EDINBURGH // Scotland’s government on Tuesday publishes its legal blueprint making the case for independence from the United Kingdom, with the economy at the heart of its bid to break up the 300-year union.
The “white paper” on Scottish independence is being unveiled by the regional government in Edinburgh ahead of a historic referendum on the issue next September.
Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the “comprehensive and detailed” document was a blueprint not just for Scotland, but for any prospective independent country.
“It is a landmark document which sets out the economic, social and democratic case for independence,” she said on Sunday.
“It demonstrates Scotland’s financial strengths and details how we will become independent.”
Only one third of the 5.3 million Scots are currently in favour of breaking away, according to opinion polls.
But Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who is heading the pro-independence campaign, insists he has time to convince voters of the economic and political benefits.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led government, meanwhile, are pushing hard for a “no” vote, claiming independence would be fraught with risks and problems.
The SNP has painted a vision of an independent Scotland that is rich because of its North Sea oil reserves, but also more egalitarian and pro-European than Britain.
Sturgeon said the white paper had “economic growth, jobs and fairness at its heart”, citing a “decent minimum wage” as one policy featuring in the blueprint.
“The route to a successful Scotland is greater economic growth that benefits all and which supports greater participation -- particularly amongst women -- in the workplace and the economy as a whole,” she added.
Scots will be able to request a hard copy of the 670-page tome, and its 170,000 words will also be available to read online.
The document plans for Scotland to celebrate its independence day on March 24, 2016, should voters opt to leave the rest of the United Kingdom, comprising England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The new country would hold its first parliamentary elections in May 2016.
March 24 has a symbolic importance because it marks the anniversary of the signing of the Acts of Union in 1707, which joined Scotland and England into a single kingdom.
It is also the anniversary of the earlier Union of the Crowns in 1603, when Scotland’s king James VI became England’s monarch too following the death of the unmarried, childless queen Elizabeth I.
Scotland’s devolved government currently has control over a range of policies including health and education, but other big policy areas -- including defence, foreign policy and welfare -- are still controlled by London.
Salmond’s critics warn that a “yes” vote would throw up huge headaches for Edinburgh and London, on issues ranging from how to split the army to how to separate their tax systems.
Oil could prove another major sticking point.
Up to 24 billion barrels still lie off Britain in the North Sea, mostly in Scottish territory. London and Edinburgh have yet to discuss how they would divide the revenues, while experts say an independent Scotland could be over-reliant on the volatile energy market.
Rejoining the European Union and NATO could also be problematic, the “no” camp claims.
And there is also the question of what would happen to Britain’s nuclear deterrent carried by submarines based in western Scotland, which anti-nuclear Salmond wants to evict if he wins.
A British government spokesman said London was “confident the case for staying in the UK is far stronger than the untested, uncosted and unconvincing claims the Scottish government have made to date”.
But Sturgeon said the white paper would be “the document that drives the independence debate”.
“It sets out the vision and the only detailed plan on offer to the people of Scotland,” she said.
“Our message to the people of Scotland is simple -- read it, compare it with any alternative future for Scotland and make up your own mind.”