#G0612* – SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE – US – Labour & WikkiLeaks!

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US embassy cable – 10LONDON126 (original version)

SCOTLAND: INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM NOT MOVING FORWARD IN JANUARY (original version)

Identifier: 10LONDON126
Origin: Embassy London
Created: 2010-01-20 17:17:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN
Tags: PGOV PREL PBTS UK
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
VZCZCXRO3193
PP RUEHBL
DE RUEHLO #0126/01 0201717
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 201717Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4696
INFO RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST PRIORITY 1502
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 000126 

SIPDIS
NOFORN

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/12/2020
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PBTS, UK
SUBJECT: SCOTLAND: INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM NOT MOVING
FORWARD IN JANUARY

REF: 09 LONDON 2500

Classified By: DCM Richard LeBaron, reasons 1.4 (b/d).

1. (SBU/NF) Summary and comment. First Minister Alex Salmond
and his Scottish Nationalist Party-led (SNP) minority
government are unlikely to introduce an independence
referendum bill
in the Scottish Parliament in January, as
previously planned. According to well-placed sources, the
SNP government's "referendum team" is now considering whether
to go forward with the bill in February or March or whether
to introduce the bill after Westminster elections conclude
this spring. The SNP-led government is up against a block of
opposition parties which has thus far vowed to kill any
referendum. Given the tough political climate, the First
Minister and his team are assessing their power to leverage
the other parties into allowing the referendum bill to go
forward this spring. If the bill goes forward and makes it
through the introductory stage, then a referendum vote in
late 2010 is likely. If the political climate proves too
tough, First Minister Salmond and the SNP will not get their
referendum vote and will likely continue to criticize
opposition parties and their London-centric parent groups for
continuing to undermine Scottish democracy and oppose the
will of the Scottish electorate. Recent polling data
suggests that only one-third of Scots support independence,
while approximately two-thirds support increased devolution.

2. (C/NF) Salmond told the Ambassador in late 2009 that he
does not have the support in the Scottish Parliament to pass
a referendum bill. This appears to still be the case.
However, with elections on the horizon and an SNP promise to
deliver a referendum in its first term, we see a couple of
possible scenarios. The SNP could introduce a bill calling
for a referendum for Scotland's independence, knowing that it
will be defeated. By doing so, the SNP would keep its
promise and build campaign rhetoric about Scotland's
democracy being stifled, claiming opposition parties were
preventing Scots from having the opportunity to choose.
Alternatively, the SNP could introduce a bill for a
referendum calling for increased devolved powers, which
opposition parties would be under pressure to back because of
broad public support for increasing the Scottish government's
authorities. End summary and comment.

The Origins of the Referendum Bill
and Scottish Opposition Response
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) When First Minister Alex Salmond and his Scottish
National Party (SNP) came into power in 2007 with a one-vote
majority, they vowed to advance a core campaign promise to
hold a referendum on Scottish independence during their first
term in office. In response, Scottish opposition groups (who
do not want an independent Scotland) supported the Scottish
Parliament's
creation of an independent committee in April
2008 to review the implementation of Scottish devolution
since 1998, which became the Calman Commission on Scottish
Devolution. In its final report released in late 2009, the
Calman Commission recommended further devolved powers for
Scotland, including a special Scottish income tax,
ministerial powers to borrow funds for capital investments,
and more negotiating powers for Scotland with the European
Union.

4. (SBU/NF) Throughout 2009, UK Secretary of State for
Scotland Jim Murphy played a leadership role in organizing
the opposition parties, hoping to move Scotland toward
implementation of the Calman recommendations as an
alternative to an independence referendum, according to
Murphy's advisors, Labour party insiders, and opposition
party leaders. First Minister Salmond's response to
independence critics (such as Murphy) has been to accelerate
the implementation of the Calman recommendations as soon as
possible - "to call the bluff." Some political pundits
assess that opposition parties' inability to move on the
report's recommendations has buoyed Salmond's case for a
referendum. According to this theory, Salmond could gain
politically by putting forward -- and winning -- with a
softer referendum question that calls for further devolved
powers, including those recommended by the Calman Commission
(which is often referred to as the "devolution max" option).

5. (SBU/NF) Less controversial than full independence,
"devolution max" enjoys broad public support. Nevertheless
publicly, the SNP and opposition parties all claim that they
would like a straight up-or-down vote on Scottish
independence, as both sides continue to claim popular support
for their respective positions. However, both the opposition

LONDON 00000126 002 OF 003


and the SNP tell us privately that they would also support a
referendum if the vote was only about further devolved
powers, as long as the question was written in a politically
neutral manner.

5. (SBU) At the opening of the Scottish Parliament in
September 2009, Scottish National Party (SNP) First Minister
Alex Salmond introduced a motion to discuss a possible
independence referendum. The motion was roundly defeated.
(Note: According to Scottish parliamentary experts, motions
are considered "trial balloon discussions" of how a vote
might be treated and are not formal. End note.) On November
30, 2009, Salmond launched his Government's White Paper on
Scottish Independence, with the intention to introduce a bill
into the Scottish Parliament in January 2010. If successful,
the independence referendum would take place in autumn 2010.
Over the past month, opposition parties (Labour,
Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green) have played on the
weaknesses of the minority SNP-led government in order to
stall SNP plans to introduce a referendum bill in January and
to marginalize the SNP's political ambitions heading into the
UK elections, which must be held before June, where the SNP
hopes to increase its number of seats in Westminster.

Referendum Mechanics
--------------------

6. (U) If the bill passes in the Scottish Parliament and goes
forward, the Scottish Parliament will appoint a special
committee to take evidence from constitutional and other
experts. According to the team of government officials
working on the referendum, once the bill is introduced, the
government will naturally lose control of the process because
it does not have enough votes to stack the special committee
in the SNP's favor. This is one of the reasons the SNP has
opted not to introduce the bill in January as originally
planned, they have intimated. The Committee process could
take up to three months. Parties will then negotiate the
language of the bill and the language of the referendum
question itself. Once the parties have agreed, the committee
overseeing the process reports to the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Parliament then debates the bill, makes
revisions and conducts a full floor vote. If the bill gets
to the debate stage, it is likely to pass. A simple majority
is sufficient to pass the bill.

Conservative - SNP Deal?
------------------------

7. (SBU/NF) The political jockeying around the Scottish
independence referendum has created a climate of political
intrigue in Scotland, with facts and rumors generally
intertwined. Since the Tories (historically weak in
Scotland) allied themselves with the SNP in 2007 as part of
the SNP-led minority government, SNP insiders and political
pundits have suggested that the SNP struck a deal with the
Tories whereby the Conservative Party would not obstruct a
Scottish independence referendum vote in exchange for mutual
support in Westminster and Holyrood elections. Scottish Tory
leader Annabel Goldie told the Edinburgh PO in November 2009:
"While we are very opposed to Scotland leaving the Union, if
the will of the Scottish people is for Independence, we won't
stand in the way. But we believe that the will is not
there." Although the Scottish Tories are fundamentally
opposed to Scottish independence, they do not oppose a vote
as a matter of policy. Whether the SNP-Tory deal exists
remains in question, and any real effect it would have would
be determined by how well the Conservatives fare in the
Westminster polls. In Westminster, Tory leader David Cameron
has not made any clear pronouncements about the Conservatives
Party position on an independence referendum for Scotland.

8. (SBU) The Liberal Democrats (Lib Dem) have also moderated
some of their statements on a referendum vote. According to
Scottish Lib Dem Leader, Tavish Scott, the Lib Dems are not
opposed to a referendum vote, "provided the question isn't
rigged by the SNP." National Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said
during a recent political rally in Scotland that there is an
"unspoken affinity of interest" between Salmond and Cameron,
alleging that the SNP and Tories share a "hostility for the
Union."

What Scots Think About
Independence and Devolution
---------------------------

9. (U) A poll published by the Center for Social Research on
January 15, based on the responses of 1,482 individuals
resident in Scotland interviewed in autumn 2009, indicates

LONDON 00000126 003 OF 003


that only one third of Scots support full independence.
Another third say independence would make no difference to
their lives, and the third tier say that it would have a
negative effect. Two-thirds, however, support increased
devolution, as recommend by the Calman Commission report.


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