To the bitter disappointment of Scottish nationalists and England haters everywhere, the referendum on Scotland’s independence held yesterday appears poised to return a negative vote. Call it a national Stockholm syndrome or call it common sense, the Scots have decided that they are indeed better off together with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. With 26 of 32 voting districts reporting at the time of writing, there were 1,397,077 votes (54.2%) against independence, and 1,176,952 (45.7%) in favour. With a clear but not thumping victory, the question of how to go forward with nearly half the territory wishing to leave must be on everyone’s minds.
There will be debate in the coming days, weeks, and months as to why the Yes Scotland campaign lost its momentum. As Thucydides is supposed to have said, in a democracy, the vanquished can always console themselves with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it. No doubt, the BBC has accusations of bias in store for it, not to mention the discrepancy in the resources available to the two sides. Despite the passionate appeals by either side, the voters seem to have been plagued by uncertainty. The No campaign’s strategy of fear-mongering was not effectively countered by the other side, most claims being dismissed out of hand or flippantly brushed aside. Though some of the dire predictions about the the price of Scotland’s independence were preposterous, many voters were not sufficiently reassured to vote Yes on September 18.
For the moment, England can rest easy that its nuclear arsenal still has a home in Scotland’s naval bases and NATO need not worry about losing square footage. Financial markets can also calm down and get back to business after their overreaction over the past couple of weeks. Europe was spared having to frame the terms and conditions for Scottish membership of its union, at once a nightmare and an ideal case. Lastly, Scotland’s continued observance of the 1707 Act of Union has saved the diplomatic corps of several northern European countries months of negotiations on maritime boundaries and economic rights with a new country.
However, David Cameron may have secured the Union under his watch but he has also promised the Scots a pound of flesh – a substantial devolution of powers to the Scottish parliament. It is a safe bet that Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party will come collecting. Scotland will have a greater say in its taxation, healthcare, education, legal affairs, housing, sports, tourism, and the environment; it may even get some say in reserved matters (Westminster) such as nuclear power and benefits and social security. The British prime minister’s promises, however, have provoked calls from Members of Parliament south of Hadrian’s Wall demanding an English parliament with similar powers; one can be certain that Wales and Northern Ireland will not be far behind.
Alex Salmond has promised that this will be his last referendum for Scottish independence, but anyone who thinks that 2014 has seen the end of Scottish nationalism is going to be very disappointed. The hold of the Conservatives over England has always been of concern to the more Left-oriented Scots; this referendum strengthens the Labour party. The United Kingdom’s last involvement in a war in the Middle East did not receive much favour in Scotland and the current geopolitics of the region makes it likely that the issue will cause friction yet again between Westminster and Holyrood.
For tonight, all is well in the United Kingdom. Tomorrow, they will have to wake up and begin nation-building again. Perhaps what Karl Marx said about permanent revolutions also applies to nations – be it Scotland, Catalunya, Kurdistan, Quebec, or even the European Union, nation-building seems to be a more permanent activity than political theorists and leaders thought at the turn of the 20th century.