I knew from the moment polls closed that Scotland would deliver a ‘No’ vote. I just had a gut feeling. The polls suggested it would be a close No vote, while there was evidence of a last-minute swing away from Yes. Ultimately the result was 44.7% for Yes and 55.3% for No – a safe victory for the Union, though much closer than it looked to be just a year ago. The Yes vote achieved a majority in Glasgow, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire, while missing out by just 86 votes in Inverclyde. The referendum may have been lost, but for the first time in centuries there is widespread support for an independent Scotland. This in itself may constitute a victory for the SNP and the wider Yes campaign.
So, where do we go now? I was one of the 1.6 million Yes voters because I believed Westminster incapable of instituting the type of reform I would like to see – creating a federal UK that would devolve all domestic powers to Scotland, meet the demands of voters in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and that would solve the West Lothian Question once and for all in a fair way. I was also put off by the complacency in the No campaign, large parts of which basically rested solely on “vote Labour and everything will be ok.” When that poll suggested Scotland may actually vote Yes, the last minute scramble to offer more powers lacked all credibility and reeked of desperation.
Yet, before voting, I made a commitment to myself to respect whichever way the vote went and work with the majority of Scots in creating a better future. This now means I’m committed to making the UK work and will suspend my support for an independent Scotland. To clarify, my support for independence has only ever been a means to an end; I believed independence to be the best route towards achieving the political and social reforms I wanted. Now the referendum is lost it would be a distraction to continue focusing on independence alone at the present moment.
However, crucially, this does not mean I am prepared to give Westminster a blank cheque. All three major parties promised further powers for Scotland and a genuine overhaul of the British constitution. Now a No vote has been delivered the ball is very much in Westminster’s court. I plan to put as much pressure on politicians as possible to deliver real reform; this can be done by voting carefully for parties and candidates that genuinely want change, by writing to MPs demanding they go ahead with reform, by signing petitions, and so on. I plan personally to become much more active within the Scottish Green Party to force change both within Scotland and the UK at large.
The Westminster parties will need to carefully weigh up where they go from here. Many English voters are (rightfully) demanding that Scottish, and perhaps Welsh, MPs should be barred from voting on issues that don’t affect their own countries – essentially, upon ‘English issues’. If more devolution is delivered, the number of issues Scottish MPs can vote on becomes very small indeed. This could present an acute problem if, for example, we get a Labour government elected with a wafer-thin majority (not unlikely according to polls for next year’s election), that’s in office but unable to deliver on many of its policies because it relies upon MPs from Scotland and Wales. This is why I believe simply giving more devolution to Scotland and Wales is an untenable solution. There must be devolution within England as well, spurring a transition to a much more federal structure where Westminster becomes the equivalent of the federal government in other countries around the world. As I see it, this is the only solution.
I’m giving the Westminster establishment a year to bring forward proposals on how to do this. I don’t mean to actively introduce these reforms – they need time to be carefully considered – but there must at the very least be a commitment to a detailed plan of reform and a timetable for implementing it. If this is not the case within a year’s time, if Westminster produces more half-hearted sticking plasters to the issue of Britain’s constitutional mess, then my only conclusion will be that my initial instinct was right and that Westminster is incapable of reforming itself. Now we’re committed to remaining in the union for the next generation I really, genuinely want the UK to work for all its citizens, but if Westminster will not or cannot provide real reform then I don’t see any other alternative than returning to the cause of Scottish independence. I’m not a nationalist – this is not a cause I will triumph if I don’t need to. Westminster, please don’t let us down.
The early movements aren’t looking positive. David Cameron has still yet to commit to any details, instead appointing Lord Smith of Kelvin to oversee vague reforms (I can just hear 45% of Scots shouting, “Have you learned nothing over the last two years?!”). The No campaign promised there would be a cross-party motion delivered to the House of Commons today laying out the groundwork for further devolution. This has not happened. Ed Miliband has seemingly refused to go along with David Cameron’s proposals, perhaps because he has other plans – although it’s worth noting that of all three parties’ reform pledges, Labour’s have consistently been the most limited. I shouldn’t be surprised that this post-vote period is messy, given how plain it is that these devolution pledges have been cobbled together at the last minute. As I said, I’m giving Westminster a year to sort out a plan. During that period I shall be watching and commenting attentively upon that process.
The Union is in your hands, Westminster. If you want to avoid a re-run of the independence referendum in fifteen years, one where you’d have a much harder battle according to demographic figures, you’d better not mess this up.
- Reddingpa (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
- Lee Kindness [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons