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Scottish independence referendum, 2014

In August 2009 the SNP announced a Referendum Bill would be included in its package of bills to be debated before Parliament in 2009–10, with the intention of holding a referendum on the issues of Scottish independence in November 2010.

The bill did not pass due to the SNP’s status as a minority administration, and due to the initial opposition to the Bill from all other major parties in the Scottish Parliament.

Following the Scottish Parliament general election, 2011 the SNP had a majority in parliament and again brought forward an Independence Referendum Bill.

The Scottish Government also suggested that full fiscal autonomy for Scotland (known as “devo-max”) could be an alternative option in the vote.

The negotiation of the Edinburgh Agreement (2012) resulted in the UK government legislating to provide the Scottish Parliament with the powers to hold the referendum.

The “devo-max” option was not included, however, as the Edinburgh Agreement stipulated that the referendum had to be a clear binary choice between independence or the existing devolution arrangements.

The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 was passed by the Scottish Parliament and campaigning commenced. Two days before the referendum was held, with polls very close, the leaders of the three main UK political parties made “The Vow”, a public pledge to devolve “extensive new powers” to the Scottish Parliament if independence was rejected. They also agreed to a devolution timetable proposed by Gordon Brown.

After heavy campaigning by both sides, voting took place on 18 September 2014. Independence was rejected by a margin of 45% in favour to 55% against.

Smith Commission

The day after the referendum, David Cameron announced the formation of the Smith Commission to “convene cross-party talks” concerning “recommendations for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament”.

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Two months later, on 27 November 2014, the commission published its recommendations, which included giving the Scottish Parliament complete power to set income tax rates and bands, the right to receive a proportion of the VAT raised in Scotland, increased borrowing powers, and an extensive list of other rights and powers.

Scotland Act 2016

Based on the Smith Commission’s recommendations, the Scotland Act 2016 was passed by Parliament and received Royal Assent on 23 March 2016. The Act set out amendments to the Scotland Act 1998 and devolved further powers to Scotland, most notably:

1- The ability to amend sections of the Scotland Act 1998 which relate to the operation of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government within the United Kingdom including control of its electoral system (subject to a two-thirds majority within the parliament for any proposed change)

2- Legislative control over areas such as road signs, speed limits, onshore oil and gas extraction, rail franchising, consumer advocacy, and advice amongst others by devolution of powers in relation to these fields to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Ministers.

3- Management of the Crown Estate, the British Transport Police and Ofcom in Scotland.

4- Control over certain and removable taxes including Air Passenger Duty and Aggregates Levy.

5- Control over certain aspects of several welfare and housing-related benefits and Disability Living Allowance, Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, and Carer’s allowance.

6- The ability to set Income Tax rates and bands on non-savings and non-dividend income.

7- Extended powers over Employment Support and Universal Credit.

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8- The right to receive half of the VAT raised in Scotland.

The Act recognised the Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Government as permanent among UK’s constitutional arrangements, with a referendum required before either can be abolished.

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