Thursday, September 18, 2014

UK must now prove it’s ‘better off together’

Victory for the No campaign in the Scottish referendum was not unexpected. While media commentators love to trot out the ‘too close to call’ cliché, the fact is that apart from a couple of hiccups about a week out, No was always in the lead and this was mirrored in the final result.

However, while the margin of around 10 per cent is substantial, that other cliché about a ‘comfortable victory’ should also be avoided. This is no time for triumphalism. More than 1.5 million Scots did cast their vote for independence and that should be exercising some minds back at Westminster.

Among the mass of tweets and comments on the result was one from Canada which decried the fact that ‘Scotland has voted to stay subject to its English overlords’. While North Americans have a habit of poking their noses into United Kingdom affairs, usually with a breathtaking amount of ignorance, this statement is worth noting.

Do many Scots really consider themselves to be second-class citizens in relation to the English? The sheer imbalance of population means that democracy works against them. It had been hoped the granting of limited self-government and a Parliament at Edinburgh would go a long way to satisfying the inevitable frustrations north of the border, but for a significant proportion of the population apparently not.

In the last few days of the campaign, when it seemed the momentum might be shifting towards Yes, British Prime Minister David Cameron made some hasty commitments to grant further powers to Edinburgh. He will now be held to that promise.

The question for the Government – and for the Parliament at Westminster - is now what form those powers will take and how it will affect the United Kingdom as a whole.

There has been discontent among English MPs over their Scottish colleagues voting on English matters while the English no longer have a say over much of what goes on in Scotland. It is fair to surmise that if further powers head north that discontent would increase.

There have even been suggestions of an ‘English Parliament’, perhaps based in Birmingham. Where that would leave Westminster one can only guess.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has conceded defeat. But is this defeat in the battle or the war? One thing is certain: a Yes vote would have sundered Scotland from the UK forever. The permanency of a No victory…? Well, I am not so sure.

Salmond and his Nationalist colleagues know there is a wellspring of discontent with the status quo among many Scots. Independence has been beaten back today, but what is to stop him or his successors maintaining in a decade or so that ‘that was then and this is now’ and calling for another referendum?

The weed of instability may have been cut down for now, but there is more work to be done on both sides of the border if it is to be finally pulled out by the roots.              


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