The Scottish Referendum Question

22 November 2013

The SNP has formally submitted their preferred question for the Scottish referendum on independence: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”. The proposed referendum is due to be put to the Scottish people in autumn 2014.

The Scottish referendum raises important constitutional questions about the way our legal and political system works. The UK political system is based on an unwritten constitution, which means that no one single document contains the constitutional rules of our country. Instead the UK constitution consists of written and unwritten laws and customs which have developed over the centuries. However, the over-riding principle of our constitution is the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. This doctrine means that Parliament is the absolute law making authority in the UK, and changes cannot be made to the country’s constitution without parliamentary approval.

The Scottish referendum demonstrates the significance of parliamentary sovereignty. Scotland may be able to hold a referendum on independence, however due to parliamentary sovereignty no referendum held in the UK can be legally binding. The current political consensus is that if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ the UK Government and Parliament will accede to the decision. However, technically a ‘Yes’ vote does not guarantee independence until both houses of Parliament pass the Bill and it receives Royal Assent. A referendum is therefore just the start of the process of independence, and any decision will not be final until approved by the UK Parliament.

The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.