|03-18-2014, 11:37 AM||#1|
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Scottish independence vote threatens to derail 2015 general election
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The 2015 general election will be thrown into turmoil if Scotland votes for independence in September’s referendum, according to government legal advice.
An election is scheduled to be held on May 7 next year but by then Scotland could already be preparing to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The leading lawyer who wrote the Westminster government’s legal advice on Scottish independence is now warning that a “Yes” vote in the referendum would have major ramifications for the election, and could destabilise the next British government.
Cabinet ministers fear that if Alex Salmond’s independence campaign succeeds, the general election would be in grave doubt, plunging Britain into an unprecedented “constitutional crisis”.
In a memorandum for the House of Lords, Professor Alan Boyle, a specialist in international law at Edinburgh University, outlined two options for the election if Scotland chooses independence on September 18.
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Emergency laws could be passed months before the election to ban the 59 Scottish constituencies from taking part and hold polls only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland next May, he said.
Alternatively, the election could proceed as planned across the UK but all Scottish MPs would then be ejected from the Commons on the day that Scotland becomes an independent country, which could come as soon as March 2016, only 10 months after the election.
A decision to exclude Scotland from the 2015 election would force the political parties to tear up their battle plans, re-write their manifesto proposals and reshuffle their ministerial teams mid-way through the campaign.
The impact would be particularly severe on Labour, which has significantly more MPs from Scotland than the other parties – including the Shadow Foreign Secretary and election coordinator, Douglas Alexander.
But if the election goes ahead and the MPs for Scottish seats then leave the Commons in 2016, it could decisively shift the balance of power, and bring down the new government less than a year after it has been elected, Prof Boyle said.
In a written submission to the House of Lords on the implications of independence, Prof Boyle said Scottish MPs would be legally entitled to remain in Westminster after the 2015 general election “until the date of independence”.
The only way to avoid this would be to transfer powers over Scottish affairs from London to the Scottish Parliament “in whole or in part” after the referendum has been held but before Scotland becomes independent, he said.
“If those powers were transferred in advance of independence it might then be reasonable to exclude Scottish constituencies from participation in the UK general election in 2015,” Prof Boyle said.
“As regards the parliamentary impact in 2015-20, this is probably not a question for a lawyer to answer, but at the very least there is an obvious risk of a near permanent Conservative majority in the House of Commons once Scottish MPs leave.
“If Scottish MPs remained in place until 2016 or later there is a risk that removing them would deprive a Labour government elected in 2015 of its majority.”
Prof Boyle’s analysis, submitted to peers this month, comes as ministers privately question whether the general election could go ahead if Scotland votes for independence.
One Cabinet minister said: “Britain would be plunged into a constitutional crisis. You couldn’t possibly hold a General Election in 2015 which elects Scottish MPs for five years when they won’t even be the same country.”
However, another Cabinet source said the election should continue in Scotland even if the referendum results in a vote for independence, as Westminster would still have power over the lives of Scottish residents until the country leaves the UK.
Prof Boyle said Scottish MPs still sitting in Westminster after 2015 should be required to “absent themselves” from any Commons votes on the negotiations between Scotland and London over the terms of separation.
“They could surely not sit in judgment on whether the terms of any agreement are acceptable to the UK, a state from whose parliament they would thereafter be excluded,” he said.
“At best Scottish MPs might try to persuade Parliament to grant terms more favourable to Scotland than those negotiated on their behalf by the Scottish government.
“At worst they might be accused of undermining a deal negotiated by that government. Certainly it would be strange for the government of the United Kingdom to be held accountable to MPs from a soon-to-be-independent Scotland.”
The warnings come as the campaign for the future of Scotland intensifies ahead of September’s referendum on independence.
On Friday, David Cameron promised “more power” to Scotland to raise its own taxes if it votes “no” to independence and spoke of the “monumental battle” to keep the UK together.
All three main Westminster parties have warned Scotland that it would not be able to keep the pound if it votes to separate.
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