AS Scotland enters the final phase of the 2014 referendum campaign, it may seem to some that the pressing question is Yes or No, and so it is.
But almost equally important are the consequences of the vote, whichever way it goes. These are complex and by no means easy to predict without weighing the evidence carefully.
A Yes vote will commit the Scottish Government to seeking statehood within its preferred 18-month timescale, leading to independence on March 24, 2016, which would enable the Holyrood elections on May 5 that year to be to an independent parliament.
The SNP is likely to nominate a negotiating team including leading economists and some non-SNP members, and would seek to engage a wider group of stakeholders who were closer to Better Together than Yes, doubtless to prevent bitter factionalism in the wake of what would be a narrow result. Despite recent scepticism over the timetable from the House of Lords (who also rather preposterously suggested a British Act of Parliament would be needed to give the Scots the right to negotiate), the likelihood is it would be in the interests of the British Government to meet the 2016 date, not least because neither major party could afford to have the Scotland issue overhanging their legislative programme.
There also exists the real possibility that matters would in part be accelerated, since the Tories, two to three per cent behind in UK polls, would have a significant interest in ensuring Labour's Scottish MPs could not be returned in the 2015 General Election. On the major issues, the likelihood must be that the retention of sterling would mean Scotland could not diverge too much on major fiscal issues, and so undercut the rest of the UK, which would also be hampered with large transaction costs in converting to and from a Scottish currency.
Expect a deal on sterling and possibly a temporary Trident leaseback, as both are in London's interests, with EU membership for Scotland on the basis of some commitment to currency and travel integration, but the continuation of sterling and a common travel area for the present, with the Bank of England exceptionally serving as a joint central bank.
In the event of a No vote, much depends on the size of the minority voting Yes, and on the 2016 Scottish elections, as well as the 2015 General Election. If there is a Tory government in London and a high Yes vote, then there will probably be some further devolutionary proposals. That these have not been spelt out is hardly encouraging, and experience shows that whenever Westminster debates devolutionary proposals, they are watered down; even with Donald Dewar at the helm, this happened to the 1998 Scotland Act.
If Labour win in England, they will want to wait for the 2016 Scottish elections, promising more devolution all the time, but leaving their first year in office clear for high-ticket UK-wide or England-only flagship policy commitments. If the SNP then wins in Edinburgh in 2016, Labour in Westminster will probably legislate for a Scotland Act mark III, which will make concessions while trying to exclude the possibility of another referendum, and dare Holyrood to reject more powers at that price.
If Labour wins at Holyrood, there possibly would be the same outcome, or maybe a few more piecemeal powers linked to a social justice agenda would be gradually passed to Holyrood. In the event of a Yes vote below 40 per cent, expect both major parties in London to forget about Scotland and Scottish issues, and for pressure to build on the Barnett formula and in other areas, together with an intensifying political and media promotion of a unitary British national identity. This would only be affected by major changes in Scottish electoral behaviour.
There are other possible scenarios of course, but these are for a number of reasons the most likely. One of the most difficult aspects of the current referendum campaign is that there is no longer a status quo to go back to, or a vote without risk. But a big No vote carries the biggest risk for Scotland of all.
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