Six months from today voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not Scotland should be an independent country.
The debate has been raging for some time – but how much is clear about just what a Yes or No result would mean?
Q If there is a Yes vote, what would happen next and how soon would Scotland become independent?
A There would have to be negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments on a whole range of issues. The SNP has said it expects these to be completed in time for the next planned Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016 – and they have pencilled in March 24, 2016 as independence day. The No camp claims that timetable is not realistic in view of the complex matters to be resolved.
Q Can Scotland afford to be independent?
A The Scottish Government says Scotland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and that even without North Sea oil and gas, Scotland’s economic output per head is virtually identical to the UK as a whole. It says adding in a geographical share of North Sea output gives Scotland an output per head almost 20 per cent higher than the UK.
The No camp insists Scotland gets more public spending than the rest of the UK and receives more than it puts in.
Q Who would be entitled to a Scottish passport?
A The Scottish Government says anyone who lives here or was born here would have the right to a Scottish passport. It says Scotland would also allow dual citizenship and it would be for the rest of the UK to decide whether it allowed dual UK/Scottish citizenship.
Q Would there be border controls between Scotland and the rest of the UK?
A No campaigners say if Scotland pursued a more liberal immigration policy, border controls would be needed. The Yes side rejects this and says the situation would be similar to the current open border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of a Common Travel Area along with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Q Would Scotland be a member of the European Union?
A This issue has caused some of the fiercest arguments. Both sides accept there would have to be negotiations – but Yes says this would be done from inside the EU and there would be no great problems, while No claims Scotland’s application could easily be vetoed. The reality is no-one can know how it would work out until it happens.
Q Would Scotland keep the pound?
A This is another hotly contested one. The three main UK parties say they would not agree to a shared currency. Alex Salmond says they would change their tune if there was a Yes vote because it would be in everyone’s interest. Alternatives include using the pound anyway or going for a separate Scottish currency.
Q Would Scotland take a share of the current UK national debt?
A As part of the independence negotiations, Alex Salmond has made clear Scotland would accept responsibility for a share of the national debt – but he has also indicated that if the rest of the UK refuses to share the joint assets in the form of the currency, it should be left to shoulder the liabilities too.
Q Could an independent Scotland bail out the banks in another crisis?
A The No campaign says it was only being part of the UK that allowed Edinburgh-based RBS and HBOS to be rescued in 2008. Yes campaigners say improvements to financial regulation reduces the risk of another banking crisis and argue if there were another collapse the response would be agreed by the governments of all the sterling countries.
Q What would happen to pensions in an independent Scotland?
A Better Together says Scotland faces a challenge because it will have more retired people and fewer working people than in other parts of the UK. The Scottish Government says after independence it would at least match pension levels in the rest of the UK.
Q Is Scotland’s economy too dependent on North Sea oil and gas?
A Anti-independence campaigners say oil is a volatile commodity and is also running out. The Yes camp says Scotland has a diverse economy, including tourism, life sciences, financial services and manufacturing. They say North Sea reserves will last another 40 years and no other country regards having oil as a disadvantage.
Q What would independence mean for Edinburgh?
A Yes campaigners argue the Capital would get a major boost from more countries wanting to establish embassies in the city and companies wanting to set up Scottish branches. They say independence would allow Edinburgh to flourish as a fully-fledged capital city.
Q What about the threat of banks and financial institutions moving south?
A Standard Life has already said it is making contingency plans and there have been claims RBS might have to relocate its HQ because of EU rules. Opposition parties say it could cost large numbers of jobs in Edinburgh. The SNP has played down these threats and it remains to be seen how genuine or otherwise the danger is.
Q Will the benefits system change in an independent Scotland?
A No campaigners argue pooling resources across the UK makes higher benefit spending in Scotland more affordable. The Yes camp claims Scotland is better able to afford pension and welfare payments than the rest of the UK and could establish a fairer system.
Q What difference would independence make to taxes paid in Scotland?
A The SNP says that Scotland’s finances are healthier than those of the UK as a whole and therefore there would be no requirement to raise the general rate of taxation to pay for current levels of spending. Better Together claim leaving the UK would mean an average increase for basic rate taxpayers of around £1000 per year.
Q What about defence forces in an independent Scotland?
A The SNP has set out detailed plans for the maritime, air and land forces it believes an independent Scotland requires. Some critics have questioned whether a Scottish defence force would be attractive enough to be able to recruit the necessary personnel.
Q Would Scotland be part of international military alliances?
A The SNP says an independent Scotland would continue to be a member of Nato, though opponents say that’s by no means certain – especially if an SNP-run Scotland insisted on getting rid of Trident and rejecting nuclear weapons. The SNP points out there are many non-nuclear members of Nato.
Q Would the Queen remain head of state?
A The SNP has been clear it plans to keep the Queen. It says an independent Scotland would be a constitutional monarchy, continuing the Union of the Crowns that dates back to 1603. Some in the Yes campaign, however, would prefer an independent Scotland to become a republic.
Q What would happen to the BBC and the television licence fee?
A The SNP says it would create a new public service broadcaster, the Scottish Broadcasting Service (SBS), based on the staff and assets of BBC Scotland, which would be impartial and independent of government and broadcast on TV, radio and online. It would be funded by the £320 million raised in licence fees in Scotland.
Under the SNP’s proposals, a joint venture agreement between the SBS and the BBC would see all BBC services continue to be available in Scotland.
Q Would an independent Scotland pursue a different immigration policy?
A The SNP says Scotland’s differing demographic and migration needs mean that the current UK immigration system has not served the country’s interests. It proposes a more flexible system which could include incentives to migrants who move to live and work in remoter geographical areas or have special skills which Scotland needs. The Yes camp says a more liberal immigration policy would be impracticable without border controls.
Q What will Scotland’s national anthem be?
A The SNP says a decision on this would be up to the parliament of an independent Scotland – following consultation with the people. But it adds that songs such as Flower of Scotland and Scots Wha Hae would continue to be sung in the meantime.
There’s also Robert Burns’ A Man’s A Man For A’ That, which was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament.
And Alex Salmond has in the past indicated his liking for a composition sung by the Corries, called Scotland Will Flourish.
Voting panel makes its voice heard
AS Scots ponder their most important decision for 300 years, the Evening News has assembled a panel of voters to talk about their hopes and fears.
They explain their thinking and their concerns about independence and, over the next six months, they will share their views of the campaign as it develops and the issues that are influencing how they will vote.
JUSTIN BICKLER, 15, pupil at Boroughmuir High School.
Not only is Justin a first-time voter, his 16th birthday falls on referendum day. “It’s strange still being at school and finding out I have a vote in something that could lead to such huge changes,” he says.
He has not made a final decision, but is tending towards a No vote. “I think I’m going to vote against independence. From what I know so far, I think Scotland relies a lot on England and the people wanting independence are slightly too patriotic and nationalist.
“There hasn’t been a lot for people my age. It would be good to get information that was straight to the point, not big long papers.”
LIVVI ROBERTSON, 16, pupil at The Mary Erskine School.
“I’m not 100 per cent yet, but I think I’m going to vote Yes,” says Livvi. “I’ve probably been influenced by my family who are very pro-Scottish.”
But she says she has some concerns, like staying part of the European Union and whether Scotland could keep the pound.
“The Yes campaign seems a lot more organised than Better Together and Alex Salmond is a clear leader.”
Livvi says she finds having a vote “quite nerve-racking”. “If it doesn’t go quite right you will feel partly responsible,” she says.
BONNIE McCracken, 17, pupil at Craigroyston High.
“I’m really excited to be voting for the first time – and especially when it’s such an important vote as the referendum,” says Bonnie.
As soon as she heard about the referendum, her instinct was to vote Yes. “Since then, I have had time to consider the arguments on both sides and tried to evaluate them – and there has not been a lot to make me change my mind.
“I’d like to see a change from the way things are just now and I think Scotland could make more of a change as an independent country than if we stayed as part of the UK.”
TINA WOOLNOUGH, 51, community activist, Blackhall.
Still undecided, Ms Woolnough would have liked a devo max option on the ballot paper. She is put off by negative campaigning. “I’m not a Yes, but I’m inclined not to be a No,” she says.
“The notion of a brave new world and all the things Scotland could be is very appealing, but you’re torn between that idealism and I suppose cynicism and pragmatism. I see-saw all the time.
“If the No side is going to persuade me they need to give me more positives, not just all the bad things they say could happen. Scots have a strong social conscience but I think they are worried about the pound in their pocket. It’s quite a dilemma.”
ROBERT THORNTON, 64, shopkeeper, Grassmarket.
A former Labour supporter, Mr Thornton – who runs vintage homeware shop Iconic Design – is planning to vote Yes on September 18.
“One of the reasons is that London is sucking the life out of Scotland and the north of England. Labour has forgotten about Scotland,” he says.
“I’ll be retired soon, but I’m not worried about my pension – I think it will be quite safe in an independent Scotland. If we do get a Yes vote, there will be hard times for a few years, but I’m not thinking 20 years ahead, I’m thinking about 50 years from now, even though I won’t be here.”
JONATHAN LAW, 41, owner of Saks Hairdressing in Jeffrey Street.
“I have mixed views,” says Mr Law. “I’m half-Scottish, half-English. I can understand both points of view, but I don’t think I’ve built up a big enough picture to make a final decision.
“What I don’t like is Westminster trying to force us into voting No. David Cameron says it’s a decision for the Scottish people, but he hasn’t left us to do that.
“I can understand why people want independence, but I’m not sure it’s the right time – we might be coming out of the recession, but we’re still a long way down on 2007. It’s all about the safety of the country.”