Scotland’s ‘no’ answers one question but raises others

Scotland’s ‘no’ answers one question but raises others

Scotland voted to stay in the UK, but there is still debate over how devolution will play out.

In the early hours of September 18th, many were relieved as Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom. The associated economic and political uncertainties were gone, the pound surged to a two-year high and all applauded a regained sense of democracy. In fact, many saw the end of the referendum as the beginning of a new era for the UK political structure.

In particular, the tripartisan vow for extensive devolution will likely put Scotland in a stronger position. Former PM Gordon Brown assured his fellow Scots that devolution would be akin to “modern home rule,” and that a vote against independence was not a vote for the status quo but for another, safer road to change. Thus many of the No-voters are now keen to see how this pledge plays out in practice.

A large number of Yes-voters are still bitterly disappointed with the referendum results and may try to achieve as much devolution as possible. If either group suspects Westminster of reneging on its promise, then we can expect a drop in support for the three main parties, disruptive protests or even calls for another referendum.

However, the vow for increased devolution has proven controversial in the rest of the UK. Many Conservative MPs have rejected it and instead claim Scotland should get less financial support from Westminster. This spells uncertainty for Prime Minister David Cameron, who critically lacked the support of backbenchers in his own party when promising devolution. As a result, he may have to deal with a potential vote of no confidence (chiefly since only 46 MPs are needed to initiate one).

Other actors think that Scotland should not be given special treatment, and that devolution should spread throughout the UK to Wales, Northern Ireland and England itself. One notable proponent of this is the Liberal Democrats’ leader Nick Clegg, who recently called for radical constitutional change and decentralization even among areas within England. On the other hand, the Labour party rejected talks of non-Scottish devolution until after general elections in May.

The No-vote in Scotland has not ushered in the political stability that was expected, and the sigh of relief may have come too soon. If Westminster grants devolutionary powers to Scotland then it may be pressured into initiating wider reforms in a hurried and unpredictable way. But if Westminster reneges on its promise to Scotland, then the UK will face a huge blow to trust in political institutions only a few months before the general elections.

Either way, the future of the UK is uncertain. When a vote of no confidence, unrest in Scotland and the ever-present chance that Britain could leave the EU are all plausible short-term outcomes, the scope for long-term forecasting grows even smaller than usual. All in all, though the unionists may have won the referendum, the Kingdom looks less united than ever before.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Karl Sorri

Karl has gained global experience working at the Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, the Political/Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, and as a freelance journalist. Karl holds an MA in Politics from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.