In the wee hours of a late summer morning, the United Kingdom heard the words every country wants to hear when it gets down on one referendum — “No.” Thursday marked a historic vote in Scotland on whether to secede from a 307-year marriage with Britain. As the results came out, pro-unionists in Scotland and across the United Kingdom let out a sigh of relief. Scotland’s first minister and Nationalist leader Alex Salmond conceded defeat but vowed to keep the nationalist spirit alive and capitalize on the promises made by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron that the latter will give Scotland more powers and autonomy in government. The vote might have failed, but the newfound hope for independence lives on.
In a last-ditch effort to prevent secession, Cameron promised sweeping reforms for Scotland, promising legislation just shy of independence itself. Economics had been the reason many viewed independence as a viable option. Scotland possesses vast oil reserves that serve as strategic military bases for the region. With tourism, whiskey and banking industries as well, few doubted Scotland wouldn’t survive as an independent nation. With that dream on the backburner for now, the vibrant country should look to gain some concessions from the United Kingdom and build on its autonomy.
A vote for secession would have been embarrassing for Cameron and the United Kingdom as a whole, but with that now in the past, the prime minister must look to deliver on promises or risk uproar from the Scots. During the campaign, Scots demanded autonomy essentially on everything other than national security and financial policy.
Yet, giving Scotland so much autonomy in domestic affairs could be a slippery slope for Britain. Other members of the United Kingdom — England, Wales and Northern Ireland — might demand concessions as well in order to obtain more autonomy in constituent affairs. To prevent that from happening Cameron must make good on the promises he made, being careful enough to give something to the Scots while also maintaining the integrity of the office and state.
Even with the referendum defeated, the Scottish Parliament has seen an extreme boost in morale and confidence. With leverage in negotiations and the full backing of its people, the legislative body will now look to have greater autonomy and turn the other cheek when it comes to taking orders from London.
Even with promise of more autonomy, Scotland might look to vote on independence again in the future. Salmond was universally praised for his efforts in the campaign. He galvanized support across Scotland and garnered strong investments that boosted momentum and almost won the referendum, prompting opinion polls to indicate a victory. Salmond resigned after the results were released, but the spirit of his desire for independence is in full swing. The referendum was the largest turnout in Scotland’s history. Approximately 85 percent of eligible voters turned out, with a majority of people under the age of 55 voting to become independent. That translates to a future where autonomy is desired by a majority of Scots.
The next few months will be telling of the stability and future of the United Kingdom. If Cameron fails to engage in serious talks with the Scottish Parliament to grant more room for self-governing, it will further antagonize young voters and increase their desire to move away from an increasingly out-of-touch Westminster. If more self-governing powers are granted, it will set precedents for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit. Some have declared it is time for the United Kingdom to adopt a more federalist structure to its government, a move that would certainly curry the favor of Scots and anti-unionists alike. Independence fever might break out in the United Kingdom, and it will be interesting to see how the multitude of dynamics and their interplay affect not only the domestic affairs of the United Kingdom, but also its standing in the world.
This referendum might have failed, but the valiant efforts and struggle to gain independence lives on in the hearts of millions of Scots.