Would the Prime Minister resign – as a matter of honour, because Scotland has been lost on his watch?
Would he be forced to even if he is unwilling to do so? What position would Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats take? What would Conservative Cabinet Ministers say? Would there be Ministerial resignations? Would senior Tory backbenchers who are usually supportive call on him to go, on the ground that his position was no longer tenable? Or would they rally round the Prime Minister? But if not, would there be enough of them to force him out? Could matters get so far as a no-confidence ballot?
Were the Prime Minister to resign, who would take over as his replacement? A Conservative, surely – but which one? Would George Osborne be blamed for his intervention role in the No campaign over sterling? And as a future Tory leadership contender, would he be acceptable to his colleagues? Would any of the other potential contenders, such as Theresa May, be acceptable either? How would Boris Johnson react? Would the replacement be a man who is set to leave the Commons, but who once was only a general election away from the post – William Hague?
What about the Conservative Party itself? Under its rules, there will have to be a leadership election if Cameron quits as Tory leader as well as Prime Minister? But would the Party really hold a potentially damaging and divisive contest only six months or so out from the general election itself? Wouldn’t it be better for the new Prime Minister to be elected as Tory leader unopposed? But would the Party have the discipline to pull off such a manoeuvre?
Regardless of whether Cameron stays or goes, would a general election have to be brought forward? If so, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act would have hastily to be scrapped or amended. But what would the Liberal Democrats say about calls for an early election, since the Act was designed to lock their Tory partners into coalition until next May – and prevent them from calling such a snap election? And would Miliband really want an early election in such circumstances?
In such circumstances, would it not be more likely that the election would be pushed backwards rather than brought forwards? After all, what would be the position of the Scottish constituencies – which would be set to return MPs to a Parliament which their countrymen have just voted to leave. Would the SNP stand candidates? Will UKIP seek to present itself as England’s champion, and demand that the Scottish MPs be barred? Would Tory MPs, under pressure from UKIP and English nationalist sentiment, take the same line? Would their leadership (old or new)?
Talking of Miliband, would he have to go? After all, Labour is the SNP’s main opponent in Scotland and Labour has had charge of the No campaign. The failure of the No campaign would have lost the Union. What would be the position of senior Labour MPs who have had a big hand in that campaign, such as Douglas Alexander?
What would Labour do if Scotland votes Yes? It is wrong to claim that an independent Scotland would end Labour’s prospects of government in what would be left of the United Kingdom. But it would greatly weaken them. Would there be a new demand from Labour’s politicians in its heartlands for regional government – so that those areas would have some protection from Conservative domination of England? Certainly, Miliband would want to go as slowly on Scottish independence as he can.
How would the Liberal Democrats react to the coming loss of their presence in Scotland at Westminster?
What would be the date on which Scotland becomes an independent country? And would Labour collapse there in the 2016 Scottish elections? Or would there be a Labour revival, as Scottish voters ask themselves what they have done in voting to leave? If so, would there be Labour Governments in both Westminster and Holyrood, negotiating the terms of an independence neither wanted? Would there be a go slow – or would Labour in Scotland fear having the SNP on their back were this to be attempted?
Would Scotland end up keeping the pound, after all? But if so, could it really be considered a truly independent country? What’s the difference between the status quo an independent Scotland that keeps the Queen and the pound?
Would Scotland be permitted to keep the pound, though, without voters in the rest of the UK having a say in the matter – through an election or a referendum?
Would Scotland really have to leave the EU? On the one hand, Spain would push very hard for Scotland to be excluded, fearful of a precedent being set in relation to Catalonia. On the other, some EU countries would surely not wish to make Scottish accession difficult? Would there be a fudge in which Scotland was de jure outside the EU, but de facto inside it – with it effectively remaining in the single market, for example?
Would there have to be a second referendum in Scotland on the actual independence deal? If so, can the rest of the UK really be denied a vote?
What will the knock-on effects be in Wales?
What will the knock-on effects be in Northern Ireland – where there is less a durable peace than an absence of armed conflict?
What would the date be on which Scotland would become independent? Who would negotiate for the remainder of the UK?
What’s the settlement? What would be the knock-on effects of separation on the monarchy? What would happen to Faslane? To the armed forces? What would the financial settlement be, as Scotland gets the oil (or most of it) and the Barnett payments end?
What happens to the UK’s seat on the UN Security Council and its presence in other international institutions?
Finally: could it be that the Prime Minister would not have to resign, that the negotiations would be amicable, that Scotland and the rest of the UK would have a “velvet divorce”…and that life would carry on more or less as usual?
ConservativeHome hopes and believes that No will win, and that these questions will come to nothing. But it is necessary to put them, given the movement in the polls. (There are slightly over 5o questions and I have rounded down for the headline.)