A More United Kingdom Or More Fractured Neighbours?

The Scottish Independence Referendum is over. The result has been confirmed. Scotland said No to independence with 2,001,926 (55%) voting to keep the 307 year union between Scotland and England. 1,617,989 people (45%) voted Yes – a vastly increased number from the relative minority of two years ago when the referendum was announced. An incredible 84.5% of the 4,285,323 Scots registered to vote voted.

On the night it seemed fairly straightforward for the Better Together Campaign. Aside from the Yes victories in the highly populated areas of Glasgow and Dundee City gains failed to materialise in other key areas. Salmond’s backyard of Aberdeen and Angus voted overwhelmingly No. Inverclyde was almost 50/50 in what was determined as being an area which would turn towards No given the recent downturn in shipbuilding on the Clyde. Edinburgh meanwhile emphatically voted No which meant Fife’s declaration sealed the referendum result. The gains made by the Yes Campaign in the second TV debate were cooled in the last week by the arrival of Gordon Brown. The former Prime Minister managed to negotiate a compromise with the leaders of the three main UK party leaders for further devolution of powers. Miliband, Clegg and Cameron’s trip to Scotland in the week prior to polling may have swayed some undecided voters however their appearance made little impact on the polls ahead of the Thursday.

The Yes Campaign was far more energetic, positive and vibrant in its approach. They made not have been able to answer in enough detail the core issues of independence but the campaign drove political participation to never before reached heights. The campaign carried many of Scotland’s youth. They are the future of the nation and they embraced this political process like never before. The Better Together Campaign, saved by Gordon Brown, struggled to put forward a vision of a future Scotland within the union. Therefore the cheers of “victory” we’re rather hollow at the declarations. It seemed rather fickle to celebrate the referendum win whilst recognising that some form of change is necessary. The No Campaign didn’t seem to understand what a No vote meant. Did No mean keep things the same or a want for a form of change not as extreme as independence?

There is a clear division in Scotland and it’s not simply between its two great cities. It’s far greater than and geographic split. It is a division between progress: progress as a separate country and progress as a nation within the United Kingdom. Scotland does value the union only it’s split on where power should lie.

The solution appears to be to hand more powers to Scotland but it does not appear to be to the extent of the Devo Max proposal considered ahead of the referendum. For many Scots this process will take up much on the months ahead and might not produce the expected outcome. Wales and Northern Ireland have pushed Westminster for equivalent powers to Scotland and all those issues have been sidetracked by the possibility of a change of power structures in England.

Whilst the SNP will push Westminster to commit to the agreed cross-party proposals they must return to governing Scotland in the short term. Many policies have been on hold for much of the last 2 years and they still have a mandate from the Scottish people to govern until 2016. So what now for Salmond? His decision to stand down in the immediate aftermath wasn’t expected. It appeared a rather attention diversion from the most important day in Scotland’s recent history. He is an admired and revered politician and an inspirational campaigner for Scotland but his decision to step down in November could have waited a day or two. The defeating of his most proclaimed policy all but signalled the end to a long established political career.

A lot has been said about democracy and the democratic process. Both campaigns, the high level of public engagement and the voting turnout prove that political engagement is alive in our time. It is up to us as citizens to maintain that. We need to continue to campaign for a progressive Scotland and United Kingdom by holding politicians to account and carrying out our most basic human rights – the right to vote. Politics is, by definition, division and without disagreement there is no progress. The referendum result will, for many of us, Mark the end of the chapter but in reality it has set the scene for the next.

The English and UK media proved how out of touch they were on the issue when they all came rushing up after the poll put Yes in front. It would have taken nothing more than a cheap train fare to test the wind. Instead they piled in a week or so ahead of polling day – the BBC included – rather ignorant of the referendum’s momentum. This ignorance is experienced across all areas and nations of the UK in many aspects of daily life. The UK isn’t all about London and we must strive to move away from this perception. Greater dialogue is needed between all nations in the union.

Will Scotland ever have this opportunity again? Perhaps, although it’s unlikely in the near future. First of all it requires a majority of MSPs at Holyrood to vote to pass a bill on holding a referendum. Given only one party has any interest in Scottish independence it would require the SNP to win a majority of seats in an election. That’s not beyond the realms of possibility given we have one right now. But in theory a majority is meant to be almost impossible to achieve with the Additional Member voting system. Furthermore Scotland would require to agree terms with Westminster on the referendum which may prove more difficult in future after the result of this one. Independence may be shelved for generations to come.

by Dean Wands

22/09/2014

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