The Barnett Formula

The formula used by the Treasury in the United Kingdom to allocate money for public spending in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In the event of changes to the level of (equivalent) expenditure in England, the expenditure budgets for these three parts of the UK are automatically altered in proportion to their share of the UK population.

Better Together

The cross-party unionist campaign set up by Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives. For more information see The referendum campaigns – in their own words [will be an internal link].

The block grant

The money allocated by the UK government to the Scottish Government to fund most devolved expenditure in Scotland. It is calculated using the Barnett Formula.

The Calman Commission

A cross-party commission established in 2008 by the three unionist parties and resourced by the UK government. Chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman, it recommended further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament, including responsibility for a proportion of income tax. Most of its proposals are in the process of being implemented following the passages of the Scotland Act 2012.


This is when power is granted by a state to a region or nation within it. In the case of Scotland and the UK, the devolved Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 following a referendum held in 1997. Some now argue for further devolution, i.e. more powers for the Scottish Parliament, as an alternative to full independence or the status quo.

Devo max

This term has become short hand for the idea that the Scottish Parliament should become responsible for nearly all of Scotland’s domestic affairs, including taxation and welfare benefits, while foreign affairs and defence would remain the responsibility of the UK government.

Devo Plus

A proposal put forward by think tank, Reform Scotland, under which in the long term all of the money spent by the Scottish Parliament would be funded through taxes raised in Scotland. It is less radical than devo max in that UK government would continue to be responsible for most welfare spending, in Scotland while its spending would continue to be funded from UK-wide revenues.

The Edinburgh Agreement

An agreement reached between the United Kingdom government and the Scottish Government on how the referendum on Scottish independence should be conducted. It was signed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron in Edinburgh in October 2012.

The Electoral Commission

An independent body that oversees all elections and referendums in the UK. It has been responsible for recommending the final wording of the question that will appear on the referendum ballot paper, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No’, and for the limits on campaign spending that will be enforced during the last 16 weeks of the campaign.

The Electoral Management Board for Scotland

This body was established in 2011 with responsibility for co-ordinating the conduct of local elections in Scotland. It has now been given a similar role in the referendum, and its Convener will be the Chief Counting Officer.

Fiscal autonomy

This is usually taken to refer to the idea that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for the setting and collection of all taxes in Scotland. If implemented within the framework of the UK, the Scottish Government would pay a sum to the UK government to cover its share of the cost of its activities (such as defence) from which Scotland benefitted.


The name by which the devolved Scottish Parliament is often known, on account of its location opposite Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.

Indy lite

A term sometimes used to characterise the SNP’s vision of independence, on the grounds that the party envisages that Scotland would continue to share a variety of institutions with the rest of the UK, including the monarchy, the BBC and the pound.

National Conversation

A public consultation conducted by the Scottish Government between August 2007 and November 2009. Members of the public were invited to comment on a white paper, Choosing Scotland’s Future, that outlined a variety of ways in which Scotland might be governed in future, including independence

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

A military and political alliance between 28 European and North American countries. It describes itself as a system of ‘collective defence’ in which member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. Traditionally the SNP were opposed to an independent Scotland being part of NATO, but they reversed their stance in October 2012.

North Sea oil

Oil was first found in the North Sea in the late 1960s, much of it in waters off the coast of Scotland. The cry ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ became a SNP rallying cry when it first became electorally successful in the early 1970s, and the prospect of harnessing the revenues from taxes on oil production for Scotland’s exclusive use continues to be an important plank in the case the party makes for independence. Consequently arguments about the merits of relying on the revenues from a resource whose price is potentially volatile and which will run out at some point in the future are an important part of the debate between the two sides.

Independence referendum

The Scottish independence referendum will be held on Thursday 18th September 2014. Residents of Scotland over the age of 16 who are British, Commonwealth or EU citizens will be asked, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

Scottish Government

The body responsible for managing many of Scotland’s domestic affairs, including health, policing, economic development, transport and education. Until 2007 it was known as the Scottish Executive. Ministers in the Government are responsible to the Scottish Parliament.


Often used to refer to the UK’s independent submarine based nuclear weapons capability, consisting of nuclear warheads delivered by Trident missiles. The submarines that house these missiles are based at the mouth of the River Clyde in the West of Scotland, and thus would be located in foreign waters should Scotland become an independent country. The SNP, Greens and the SSP all argue that an independent Scotland should require that the facility be removed, and the issue has become an important one in the referendum debate.

Written constitution

A formal document defining the constitutional settlement of a state. The UK does not have a single document but a series of written and unwritten sources that are often described as having an equivalent role – though unlike most written constitutions they are not legally entrenched in any way. Many Scottish nationalists are in favour of a written constitution for an independent Scotland.

The West Lothian Question

This refers to the fact that, following the advent of devolution, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs can vote on laws being passed by Westminster that will only apply in England, while English MPs are unable to vote on equivalent laws being passed by the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, or the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was first popularised in the 1970s by Tam Dalyell, then MP for West Lothian, who pointed out that while under devolution he would continue to have a say in what happened in West Bromwich (located in the Midlands of England), an MP from that town would no longer have a say in what happened in Mr Dalyell’s own (Scottish) constituency.


Home of the UK Houses of Parliament in central London.

UK government

The body responsible for the management of the UK state and its public services. Following devolution, its role is largely confined to taxation, welfare benefits, macroeconomic policy, financial regulation, defence and foreign affairs. It also determines, using the Barnett Formula (link to definition on this page), the total amount of money the Scottish Parliament and Government have to spend.

The Union

Refers to the Union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, and the Acts of Union passed by those two countries’ parliaments in 1706/7 that paved the way for Scotland to become part of the United Kingdom state in 1707. Those who support Scotland staying within the UK are often described as unionists.

Yes Scotland

The main pro- independence campaign. It was set up largely by the SNP but has since gained the support of the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. For more information see The referendum campaigns – in their own words (internal link).