The Scottish Government has published a draft Bill on a second Independence Referendum.

The Bill was announced in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2016-17 but it has become more prominent in the light of the result of the United Kingdom Referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), in which voters in Scotland voted to remain, whereas voters in the UK as a whole voted to leave.

According to the Scottish Government’s introduction to its Programme for Government, the draft Bill is being published for consultation “in order that it is ready for introduction should the Scottish Government conclude – and decide to seek Parliament’s agreement – that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests in the wake of the EU Referendum”.

Out for Consultation

The Scottish Government has produced a consultation document setting out its proposals for legislation for a Referendum on independence for Scotland, together with proposals for the rules governing the Referendum campaign, the conduct of the poll and the counting of votes. This document can be found here. The paper invites views on the Government’s proposals and includes the draft Bill as an appendix.

Proposals

Key parts of the draft Bill are as follows:-

  • As was the case with the 2014 Independence Referendum, the question would again likely be: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
  • 16 and 17-year-olds would be eligible to vote, as would British, Commonwealth and EU citizens living in Scotland.
  • Scots living abroad, and in the rest of the UK, would not be eligible to vote.
  • The result of the Referendum would be decided by a simple majority. There would be no requirement for a particular level of turnout in order for the result to be effective.

2014 Scottish Independence Referendum

As with the 2014 Independence Referendum, the Scottish Government would need to agree with the UK Government the basis on which the Referendum would take place, as constitutional matters are reserved to the UK Parliament. Even if the both Governments did manage to reach such an agreement, the Bill would then need to pass successfully through the Scottish Parliament, including scrutiny by a Parliamentary Committee, and debates in the Parliamentary Chamber.

It should be emphasised that the Bill is in draft only and is the subject of a consultation, which runs until 11th January 2017. There is no indication at this stage that the Scottish Government intends to introduce the Bill to the Scottish Parliament in the immediate future.

Indeed, based on comments made by members of the Scottish Government, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and other SNP MSPs, it appears that this new Bill’s emergence will depend upon the progress of the UK Government’s Brexit negotiations with the EU. Sturgeon has commented that, while she is not rushing to hold a second independence referendum, she is prepared to trigger a one if she feels that it is the only way to protect Scotland from a “hard Brexit”, where the country will be removed from the EU’s single market against its wishes. It may, therefore, be some time until we know whether or not the Bill will be put before the Scottish Parliament.