The Union Carries On to Fight Another Day (Oct, 2014)
After all the hype, fuss, threats and promises Scotland finally has its answer to their 2014 question of independence. The result was a resounding No. Scottish Unionists came out on top with a count of 2,001,926 and 55.3% of the vote (Gaurdian, 2014). The Yes Campaign was not too far behind though. They managed to gain 1,617,989 votes with an overall percentage of 44.7 (Guardian, 2014). The voter turnout was a striking 84.6%. It was truly a remarkable display of democratic participation especially when one considers that in the 2011 elections only 50.6% came out to vote (Denver, 2011). The Better Together campaign succeeded despite some wary tactics, including a belittling advert directed towards undecided women voters, which caused a bit of fury (Wilkinson, 2014). It seems that a sense of Britishness still clings to the majority of Scots. The Yes boys and girls now wallow in defeat with the rough feeling that somehow fear has won over -what was for them- common sense. Out of the 32 Council areas in Scotland only four saw a majority voting for independence. These were the councils of Dundee in the northeast, the city of Glasgow and two of its neighboring areas, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire. This does not come as a surprise. Glasgow is one of the most under-developed cities in the entirety of the UK and is the city that has felt the most disillusioned with Westminster’s conservative politics. One man in Glasgow was even arrested for trying to sell his vote on eBay, emphasizing the city’s condition and mentality towards politics in general (BBC, 2014). Out of these four independent leaning council areas none were able to muster a substantial lead and only narrowly gained a victory, whereas the No votes had a considerable lead in almost every other council. The top councils who came out most strongly against a Yes were the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, which took 66.6% and 65.7% of their respective council vote to stay with the union. This makes sense, as they are the two councils that directly border England and possibly had the most to lose from independence. However, it was the far and away Orkney Islands that took the most hardened stance against a new country with 67.2% of their council vote. The results show that Better Together was successful in making the Union the best option for voters. So where did the Yes campaign lose the steam it had been gaining all the way up to the referendum?
Pre-referendum polls had been showing a surge in Yes voters towards the end of the campaign but in the end it failed to hold on to that momentum. While many of those pushing for independence fully believed that a better Scotland needed radical change it was the undecided voters that needed to be swayed to secure a victory. In the end most of those undecided chose the safest option and not the most radical. The SNP had many noble causes on their side, ranging from nuclear disarmament to cleaner energy, but they failed to focus the referendum around a clear and safe ideology. This allowed uncertainties and concerns over the economy to trump the risk of a new self-governed nation. Stephen Daisley points out in his own analysis that although a vision of an independent Scotland was made by the SNP, it was not a vision that could convince people that a severed country could provide security for their families –or wallets- (Daisley, 2014). Concerns for a stable currency and over fleeing businesses brought too much uncertainty and so most Scots went to the ballot saying “No Thanks”.
Those that did choose Yes and were pushing for momentous change are handling their defeat in various ways. Two separate petitions have gathered 150,000 signatures demanding for a recount, citing alleged evidence of vote fraud (PressTV, 2014). Alternative media has even helped start a new campaign for independence called ‘We are the 45%’ who claim that the fight is not over (Smith, 2014). SNP boss and First Minister Alex Salmond has stated that he will be stepping down in November. He also made claims that the Scottish peopled had been tricked into voting No (Hui, 2014). Yet, while some Scots are playing the sore looser card, others are taking the defeat in stride. Tommy Sheridan, one of the most prominent independence activists, is already preparing for a 2020 independence referendum and is urging voters to continue to accept the SNP in next elections (HeraldScotland, 2014). Mr. Sheridan has made it clear that politics is no longer a politician’s game and though his socialist leanings make him a bitter ally to the SNP he still thinks they are the best chance for independence.
Although independents were defeated the debate alone has sparked a larger sense of political power through participation among the people, the relationship between those governed and those who govern is being changed throughout the whole kingdom. Citizens across the political spectrum of the UK and particularly Scotland have woken up and become more involved. This is something that every democracy should strive to do if they want to maintain a healthy and dynamic balance throughout the population. London allowed this referendum to take place and this certainly needs to be commemorated, but they should have predicted that even a No vote would stir the entire country to ask for change. When Westminster promised to devolve more powers in the case of No victory it caught the attention of some emerging decentralists in rest of the UK. More devolution is now starting to be sought after by Manchester, Yorkshire, and of course Wales (Sandle/Young, 2014). In the coming years it will be up to Westminster to show that they will not ignored those they represent, or as in Quebec we may see a return of the referendum and not just in Scotland. Although some see the cause of most problems to be the Union’s fault, the UK does provide a starting point and strong foundation to make real change possible (White, 2014). Whether that positive change will follow is now up to the MPs and if they can’t deliver the people will surely step in as they have done in Scotland.
Interestingly enough, now that Scotland remains in the UK the chances of Britain exiting the EU have now dropped significantly. The Labour Party without the loss Scotlands MPs now stands a good chance of winning the next general election and putting a stop to David Cameron’s conservative led Brexit vote. This could be good news for Europe. With Britain remaining in the EU it will provide an example of how to deal with –or how not to deal with- similar secessionist movements like Scotland that have been cropping up elsewhere on the continent. Catalonia, Basque, Südtirol, Venice, Sardinia, and numerous other independence hot spots have all been closely watching how Britain and Scotland’s dance will play out. Many are worried that this will all lead to a violent balkanization of the EU, but it need not play out that way. All these regions are merely asking for is to be heard, for better representation, and for more trustworthy institutions. Leopold Kohr advocated in his book The Break Down of Nations that it is smaller states that should be promoted in the world. He spoke of how in these small states the citizen has greater influence on institutions, that with regional autonomy economic problems are countered more easily, and that culture is allowed to flourish without the loss of wealth to state spectacles or military adventures. He wrote that his advocacy for smaller states and not bigger ones is “not to furnish another of those fantastic plans for eternal peace so peculiar to our time. It is to find a solution to our worst social evils, not a way to eliminate them” (Kohr, 1957). Still questions remain. Will Britain and the EU break down into secessionist pieces? Will Scotland hold yet another referendum for independence? Will the Catalans get their own chance to vote? The outcome of these dilemmas will all depend on how well the powers that be and the institutions that we have today can communicate with their populations, as well as how strongly they can commit to solving problems through compromise and greater citizen involvement in politics.