by Evan Rogers
On Thursday, September 18, 2014, people across Scotland made their way to the polls to vote either “yes” or “no” for independence from the United Kingdom. The culmination of years of campaigning on both sides, the historic referendum ended in a close though clear vote for Scotland to stay with the UK. Though the nationalist initiative failed to carry the vote, the fact that it managed to have such a vote at all will have far-reaching consequences both for Scotland and all of the UK.
Scots came forward in droves on polling day to cast their ballots, bringing about a remarkable voter turnout of nearly 85%. According to The Guardian, of those who voted, 55.3% said no to independence while 44.7% said yes. Of the 32 council areas that make up Scotland, the yes side only won the majority of the vote in 4 of them, but only 10 showed a difference between the yes and no votes of 10% or greater. The no side started out with a significant advantage in the polls, but as voting day got closer and closer, the yes campaign began to gain momentum, even appearing to be a few points ahead in some studies. The precarious nature of the situation wrung concessions out of British parliament that could profoundly change not only Scotland but the United Kingdom as a whole.
It was in the panicked and uncertain days just before the final vote that the British government finally broke down and offered to compromise. David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister, promised Scots that if they remained with Great Britain, he would greatly expand the powers of the Scottish parliament. According to The Telegraph, this deal, called Devo Max, would greatly enhance the taxation and spending powers of Scottish parliament and devolve all purely Scottish financial matters from Westminster (the seat of the British government) to their seat in Holyrood, Scotland. This promise was reiterated the morning after the vote to stay with the UK, not just for Scotland, but for Wales and Northern Ireland as well. Carwyn Jones, First Minster of Wales, said Friday that “The old union we know is dead. We need to forge a new one. But no more committees, no more messing about, no more panicky deals — it’s time to sit together, all of us as four nations, and work this through.”
If such a settlement is to be reached, it will be at the end of a long and arduous road; even before Scotland decided to stay with the UK, some conservative members of parliament, or MPs, publicly stated that parliament would never allow such a devolution of its power. According to CNN, others have demanded that increased powers for Scotland be matched by greater authority for England in Westminster, where they already have nearly ten times the representation of Scotland. This imbalance was one of the primary reasons Scotland came so close to independence in the first place; Scotland and England differ so sharply in political beliefs and Scotland is so underrepresented that, for the past twenty years, the government they have been under has been nearly the exact opposite of what they voted for.
One of the most important political impacts of the vote against independence was the resignation of one of Scotland’s most prominent leaders, Alex Salmond. First Minister of Scotland and head of the Scottish National Party, Salmond has been at the forefront of the Scottish independence movement for decades. According to the New York Times, after the results of the vote were announced Friday morning, Salmond gave a speech recognizing his people’s decision and announcing his resignation both as First Minister and leader of his party, saying that “in this new exciting situation, party, Parliament, and country would benefit from new leadership.” Well-known for his fire and passion during the independence campaign, Salmond was described as subdued and wistful as he announced his intention to pass the baton.
It is clear that some resolution still must be reached, not just in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom. While the nationalist movement may not have carried the day, the movement towards independence has energized and revitalized the Scottish people and shown the nation that they have a voice. “Today, the point is this,” said Alex Salmond in his resignation speech on Friday. “The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energized activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows.”