So the answer is “No Thanks” to an Independent Scotland. And in the end it was a fairly clear No, maybe not as clear as some would have liked but certainly clearer than many expected. Although many of the votes ran pretty close there were only four local government areas out of thirty-two (Glasgow, Dundee, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire) where the Yes campaign won and there were plenty of corresponding No areas that won by a clear margin, our own Edinburgh being a fine example. The final result showed a 10% margin in favour of No, a far bigger gap than many of the pollsters were predicting in the days running up to the vote and in the end the final result was known well in advance of the last count (from the tardy Highlands) being announced.
So that’s the end of the matter you might think. Oh, how wrong you would be! Whichever way the vote had gone the referendum was always going to send shockwaves through the political life of the British Isles. Already the big names of British politics are buckling down to weather the storm and wisely so, it’s going to be no plain sailing.
Although the No vote may have saved the nation from political power plays over the likes of the currency, Trident, the NHS and even the Queen; there are still plenty of issues waiting to rock the boat. First and foremost is the thorny matter of greater devolution in favour of the Scottish Parliament, within the framework of the United Kingdoms. Devo-max, as politics nerds love to call it, would likely increase the scope of the Scottish parliament’s authority over tax revenue and housing funds but to exactly what extent has still to be decided, as has the timeframe for the changes. Expect complaints of Westminster stalling from Holyrood and accusations of obstinacy flying the other way as the leaders of the two nations haggle over the extend of Scotland’s control over her own spending and taxation.
In the opposite direction the prospect of Scotland leaving the Union for fresher tides has stirred up discontent in England over the deficiencies of the current political system. Just as in Scotland, many south of the boarder feel alienated from Westminster and disenchanted with its politicians. The Scottish Referendum has shown them that they don’t have to except the status quo and many are calling for changes to be made. Particularly contentious has been the so called Midlothian Question. The issue of whether or not Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs should have the right to vote in the House of Commons on issues concerning English Health, Education or Transport when English MPs have no such rights in the Parliaments of the other nations is contentious one. Questions had been raised even before today about the possibility of an English Parliament to match the likes of Holyrood or Stormont and now that the votes are in the calls have not stopped. MPs across England have stated their desire for either the establishment of an English Parliament or the banning of MPs from other nations taking part in votes that exclusively affect England. Either way David Cameron is going to have his hands full calming the demands of MPs, media outlets and voters alike and has already acknowledged that the people of all the nations within the Union must have a bigger say over their own affairs. But let’s be honest, in the run up to a General Election it’s the last thing he, or his Party, needs.
Another question raised by the events of the Referendum campaign, and one that affects the whole of the UK, is the issue of the voting age. Alex Salmond caused a lot of controversy when he declared two years ago that the voting age for the Referendum would be lowered from the usual 18, to 16. Cue arguments that 16 year olds aren’t worldly enough to vote, that they aren’t engaged enough in politics to use their vote wisely, that they’ll be too easily swayed by the opinions of their parents or their friends, I could go on. But now, in the calm after the storm, many are praising the involvement of Scotland’s youth in the debate. Scotland has proved that many young people are interested in politics and that they can engage as fully as their older counterparts in running of their country. So should they be allowed the vote again in future? It’s a question many are asking with an eye to next year’s general election and it’s one that many will be waiting to hear the answer to with bated breath, not least the 16 and 17 year olds who have had their first taste of the democratic system and keen for more. Moreover, with the turnout at the polls averaging at 84% in this vote, levels only dreamed of for General Elections, many are asking how the rest UK can become more engaged in politics and many are pointing to the youth vote as the answer.
So even though Scotland has said No to Independence, that doesn’t mean it’s a No to change. The leaders of all the major Parties have pledge that things will not remain the same in Scotland, or in the rest of the UK, after the ballot boxes, campaign posters and bunting have been cleared away. One thing is for sure, with Alex Salmond stepping down from the leadership of the Scottish government and the SNP, the face of Scottish politics is going to be very different going forward, both metaphorically and literally, as the good ship HMS Scotland sails off into the future.