TODAY Professor Ciaran Martin publishes his report into Scotland and the prospect of a future independence referendum.

Titled "Resist, Reform, or Re-run? Short- and long-term reflections on Scotland and independence referendums", it has been called "a must-read for politicians of all parties" by eminent Scots historian Professor Sir Tom Devine.

Here, you can read in full Devine's foreword to Martin's new report.

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OVER the last year there has been a veritable Niagara of media comment and discussion on the possibility of another referendum on Scottish independence, and on what might follow if one were held.

Much has been mediocre, and some of interest. But in my view, little if any of the commentary yet published can compare with this powerful and penetrating contribution by Professor Ciaran Martin.

It is not directly about the case for union or independence, though some parts of the discussion bear on those momentous issues.

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Rather, as he explains, the treatise “is about how the UK and Scottish governments should seek to resolve a hugely important and contentious political issue should there be a clash between the mandate of the Scottish electorate and the powers of the UK government”.

Professor Martin is formidably well qualified to be able to offer wise counsel on these crucial matters. He brings to the problems academic detachment and impartiality, as Professor of Practice in the Management of Public Organisations in the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford. Anyone reading this paper will immediately be impressed by the cool objectivity of his judgement on issues of huge complexity. But, in addition, he has a remarkable wealth of practical experience: as a senior civil servant in the Cabinet Office, as Principal Private Secretary to the Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, and from his years of service at GCHQ.

Most important, however, for the thinking underpinning this paper, Professor Martin was, as Constitution Director at the Cabinet Office from 2011 to 2014, the principal UK civil service negotiator, reporting directly to the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the then Scotland Secretary Michael Moore, during the discussions which led to the agreed procedures for the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. He therefore brings unrivalled knowledge of the events of that period to current debates on a future referendum. Time and again in this text he is able to reference this experience, and to extrapolate from it lessons that might be used to inform any future negotiations.

Professor Martin brings acute observations to a whole range of key issues: the economic weaknesses of the case for independence in 2014; how the global community of nations – as well as organisations Scotland might wish to join, such as the EU and NATO – would treat an independent Scotland; whether there is any merit in the view that the franchise for another referendum should be extended to those of Scottish birth living elsewhere in the UK; and many other fascinating questions.

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But the principal focus of the paper is the current UK government’s opposition to conceding another referendum to the Scottish government, and how sustainable that might be. In analysing this question, Professor Martin demonstrates not just his insider’s knowledge of the UK’s constitution, conventions and laws, but a deep understanding, reflecting his earlier historical studies at Oxford, of the history and character of the Anglo-Scottish Union and how it has developed over decades and centuries. His account of the Union’s evolution, from its pre-democratic beginnings to the modern voluntary arrangement based explicitly on consent, is profoundly important to anyone seeking to understand the current imbroglio facing the UK.

Likewise, there is at present much talk from the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats about the possibility of federalism in the UK as an alternative to a Scottish divorce. They would be well advised to read Professor Martin’s shrewd assessment of the grave obstacles to such an option before proceeding further down that particular track.

Indeed, this treatise should be a must-read for politicians of all parties, and especially for the denizens of Downing Street and Bute House. As a lucid, well-informed and fluent examination of one of the great issues of our time, it also deserves wide readership among the electorate of the UK.

Sir Tom Devine Kt, OBE, HonMRIA, FRSE, FBA

Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography

The University of Edinburgh