The Referendum, the Vow, and the future shape of the UK – Robert Brown


In September 2014, the people of Scotland voted by a decisive majority in the Referendum to reject independence and to support Scotland continuing as part of the United Kingdom.

During the campaign, two important promises were made.

  • The SNP who had demanded the referendum said it was “a once in a generation decision” - both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon repeated this assertion on various occasions.
  • The Leaders of the 3 pro-United Kingdom Parties committed themselves, in the event of a No vote, to devolution of more powers to the Scottish Parliament; this was the “Vow”.

The SNP almost immediately went back on their promise to accept the referendum result as the democratic will of the Scottish people which would decide the matter “for a generation”. They are currently searching for a pretext to justify calling for a new referendum.

The No campaign are in the process of delivering the terms of the Vow. The UK Government immediately set up a Commission under Lord Smith to produce proposals and a draft Bill to deliver the new powers, which relate primarily to tax powers and some welfare powers. (Some proposals had already been legislated for as part of the Scotland Act 2012 but yet to come into effect.)

The full terms of The Vow can be read in the Daily Record of 15 September 2014. It is available at:


The Vow should be read in full, rather than taking its terms second hand. In essence, it promised three things:

  • The delivery of extensive new powers for the Parliament by the Smith Commission process
  • Continuance of the UK to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably across the 4 countries
  • A final say for the Scottish Parliament in the amount of NHS spending

In reality, only the first of these points was new and required legislation. The second confirmed that the basic welfare system would remain common across the UK (although certain aspects were recommended by Smith to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament). The third point on the NHS simply confirmed what had always been the case – that the Scottish NHS was controlled, administered and decided upon in Scotland.

The Smith Commission produced its Heads of Agreement on 27 November 2014 and was agreed to by all 5 political Parties – including the SNP and the Greens. The Report can be downloaded here:

Again, the Report should be read in full, particularly the Principles underpinning it. Importantly these include the following:

  • aim to bring about a durable but responsive democratic constitutional settlement, which maintains Scotland’s place in the UK and enhances mutual cooperation and partnership working 
  • not cause detriment to the UK as a whole nor to any of its constituent parts.

The Scotland Bill, published in implement of the Smith proposals, is currently going through the UK Parliament. It was welcomed by the Law Society of Scotland who said “it reflects the Smith Commission agreement”.

The Scotland Bill represents a cross-party agreement implementing the terms of the Vow.

Scottish Liberal Democrats want to go further – to build on the new Bill and move towards a new and permanent constitutional settlement based on Home Rule for the nations and regions of Britain within a federal United Kingdom – a settlement like that used in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Germany or Spain. We have argued for many years that this is the most inclusive and sensible way forward. It has the potential to unite Scotland and the United Kingdom after the divisions of the Referendum.


Robert Brown,
Lead Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Candidate, Glasgow Region

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