Scotland will keep the United Kingdom's queen and currency but will create its own defense force and passports if the country votes for independence next year, the nationalist government pledged Tuesday.
A 600-page blueprint setting out detailed terms for Scotland’s possible separation from Britain was published by First Minister Alex Salmond.
It promises no overall tax increases and says the scrapping of nuclear defenses would help pay for policy pledges on welfare payments and public education.
The “Scotland’s Future” document [PDF link] aims to convince Scots they should vote to end a 306-year union with England in a referendum taking place on September 18, 2014.
“We, the people who live here, have the greatest stake in making Scotland a success,” it says in a preface. “With independence we can make Scotland the fairer and more successful country we all know it should be.”
The publication of the "white paper" will intensify a political campaign that has already begun over Scotland’s future.
With 10 months until the referendum vote, many of Scotland’s five million citizens remain undecided. The most recent opinion poll, published Sunday, suggests 38 percent are in favor of separation and 47 percent opposed, with 15 percent undecided.
Voters – including, for the first time, 16 and 17-year-olds - will be asked: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
If they vote "Yes," negotiations will begin immediately with the U.K. government, the Bank of England and a host of other cross-border institutions so that Scotland would become fully independent by March 24, 2016, the document says.
Scotland would be able remain a member of the European Union but would create its own publicly owned postal service and a Scottish Broadcasting Service to replace the BBC, the document adds.
However, it even promises voters that the new broadcaster would still air popular BBC television shows such as "EastEnders" and "Doctor Who."
Britain's three main U.K.-wide political parties are opposed to independence, saying Scotland would suffer economically and on the political stage if it separated from London.
Among the most contentious issues are access to oil reserves in the North Sea, how Britain’s national debt would be split and what would happens to Britain’s Trident nuclear defense system, which is currently based on Scotland’s River Clyde.
In providing detailed answers to the big “what if” questions, Salmond hopes to frame the referendum campaign as a policy debate for Scottish voters rather than a question of the future of United Kingdom.
Scottish citizens would get their own passport, but there would be no border controls with England because Scotland would remain inside the existing U.K. common travel zone which also includes Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. However, new Scottish border controls would be needed to replace the international checkpoints operated by the U.K. Border Agency, the document says.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's deputy first minister, described the document as "the most comprehensive and detailed blueprint ever drawn up for a prospective independent country."
But despite the hype over its launch, there was disappointment in some quarters that much would remain to be determined after the referendum vote.
"There are too many hypotheticals to be able to answer every questions," said David Torrance, author of "The Battle for Britain Scotland and the Independence Referendum."
"There were the usual answers to the usual questions, but little else," he said, adding that the document would likely have a "negligible difference" to public opinion.
Alistair Darling, the Scottish lawmaker and former U.K. government minister who is leading the “Better Together” campaign for a “No” vote in September’s referendum, dismissed the document as “absolute nonsense.” He said many of the post-referendum actions could only take place with negotiation from cross-border institutions.
He added: "It ducks most of the important questions, including what would happen if Scotland had to renegotiate its position within the European Union."
There was also laughter after Tuesday’s news conference in Glasgow when it emerged that London-based news outlets had been issued with “International” credentials.
"We are nothing if not far-seeing,” Salmond joked to reporters.