SCOTLAND is staring down the barrel of two very different futures – one under Westminster rule and one with independence.

At the launch of the second white paper in Bute House on Thursday, the First Minister set out Scotland's “democratic deficit” – highlighting multiple attempts made by the UK Government to legislate in devolved areas and the repeated refusal to honour the mandate for a second referendum.

Ahead of indyref2 in October 2023, the paper Renewing Democracy through Independence sets out the two possibilities that lie ahead.

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Read below for a brief overview of the contents of the 58-page white paper. 

  • Scotland’s two futures: The paper compares Scotland’s role in and out of the Union and how this differs on key issues including the economy, the EU, tax, energy, equalities and human rights, environmental standards and social security. In brief: more powers would allow Scotland to go further on these issues than if we remained in the United Kingdom. 
  • Scotland is a nation, not a region: The document sets out the differing views over Scotland’s status, and how Westminster sees the UK as a “unitary state” which can take back powers from devolved nations at any time. It explains: “The practical effect of this view is that Westminster can, at any time, by a simple majority in each House, change the powers of the Scottish Parliament or Government. There are no legal safeguards for the devolved institutions and the courts could not intervene."

The National: Scaffolding props up the centre of the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament  or the House of Commons on the 20th of April 2022 in London, United Kingdom. It is the meeting place of the governments of the United Kingdom and is on

  • The Sewel convention is not legally binding: If the UK government intends to legislate in devolved areas, under the Sewel convention there must be consent given by the Scottish parliament. However, the current UK Government has not abided by this “political convention” in recent years, with numerous bills rejected by Holyrood and no engagement over Brexit and its consequences. The paper adds that the UK Government has “repeatedly refused to acknowledge the electoral mandate” for indyref2, and that “continued Westminster sovereignty over devolved matters means there is no realistic prospect of effective reform of this system”.
  • The UK should be a voluntary union: While Scotland remains under Westminster control, the Scottish government is proposing the following be enshrined in a constitution: the right of the Scottish people to choose a government that “suits their needs”, primacy for Holyrood in devolved areas and protections from Westminster interference, the ability to choose whether and when to hold an independence referendum, and the right of Scotland to become independent in the event of a Yes majority. 
  • Independent Scotland should have parity with the UK: Scotland would remain part of international and national forums such as the British-Irish Council. The paper adds: “Shared arrangements governed by the principles of equality, fairness and accountability will provide for mutual respect and parity of esteem, and strengthen relationships across these islands.”

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  • Scrap the House of Lords: The paper puts it succinctly, stating: “In the view of the Scottish Government, it cannot be right to have an entirely unelected chamber able to overrule and override the decisions of the democratically elected Scottish Parliament.”

The National: The House of Lords

  • The UK electoral system compounds the democratic deficit: The paper sets out the pitfalls of first-past-the-post electoral system, used at UK level, compared to the proportional representation which is used to elect MSPs to the Scottish Parliament.
  • Devolution has been good for Scotland: the smoking ban, minimum alcohol pricing, free period products and protecting free university tuition are some of the perks of devolution set out in the white paper. 
  • Scottish institutions are trusted more than Westminster: Scottish Social Attitudes survey data shows Scots think the Scottish Government works in their interest more than Westminster, and that the Scottish Parliament should have more power in making decisions on how the country is run. Only 15% of the country believes that Westminster should have more influence. 
  • A Brexit Scotland didn’t vote for: Brexit is a prime example, the paper says, of the “inherent vulnerability of devolved institutions within the UK’s constitutional system”.
  • The consequences of UK rule: failing to invest in oil revenues like Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the impact of austerity, leaving the EU and the impact on the workforce and population size in Scotland, are some of the key issues highlighted in the paper. 

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  • Could federalism be the answer? The Scottish Government doesn’t think there is a chance of a federal UK. Discussing the potential to reform devolution, the paper states: “Transforming the United Kingdom into a federal state with a written constitution enshrining the relationships between constituent parts, or even increasing devolution, would therefore require a radical departure from historical and cultural tradition, as well as current policy, and there seems no realistic possibility of the collective political will to undertake it.”
  • The mandate is clear: The paper sets out the four elections since 2014 (2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021), where the SNP campaigned on a manifesto pledge to hold an independence referendum, and the Scottish people repeatedly returned a majority backing that call. 
  • A tale of two governments: The conclusion of the paper sums up the argument, stating: “Scotland is already on a different democratic path from that being taken for the United Kingdom by the UK Government. The Scottish Parliament has a fairer electoral system and a wider and more representative franchise. Scotland has expressed its desire, through the ballot box, to remain in the EU. The EU referendum in 2016 has surfaced the contradictions in the devolved settlement, and the Scottish Government believes there is only one way to settle these contradictions and provide democratic certainty for Scotland – through independence.”