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Sturgeon’s Scottish independence strategy could be ‘significant departure’ from 2014

Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge to hold a referendum over Scotland’s independence, even if the UK government does not consent to one, marked an important change from the strategy followed by the Scottish Government in 2014, according to one policy expert.

Scott Wright, public policy expert at Pinsent Masons, said the first minister’s promise to “forge a way forward” without a ‘section 30 order’ under the Scotland Act 1998 – which would give the Scottish parliament the power to legislate for an independence vote – represented “a significant departure from the process followed in the run up to the previous referendum.”

Speaking after the publication of a new paper on Scottish independence (72 pages / 1.33MB), Sturgeon insisted that the SNP-led Scottish government had won an “indisputable democratic mandate to hold a referendum” in last year’s Holyrood elections - but added that the process of holding one had to command confidence and be lawful.

The new paper, the first in a series of publications that will form a fully updated independence prospectus, sets out an analysis of the UK’s performance across a range of economic and social indicators relative to a range of comparable countries. The analysis notes that the UK is outperformed by comparator countries including Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden on GDP per capita, income equality, poverty rates, productivity and social mobility.

The paper also provides working examples of the possibilities and options available to an independent Scotland by examining the policies, mechanisms and institutions that explain comparable countries’ higher performance relative to the UK. It also explores different models of ownership and governance, labour market policies and the structure of tax and spending, with future papers set to analyse public finances, currency, EU membership, trade, pensions and governance of an independent country.

Wright said: “In her speech from Bute House, the first minister said she intends to honour the mandate for an independence referendum given to her by Scottish voters last year. While she did acknowledge that questions remain over the Scottish parliament’s legislative competence to hold a such a vote needed to be addressed, the first minister also said her government ‘must forge a way forward without a Section 30 order’ – this represents a significant departure from the process followed in the run up to the previous referendum.”

He added: “Ms Sturgeon intimated that she would provide a significant update to the Scottish parliament on the process of securing a second referendum in due course, possibly before the summer recess. In response to a question from the media, Sturgeon reiterated that she is confident that the Scottish government will hold a referendum in 2023. Scotland’s constitution secretary, Angus Robertson, has since indicated that this will take place in October 2023. To facilitate this, however, Ms Sturgeon will need to introduce the enabling legislation before the end of this year if the Scottish government is to adhere to the same timeline as 2014.”

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