A guest post from Dr Peter Lynch of the University of Stirling.  Peter has published widely on devolution, regionalism and the SNP, including this 1999 history of the party, as well as being a familiar voice on Radio Scotland as an election commentator.

The recent BBC Question Time of 16th June 2011 demonstrated some of the difficulties the SNP will face in getting a Yes vote at the independence referendum – the difficulty of having detailed answers to every post-independence question under the sun.

The questioner in the audience who pointed out that independence would require embassies, defence forces, the immigration service, customs service, EU membership and currency, probably did the SNP a service here.

The obvious thing about some of these issues is that they are difficult if not impossible to answer at this stage. Determining how many rifles the Scottish army will have after independence is just about as hard as determining how many the British Army has now, let alone whether they actually work. As such details are a problem, then the No campaign may well choose to drown out the independence option with endless questions they know cannot be answered and tie up the Yes campaigners in very detailed knots!

This is a problem for the SNP, but it has, in the past, provided some useful answers. Back in 1996, Allan Macartney helped to produce the Transition Report on Scottish independence, which sought to explain that independence was not a one-day wonder, but rather a gradual process of getting from the constitutional present to independence, in an orderly fashion, over several years. Getting hold of the Transition report is a challenge, though some of it was assessed by the Constitution Unit here (pdf). And, it makes interesting reading as it explains how to get to independence through a transitional process of negotiation, asset divisions, establishing institutions, policies, etc. You don’t just arrive there the day after the referendum. An actual independence day would only occur some years after the referendum.

Despite the need for a transition, devolution does provide a strong institutional platform for independence. The Scottish government already exists, with a range of organisations and civil servants responsible for policymaking. Independence is not a year zero for government or government institutions. Rather it is a case of bolting on new policy responsibilities like defence, foreign affairs, immigration, taxation, etc., onto existing government institutions and organisations (think about existing British military bases in Scotland as well as HMRC’s Centre One in East Kilbride). Sorting out these complexities is something the SNP will need to think through in the years from now to the referendum.

Of course, the politicians currently moaning about the lack of details about independence will moan even more when the Scottish government sets up commissions to study the transition to independence and any details of the independence process. The opposition parties will complain about wasting taxpayer’s money. For evidence of this, think back to the opposition’s behaviour over the white paper Choosing Scotland’s Future in 2007, as well as the ten policy papers that followed from 2008-9. Of course, complaining about them was easier than reading them and deeply ironic as they contained a fair bit of detail on the constitutional options of both independence and devo-max.