1. ITV Report

Independence: the mandate debate

Independence: the mandate debate. Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

When is a White Paper not a White Paper? When it is a Scottish Government White Paper. Or so say the opponents of independence.

Why? It’s a bit constitutionally technical but important.

In Westminster terms a White Paper contains the proposals of a government that are later turned into legislation.

When Labour won the 1997 general election it produced very quickly a White Paper on devolution.

When Scots voted decisively in favour of setting up a Scottish parliament within the UK, they did so knowing the then government would implement its plans.

Opponents of the SNP say that this time around it is different.

They say the proposals in the Scottish Government White Paper, published on Tuesday, 26 November, can only form the basis of negotiations with what remains of the UK if Scots vote ‘Yes’.

This claim is not recognised by the SNP.

When I spoke to Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, earlier today she said this 'Yes' vote would give the Scottish Government a mandate to negotiate.

She has expanded on this in a Scottish Government media statement. She says the White Paper will present “…the choices that we will negotiate in the transition period – as the government leading negotiations – and which will therefore provide the starting point for an independent Scotland.”

As you might expect, this does not satisfy those who want Scotland to remain part of the UK.

They suspect that, whatever they say, the SNP will take a Yes vote as a mandate for implementing their plans.

The White Paper on Tuesday, 26 November, will cover a wide range of issues facing Scotland – defence, social security, the currency and much more – so the debate over the mandate may not feature prominently.

It is, however, important for voters ahead of the referendum.

Is what they see in the SNP White Paper what they get?

Or is it just the basis on which they would begin talks on the terms of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom?

Such matters are bound to be the subject of further discussion - to put it politely - between the two sides of the independence debate.

More on this story