Yesterday was an historic day in British politics. After months of campaigning and fevered debate, the people of Scotland have cast their votes to determine the future direction of their homeland. 55.3% voted to remain within the United Kingdom, while 44.7% voted to secede. The referendum was notable for its record turnout (85%), its high emotions and the worldwide interest it attracted. The ‘no’ vote also marks the end of Alex Salmond’s career as SNP leader and First Minister of Scotland.
In the run-up to the referendum, opinion polls had been close-run things, so I was rather surprised, though not disappointed, with the 10% margin on the final day. I believe that this result has given Scotland the best of both worlds: stability within the Union and the promise of more devolved powers to her parliament. No one in Britain is in any doubt that this vote does not mean ‘business as usual’; indeed, it is widely anticipated that the referendum campaign will signal a shift in the tectonic plates of British politics. Prior to the vote, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband hurried north to offer various promises of constitutional change to Holyrood, promises which will have to be kept. Where does this leave the rest of the kingdom? If the Scots are granted more liberties, the Welsh, English and Irish will surely desire similar concessions. If they are not, there will be more discontent in the future.
I was struck by the passion of the ‘Yes’ campaigners and could understand their need for change. So many Britons feel disempowered and let down by the government at Westminster. The reputation of Labour, the party that once dominated north of Hadrian’s Wall, continues to be tarnished by the misdemeanours and mismanagement of the Blair/Brown regime. Tony Blair, that weasel of a man, abandoned his party’s traditional supporters by cosying up to big business. He spat upon democracy and international law when he followed the monkey-faced devil George W. Bush into an Iraq campaign which cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Gordon Brown, who recently impressed with his passionate support of the ‘No’ campaign, acted shamefully when he sold off more than half of Britain’s gold reserves and failed to rein in government spending during a time when Pharaoh’s granaries should have been full. In short, the Labour Party must shoulder much of the blame for the success of the SNP in recent years and for the desire of so many Scots to leave the Union. In the blue corner, we have the Conservatives, those sticky-fingered artful dodgers who have demonstrated an inconsistent approach to the principle of austerity. For example, they are more than happy to punish the unemployed for daring to receive a subsistence allowance at the taxpayers’ expense, yet such zeal is curiously lacking when it comes to tackling the widespread tax evasion practised by wealthy individuals and multi-national corporations. Given such a lack of trust in Westminster politicians and a first-past-the-post voting system at general elections, is it any wonder that voter turnout is normally low? The Scottish electorate, for the first time in living memory, had the chance to bring about political change. Regardless of the outcome, it looks like they have succeeded.
The ‘No’ campaigners came under criticism for the negative tenor of their arguments and their lack of positive reinforcement; compare their doom-laden warnings with the ebullient optimism of the independence supporters. However, in the end the head triumphed over the heart as two million Scots decided that there were too many unknowns in making a swift exit from a 300-year-old union. I was not surprised to note that teenagers were far more likely to vote ‘yes’ than older voters (youthful idealism and all that).
However, there was an ugly side to the nationalism. Two of my housemates, both Scottish, told me of how their friends and relatives were afraid to express their intention to vote ‘no’ lest they suffered accusations of treason from some in the ‘yes’ camp. Some had even had their windows broken. The cross-border sniping was, frankly, sickening (“Sassenachs” this and “Jocks” that – are we not better than this?) and whole communities were bitterly divided. There are other pressing concerns in world affairs that merit our attention, not least of all the verminous Islamic State, who harbour ambitions to visit their atrocities upon the West one day. The 21st century world is an uncertain place: the Middle East is disintegrating, Putin continues to rattle his sabre, tensions are brewing in the Pacific, Central Africa is troubled by disease and terrorism and Europe’s long-awaited economic recovery appears to be stalling. The UK can ill afford to be riven by internal divisions right now. I hope that this independence debate has given the government sufficient wisdom to implement a package of political reform that ensures a more contented populace and a more stable and prosperous, if more federal, state.