Third option for Scotland’s future could scupper SNP independence plans

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Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind claimed if a second referendum ever occurred then the ballot papers should reflect a third option rather than the Yes or No choice from the 2014 vote. Sir Malcolm argued Scots should be given the choice of Scotland becoming independent or being part of a federal union.

A federal union could grant further autonomy to Scotland than current devolution but would not see the country go fully independent.

Federalism, used in the US and Australia, has a general ‘federal’ government with regional or ‘state’ governments who are given significant powers to set their own laws.

However, certain matters would be reserved for a single federal administration such as defence.

The former foreign secretary, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s Government between 1986 and 1990, claimed if these options were put to Scots then most would vote for a federal union rather than full independence.

It would mean more government powers but Scotland would still have the benefits of staying in the UK.

Sir Malcolm argued the four UK nations – Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England – could have their own governments with a federal national government like Westminster.

He said: “Devolution is a system based on Westminster conceding power to the periphery rather than the four nations of the United Kingdom deciding we have a lot in common which justifies, on an island such as ours, having a UK Government but with maximum national control by each nation of its own domestic affairs.

“If we created a federal union, we would have a new United Kingdom of the four nations based on a federal principle instead of London conceding degrees of devolution to each of them.

“We now, constantly, even in London, hear people talk about the four nations, which was a term we didn’t used to use except in regard to rugby.

“Coronavirus has shown the success of devolution, not just as between Scotland and England but between different parts of Scotland and of England.

“It may be that devolution will soon have had its day and may deserve to be replaced by something more radical, that recognises the national identity of the four nations and provides a system of government that corresponds to new aspirations not just in Scotland but in Wales and England as well.”

It comes after 14 polls showed Scots would vote Yes in any future vote with the latest YouGov research revealing the SNP obtaining an overall majority in next year’s Holyrood election.

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YouGov’s latest research puts support for Scotland leaving the UK at 51 percent, with 49 percent wanting the country to remain in the union.

But Sir Malcolm said the polls were not “actually about reaching a conclusion on independence”.

He stressed to The Herald on Sunday: “Not a single person answering the pollster thinks this is a decision they are taking now on the future of their country.

“What they are expressing is a feeling which has changed – which may or may not be temporary or permanent.

“It’s far too early to know, partly because they don’t like Boris Johnson, partly because of a range of issues relevant to Scotland and less relevant to other parts of the Kingdom.

“They’re saying, well, maybe independence is not a bad idea after all.”

Concluding on the federal concept, Sir Malcolm said the next year should be used to work out a “sensible, alternative arrangement” instead of a 2021 vote.

He said: “And if there is a referendum, then that’s the choice you offer:

“Scots decide either they want to break up the Union and separate from England and Wales or have a federal Union, which would be a lot better than devolution; it meets the cultural, social and political aspirations that many people have and, if that is now the choice, we can live with that.

“It would be far more likely that a federal Unionist viewpoint would win if that was on the ballot paper, rather than simply saying: do we continue with the status quo or go for independence?

“If I’m correct, and I may not be, the issue in Scotland is about identity; that Scotland is a nation, it’s not just a region, and that devolution helps deal with that but it does not entirely respect the national identity of Scotland because it’s devolution conceded by London rather than something in its own right.”

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