There may be a positive to a Scottish Yes vote for the rest of the UK. Photo: Getty
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If Scotland votes Yes, will there be a silver lining for the rest of the UK?

 Scottish independence negotiations could give the rest of the UK something like the civic conversation that Scotland is currently enjoying.

Responding to polls showing gains for the Yes campaign in Scotland, some MPs have suggested postponing the general election to 2016 in the event of a vote for Scottish independence. In reality, there is much more scope for change – and the mischief of suggesting change – than just extending the life of this parliament by a year.

The first issue that the UK government will face, if the result is Yes, is whether to assert that it is, in terms of public international law, the “continuator state”. As such, it would retain its current international status and institutions. This is by far the most likely outcome and it is, for example, what Russia did on the break-up of the Soviet Union.

However, a large number of backbench MPs aren’t that enamoured of some of the UK’s international obligations, whether as a member state of the EU or as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. Theoretically, it would be possible for the UK to throw all of these up in the air by declaring that it is going to become a new state on the secession of Scotland. It’s Brexit by the back door, shedding the influence of the Strasbourg human rights court at a stroke.

Obviously this would be an act of momentous chutzpah and it’s laden with risk – for example, the new UK might be unlikely to regain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In the meantime, UK financial markets will probably crash. However, it’s not inconceivable that some MPs will suggest the idea in the excitement following a Yes vote.

More seriously, there is a big question about the role of the UK government and parliament in relation to Scotland during negotiations over independence. Alistair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has suggested that the UK government would no longer seek to act on behalf of the Scottish people immediately following a vote for independence. The logic of this is obvious: it is hard to see how the UK government would feel legitimate making any significant decision about Scotland when independence is merely months away.

To avoid decisions for Scotland resting in limbo, one possibility, recommended by the House of Lords select committee on the constitution, is that the UK parliament quickly passes legislation to transfer further powers to Scotland. This in turn begs a further question. If all significant decisions about Scotland, other than, say, defence, are effectively devolved by the end of this year, then why should Scottish MPs still have the right to vote at Westminster? There may be an agreement that they recuse themselves from all votes and that may clear the way for the Conservatives to govern alone for the rest of this Parliament. After all, without Scottish MPs voting, they would have a majority, albeit a tiny one, even without the Liberal Democrats. Sensing that prospect, the clamour for a May 2016 general election on the Conservative benches may grow.

More than that partisan interest there is a broader argument to be made that the outcome of a negotiation with Scotland should receive some form of popular mandate from the remaining UK. All in all the more formality around the negotiation process the better. The Lords Constitution Committee has recommended that the negotiating team is set up with a mandate from the UK parliament and that it is cross-party – and perhaps even broader – in its composition. A negotiation conducted only by representatives from the UK government is not appropriate to the task in hand, the outcomes of which will echo through the ages.

Putting those to a vote in a general election might even give the rest of the UK something like the civic conversation that Scotland is enjoying during the referendum campaign. Certainly it would prompt wider questions about the distribution of political and economic power across the rest of the UK. Delaying the general election to 2016 will look like putting off an electoral reckoning for the coalition; but it might also give us something very exciting to vote on.

Emran Mian is the director of Social Market Foundation

Emran Mian is director of the Social Market Foundation

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Even before Brexit, immigrants are shunning the UK

The 49,000 fall in net migration will come at a cost.

Article 50 may not have been triggered yet but immigrants are already shunning the UK. The number of newcomers fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the year to last September, with a sharp drop in migrants from the EU8 states (such as Poland and the Czech Republic). Some current residents are trying their luck elsewhere: emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000. Consequently, net migration has fallen by 49,000 to 273,000, far above the government's target of "tens of thousands" but the lowest level since June 2014.

The causes of the UK's reduced attractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents (though numbers from Romania and Bulgaria remain healthy). Ministers have publicly welcomed the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Earlier this week, David Davis revealed the government's economic anxieties when he told a press conference in Estonia: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut - it won’t."

But Theresa May, whose efforts to meet the net migration target as Home Secretary were obstructed by the Treasury, is determined to achieve a lasting reduction in immigration. George Osborne, her erstwhile adversary, recently remarked: "The government has chosen – and I respect this decision – not to make the economy the priority." But in her subsequent interview with the New Statesman, May argued: "It is possible to achieve an outcome which is both a good result for the economy and is a good result for people who want us to control immigration – to be able to set our own rules on the immigration of people coming from the European Union. It is perfectly possible to find an arrangement and a partnership with the EU which does that."

Much depends on how "good" is defined. The British economy is resilient enough to endure a small reduction in immigration but a dramatic fall would severely affect growth. Not since 1997 has "net migration" been in the "tens of thousands". As Davis acknowledged, the UK has since become dependent on high immigration. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.