Educate Yourself: After the Scottish Referendum
A week has passed since the monumental referendum to decide Scotland’s future. By a relatively close vote of 55% to 45%, the “Yes” campaign lies defeated, scoring a majority in only 4 of the 32 electoral districts in Scotland.
Alex Salmond and the SNP have pushed for independence for as long as anyone can remember, and the defeat of the referendum on September 18 has been a huge blow to the party, causing nationwide defeats in local elections and a loss of governorship in Salmond’s home district of Aberdeenshire.
Yet, Salmond and the SNP have gotten to reap the rewards of independence without the risks: David Cameron is now pushing for increased decentralization, for tax revenues off of the oil extracted from the North Sea wells, and to give Scottish Parliament control over welfare, social programs, national insurance and the like. In short, the loss of the vote has resulted in a granting of many of the powers of an independent country by the UK government without the costly issues of national defense and currency transition.
However, these privileges being pushed by Cameron may backfire. They were promised by the PM in a process of “maximum devolution of power” because of the polls just a week before the referendum actually took place. For the first time in the long struggle for Scottish independence, public opinion in favor of a “Yes” vote was ahead. In a desperate attempt to hold the union together, Cameron promised this series of reforms to be discussed with Salmond if a “No” vote were to prevail.
But now that the vote has failed, there have been rumors that Cameron may back out of “maximum devolution” negotiations, however. A BBC reporter from Westminster tweeted that Cameron may instead grant an “extension of responsibilities” rather than the expanded autonomy promised weeks before. A poll taken by the Scottish Parliament in 2012 when the referendum was first proposed showed that more than 60% of Scots were in favor of increased autonomy, and this rollback of policy by Cameron may lead to furor.
The independence movement may have lost on Thursday, but Alex Salmond and the SNP did not lose as much as they could have. As negotiations begin with Cameron, just how much they can salvage remains to be seen.
What the “Yes” Campaign Did Wrong
A huge question that remained unanswered throughout the duration of the campaign was the question of currency. What currency would Scotland use if they became an independent nation? The SNP argued that Scotland would remain in a solid, Sterling union with the United Kingdom, but were shocked when Westminster refused to support a monetary union with an independent Scottish nation. This point was brought up many times during the debates between Salmond and other pro-union speakers, and was often differed or unanswered by the end of the program.
A solution eventually presented itself in time, however. The Euro would become the national currency of Scotland, argued the SNP, but this argument was not well grounded due to the fact that the entire European continent was in a recession and there was a rapid deflation in the value of the Euro compared to the US dollar. As referendum day approached, a solution failed to surface and the Scottish populace dove into the vote not knowing an answer to one of the most essential questions of the debate.
The vast reserve of oil in the North Sea was always a cornerstone in the independence movement for Scotland, but the overwhelming “No” majority by the Orkneys and the Shetlands discouraged those on the mainland from voting “Yes”. There was a huge concern over oil extraction in these regions, especially by an independent Scottish government, and the northern edges of the nation, the first to be counted, decided to air on the side of caution. The rest of the nation followed suit, leading to a defeat for the “Yes” campaign.
What the “Yes” Campaign Did Right
If Salmond did anything right, he definitely played the nationalism card. With the increasing trend of devolution over the past century, Salmond, while failing to achieve true independence, has managed to begin negotiations for a de facto, if not de jure, independent Scottish State. Already Scotland has its own parliament and deals with many of its own affairs. Much of the “Yes” campaigns argument centered around the idea of true independence though. The ideal of a Scottish nation, the first to truly exist independently in over 700 years, was a huge draw for many young, idealistic voters.
Another huge draw was the promise of the “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign, itself a continuation of the original from the 1970’s. The assurances offered by the oil led many to believe an independent Scotland was not only politically viable, but also economically. Of course, the economic argument fell short as the EU did not follow through on Salmond’s promise of speedy accession and as the UK denied any idea of a continued monetary union.
In fact, the greatest blunder of the “Yes” campaign might have been holding the referendum before these questions were answered. Given time, an answer would have been found or created for nearly every problem which plagued the campaign. With sufficient negotiations, a currency would most likely have been found, the oil problem would most likely have been rectified, etc.
Why the “Yes” Campaign isn’t dead
Far from it, Salmond has simply changed his approach. In a recent interview, Salmond expressed his parties return to the “Parliament” form of independence. The belief is, that if the SNP takes a clear majority in Scottish Parliament, it will be able to declare independence, as it has a clear mandate from the people. Scotland’s future remains thus undecided.