An in-depth plan on how to set up an independent Scotland is about to be published in a brand new book. Here, we run our third extract from the Common Weal project:

Part Three, Independence: The Strategy


THE contents of this book are based on a solid strategy and that strategy will help to guide the work and how things are designed. These are the assumptions that underpin that strategy:


IT would be possible to attempt to create an ‘express’ form of Scottish independence, to minimise the transition period and move as quickly as possible to independence day. This will be emotionally attractive to many people, but it comes at a cost. The only way to move rapidly to a Scottish state is to build in a greater degree of dependence at the start. We can share systems with the remainder of the UK (to be referred to as rUK) and that will save us time setting up those systems for ourselves. But this has two consequences.

EXTRACT: How To Start a New Country ... the timeline for an independent Scotland (Part Two)

First, Scotland will begin as an independent country with substantial restrictions on what the nation can do. Each shared system will be dominated by the country which ‘owns’ the system (primarily rUK) and so it will not be possible to deviate too far from the policies of that country. It places a great restriction on the country, and so inevitably will result in demands to become more autonomous. This means that the early years and possibly decades of independence could be bogged down as the Scottish Government has to unpick all the sharing agreements it has entered into – and it may not be possible to change these unilaterally. It would be a new nation with its hands tied.

But there is a second important reason why a higher degree of dependence on rUK is harmful to Scotland’s move to independence – the impact on negotiations. Scotland will have to negotiate some contentious issues with rUK and inevitably the two sides will have different interests. In a negotiation, the side which needs more out of the negotiation is always in the weaker position. The more Scotland needs from rUK (such as sharing agreements without which Scottish independence isn’t viable), the easier it becomes for rUK to extract potentially painful concessions from Scotland. The more we need, the less we get.

Impatience will not make Scotland more independent – quite the opposite. So a timescale must be set which enables us to enact an independence strategy successfully. This requires us to look at all the individual tasks and look at which will take longest. Some simply can’t be completed until after independence (if Scotland wishes to rejoin the European Union, it cannot formally apply until it is a fully independent nation state) and others are long-term projects (building up the full capacity of the armed forces will take time). Of the systems which must be in place for independence day, the one which will take the longest time is introducing a new currency.

Robin McAlpine: We must be prepared to systematically build an independent Scotland that works in all areas

So if enough time is allowed to get a currency set up properly, the other essential tasks are capable of being completed within that timescale. And since (with solid preparation) a currency can be implemented in three years, that is the transition timescale which has been accepted as the basis for all of this work.


THIS therefore strongly suggests a maximalist approach to Scottish independence, that we are as self-reliant as is reasonably possible from day one. It means that the things that would be expected of a modern nation are fully functioning on independence day. A nation needs to collect all its taxes and pay all its wages and benefits, manage its borders, negotiate its foreign relations and so on. The strategy is based on having all of these things in place and fully working by independence day.

This does not mean that Scotland would behave in an ‘isolationist’ way or not seek to be involved in many international partnerships. What it means is that Scotland can then choose what it wants to enter into partnership with and not be forced to form partnerships to be able to function. All nations voluntarily give up elements of their sovereignty when they create trade deals or sign international treaties. This strategy does not see Scotland as any different; only that we should broadly seek to develop full sovereignty and then decide which bits we wish to give away through collaboration and agreement.

So the strategy is based on examining all the ‘moving parts’ of a modern nation state, identifying which ones are missing in Scotland – and fully replacing them.


THIS means there is a lot of work to do, and that it must be done properly. That is not going to be achieved through one small team managing and controlling everything. It can only be achieved if a proper work programme is put in place with many individual teams working in parallel to get all the tasks completed – but in a co-ordinated way.

So this strategy is based on the assumption that Scotland must create the capacity to undertake a good many tasks at the same time, that this capacity must be in place very quickly after a vote for independence and that it is carefully co-ordinated and project-managed to ensure that it is all completed in the three-year timescale. This is not capacity which is currently sitting around somewhere in Scotland, twiddling its thumbs. It means that we need the infrastructure to build the infrastructure.


THERE are a small number of tasks which involve a substantial amount of procurement and many of them require a substantial amount of investment. But the new Scotland is not built out of high-grade steel and it is not powered by rare elements. The vast majority of what will make the set-up process successful is the quality of the people doing the work; by far the most important inputs are skills and knowledge. The strategy is based much less on trying to answer the fine detail of every question or intricately designing complex systems and much more on providing clear, unambiguous guidelines on what is to be done and then finding and recruiting the best possible people to do it. Achieving Scottish independence will be a people-powered job.


IN turn, the reason for building this new Scotland is also people – Scotland’s citizens and the many people from around the world who live here or visit us. Big corporations (usually consultancy companies like the big four accountancy firms) would probably be quite happy to bid for an outsourced contract to build a new country. More often than not, that is how even governments in Scotland go about procuring big new projects. However, as we have seen over and over again, it is inevitable that the commercial interests of the corporation will clash with the interests of the Scottish public. And, over and over again, we have seen how it is the public which loses out.

There may be some superficial attractiveness in simply winning an independence vote and celebrating while the contracts to build it are all handed to Edinburgh financiers. This would be a disaster. Scotland must be built by and for all of Scotland. Every step of the process must be transparent and democratically accountable.


THE forces which have fought for (and will eventually win) Scottish independence have quite strongly tended to the progressive side of the political spectrum, and for many, creating a more progressive future is often a driving factor. In turn, Scotland of course has a political party which has led independence campaigns since the 1950s. The likelihood is this party will continue after independence and that the broad political will of the Scottish electorate will remain on the progressive half of the political spectrum.

However, that is not for those who create a new nation state to decide; the decision of what kind of country to become is one purely for the people of Scotland through democratic elections. Pre-empting that decision by building the infrastructure of a country in a way designed to deliver only one outcome is simply not a fair or just way to proceed. The new Scotland must be ready to work for whatever kind of government is elected.

In addition, we must be clear that no-one has a mandate to set up a new Scotland. No political party has set out detailed proposals for how a new country will be structured that have been put to the electorate and then supported by a majority. So no party has a right unilaterally to start to build a new country in their own image. Scotland must accommodate many different views of our future in its design and set-up; its institutions must be capable of delivering more than one kind of political agenda.

These principles are more difficult to enact than might at first appear to be the case. In producing new systems (such as a tax collection system or a system to manage immigration), a default position might be to create as close as possible a replica of the status quo. However, this is quite clearly not a neutral stance since they have variously been designed over different periods to deliver different political agendas, and those legacies are deeply engrained in the status quo. Adopting the UK tax system in a status-quo manner would then leave most incoming governments a monumental job of unpicking that system to remove its overtly ideological aspects.

Just as important in achieving a state capable of ‘many futures’ is to ensure that its starting systems are as fit for purpose as is possible. Here, replicating the UK systems on a like-for-like basis is almost impossible to justify. It is a close to unanimous view that, if you were going to create a tax code for the UK from scratch, you would not replicate what is there. It is a tangled mess and, for Scotland, would be a poor foundation for whatever was to come next.

And of course, this is all complicated by the fact that there are winners and losers when systems are changed, and the process of creating a new Scottish state must take care not to make decisions which will create large wins and large losses – those kinds of decisions must be preceded by democratic elections to provide a mandate.

These are very difficult principles to reconcile. The approach taken has been roughly to try to create a broad design for systems which makes them as fit for 21st-century purpose as is possible and which provide the firmest possible foundation for whatever government is to use them, but which avoid substantial policy changes or policy choices which prevent or make difficult other future policy decisions.

The aim is to create good systems which work well and which are ready to evolve quickly or slowly, in one direction or another, as the people choose – but without making those choices for them before they have a say. As a shorthand, we have tried to produce ‘future neutral’ approaches which are the right foundation but do not imply any single future.


SETTING up a country is a complex task, and setting a clear strategy such as this is an important way to navigate that complexity. But, as with all complex tasks, preparation is essential. Things take time; nothing ‘just happens’. If we do not have a proper negotiating strategy, we must either wait until we do or we can expect to be out-negotiated. If we have not recruited the right personnel we must wait until we do – or have jobs undertaken by the wrong personnel. If we make promises that we have not fully thought through, we will then be stuck trying to work out how to do what we promised we’d do rather than doing it.

Gaining a pro-independence majority at the 2011 Scottish elections was a surprise. There was then a very tight window to deliver a referendum. There was very little time for preparation. Those excuses no longer exist; if Scotland wishes to become a successful nation state in a short time frame (three years), it must be prepared in advance. If the pieces are not in place by the time of a vote, we can reasonably expect to add at least a year to the transition time period – and possibly more.


IT is clear there is a lot to do and it is clear that serious investment will be needed to get it done. If this were a business start-up, the dream start would be to receive a major injection of investment as it is building up. Unfortunately for most start-ups, any investment that can be brought in goes back out almost immediately as the company invests to grow. Thankfully, Scotland is a nation rather than a start-up business.

This means that the investment that it makes through raising funding to complete all the necessary tasks is also (potentially, at least) a major investment in itself. As the National Commission is raising finance through issuing debt to fund the creation of a new state, most (if not quite all) of that money can be spent in Scotland. We can source our IT expertise from many Scottish companies rather than outsourcing it to a multinational corporation. The Scottish companies will spend the money in the Scottish economy, boosting our economic wellbeing – the multinational will not, boosting instead the economic wellbeing of its shareholders.

Every job created to build a new Scotland (and there will be many) is more pay in more Scottish pockets, to then be spent in the Scottish economy. Every supplier that can be found in Scotland means investment is recycled. All of this creates the growth in wealth (directly and in myriad knock-on ways) which enables healthy tax returns which will repay the debt.

A core part of Scotland’s strategy for setting up a new nation must be to look closely at every penny of expenditure to work out how best to spend it so that it both delivers on its purpose and also maximises the economic boost to Scotland. The new nation will begin on the back of a massive ‘Keynesian’ economic stimulation – if we plan our strategy properly. If we don’t, the money will end up with multinationals, accountancy firms and lawyers, and Scotland will start its new life with the debt but not the stimulation.

You can buy the book here