Here’s the problem. If the nationalists had won, they’d have started a risky, costly transition, but the final destination would have been clear. The unionists’ victory avoids that short-term pain but prolongs the constitutional uncertainty indefinitely. Cameron might wish things were “settled,” but they aren’t. The demand for independence isn’t going away. When you consider the apocalyptic predictions of the No campaign, the Yes campaign’s transparent dishonesty (on taxes and spending) and incoherence (on the currency), the threats of Scottish businesses to move south, and the rock-solid consensus outside Scotland that leaving the union would be a tragic error, 45 percent support for independence suggests a certain resilience.
Larison agrees that the conflict is not yet over:
As we have already seen, instead of settling anything the referendum has produced new promises of devolution for Scotland and increased demands in England for significant changes to the current system. The former probably can’t or won’t be honored, since they were made on the fly without the consent of the rest of the U.K., and that will eventually mean another referendum. In that case, unionists won’t be able to make credible offers of greater devolution, and that would make it more difficult to avert independence later on.
But Keating begs to differ:
I suspect British politics will return to normal fairly quickly. Some have also predicted that the independence movement isn’t quite done yet, and that there’s potential for a Quebec-style “neverendum” in which independence becomes a perennial debate. But with the aftermath of the euro crisis and an unpopular Conservative government in power in London, this was probably the best opportunity available for Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party. The independence advocates took their best shot, missed, and probably won’t get another one as good for a while.
Recall that the Scots, despite having their own parliament in Edinburgh, currently enjoy the bizarre privilege of sending Scottish members of parliament to Westminster to vote on English-only matters (not to mention a fiscal bonus called the Barnett formula, which underwrites higher public spending in Scotland). Because Scotland leans to the left, this arrangement has been vital in maintaining the strength of the Labour Party in the south. You’ll be shocked to learn that it was a Labour government (led by Tony Blair, born and educated in Scotland, and Gordon Brown, a Scot representing a Scottish constituency) that enacted it.
A new round of devolution, with Tories in charge in London, opens this Pandora’s box. To meet the demands of English conservatives, Cameron has said that the rest of the U.K. must now get devolution, too –English votes on English policies. The prospect is a constitutional restructuring almost as radical as the one implied by full independence for Scotland.
The question is already splitting the parties:
On Friday morning, the No victory in Scotland’s independence referendum just hours old, David Cameron stood before 10 Downing Street and set a trap for the opposition. The new powers pledged to Edinburgh during the campaign would be transferred on the promised, fast timetable, he confirmed. On the same timetable, he added (in a barb reportedly devised over curry with George Osborne the night before), William Hague would work on plans for English-only votes on English matters. …
So far Labour has brushed aside the proposal. It is self-interested, cynical and drawn up on the back of a fag packet, party figures avow, rightly pointing out that there had been no agreement to link new Scottish devolution to solving the English question. In an interview with Andrew Marr this morning Ed Miliband countered that it would be hard to separate parts of legislation only affecting England from those affecting the rest of Britain, and that EVEL would create two classes of MPs. He wants a constitutional convention, a longer, more exhaustive and more bottom-up process than the constitutional supermarket-sweep proposed by Mr Cameron, one also encompassing devolution to city and regional authorities within England.
These points are all entirely valid. But they risk making Labour look as self-interested as the Conservatives. And the question is not likely to go away. According to the British Social Attitudes and Future of England surveys, the proportion of voters “strongly” supporting EVEL rose from 18 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2012. The imminent transfer of new powers (particularly tax-raising ones) to Holyrood will only accentuate that trend.
Zooming out, political scientist Graeme Robertson suggests that “the key lesson from the Scottish referendum is something that scholars have long known but that citizens and politicians often seem to miss – allegiance to states is highly malleable and can be quickly changed by events, even in an old country like Scotland.”