reduce air passenger duty in 2018 with the aim of cutting it by 50% by the end of the next parliament.

The document also said the Scottish government would:

  • Consult on a Social Security Bill to put in place the essential infrastructure for a new Scottish social security system.
  • Make provision for the earliest possible abolition of the bedroom tax in Scotland.
  • Put in place a replacement for the DWP's Work Programme, with a new system in place by 1 April 2017.

Ms Sturgeon has previously indicated that she supports the introduction of a 50% top rate of income tax as part of a "more progressive" income tax regime for Scotland.

But she appears to have ruled out this happening next year, when Holyrood gets limited income tax varying powers under the Scotland Act 2012, as any increase in the top rate would also need to be applied across all of the other bands.

That means the earliest the Scottish government is likely to make any major changes to income tax rates would be 2018, when the wider powers contained in the Scotland Bill are expected to come into force.


Is another independence referendum inevitable?

Image caption Many independence supporters want another referendum as soon as possible - but there is less enthusiasm among those who want Scotland to remain part of the UK

The Scottish government's White Paper on independence, which was published ahead of last year's referendum, stated that it would be a "once in a generation opportunity to follow a different path" - a line that was repeated by both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon during the campaign.

But both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond have since said that they believe there will be another referendum, and that Scotland will become independent in their lifetime.

Ms Sturgeon was widely perceived to be taking a more cautious approach to the issue than her predecessor, and has repeatedly insisted it will be for the "people of Scotland", rather than politicians, to decide if and when there is a second vote.

The SNP leadership, which is still scarred by the memories of 19 September and knows it cannot afford to lose for a second time, is unlikely to want another referendum until is believes it is all but certain to win, and win fairly convincingly.

Polls published by Ipsos Mori and TNS earlier this month put support for independence at 55% and 53% respectively once "don't knows" were excluded.

The Ipsos Mori poll also suggested that SNP supporters overwhelmingly support another referendum being held in the next five years, while supporters of the other main parties are overwhelmingly opposed.

New polls by YouGov and Panelbase published over the weekend put support for independence at 48% and 47% respectively - though the latter also found 67% thought it would happen within the next 30 years.

Ms Sturgeon believes a dramatic shift in the UK's political landscape, such as a vote for the UK to leave the EU, could be the catalyst she needs to hold and win a second referendum.

But she was facing the possibility of coming under pressure from within her own party, particularly from some of its tens of thousands of new members, for a commitment to another referendum to be included in the SNP manifesto ahead of next May's Scottish Parliament election.

In a bit to pre-empt that, she has announced that the manifesto will "set out what we consider are the circumstances and the timescale on which a second referendum might be appropriate".

She said it would then be for "people in Scotland, whether it is in this election or in future elections, to decide whether they want to vote for our manifesto and then if there is in the future another independence referendum."


What's happening in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Media captionDavid Cameron: ''Together we can make Great Britain greater still"

After the independence referendum, Mr Cameron made a speech outside No 10 Downing Street in which he said the UK needed, not only a new deal for Scotland, but for the "millions of voices in England" to be heard. So, what has happened since September last year?

  • ENGLAND - Before the election, Mr Cameron tasked the then Leader of the Commons William Hague to draw up plans enabling only English MPs to vote on English matters. During the election campaign, Mr Cameron pledged that an English rate of income tax would feature in the first budget of a new Conservative government. This Queen's Speech outlined that changes would be made to the standing orders of the House of Commons - basically the rules that govern the way laws are passed - ensuring that only MPs representing English constituencies could vote on legislation affecting England alone.
  • WALES - The new government's programme details further devolution of powers to Wales, including a new reserved powers model to clarify the division of powers between the Welsh Assembly and parliament. The assembly will also be given more powers over energy, transport and local government elections in Wales.
  • NORTHERN IRELAND - Devolution of powers has been suspended and reinstated several times since its Assembly was created following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, with the devolved administration again being thrown into crisis last week with the resignation of First Minister Peter Robinson and all but one of his cabinet ministers. The Assembly has control over areas such as agriculture, education, health and social services, economic development and the environment and in March 2010 an agreement was passed to transfer powers of justice and policing. Although there is no big devolved power heading to Northern Ireland, a Bill is in the pipeline which will provide for full and independent investigations into "unsolved Troubles-related deaths".