US embassy cable - 10LONDON126 (original version)

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

Identifier: 10LONDON126
Wikileaks: View 10LONDON126 at Wikileaks.org
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. 
 
 
Visit London's Classified Website: 
http://www.intelink.sgov.gov/wiki/Portal:Unit ed_Kingdom 
 
SUSMAN 

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