Image Courtesy of The Telegraph UK
All of Scotland’s 32 councils have reported their votes, and the Nay’s have it. Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom. Despite polls in the past week showing that the Yes Scotland vote was on the verge of upsetting the Better Together campaign, the final tally looks like a 10 point differential between the Ayes and the Naes.
The turnout for the referendum set a new record for Scotland, at an estimated 84.6%, besting Scotland’s 1951 general election voter participation record by three percentage points. When the dust settled, only four councils reported have voted “Yes” for independence.
The sense that this could all go downhill fast for the Yes campaign came straight out the gate when tiny Clackmannanshire reported that it had gone for the Union with 53.8% of its votes. The council is the smallest in all of mainland Britain, but it had recently swung in favor of the SNP in the last Scottish election and could be seen as a possible bellwether for the night’s returns. The “Wee County” also set the tone for the night on voter turnout, with 88.59% of its electorate voting in the referendum.
The results were diametrically opposed in Scotland’s largest city, as the Council of Glasgow not only returned a Yes vote from 53.5% of its electorate, but also had a drastically lower percentage of that electorate turn out for the referendum-only three out of four Glaswegians voted in yesterday’s referendum. The four major cities of Scotland were split at two apiece for Yes and No votes, with Dundee joining Glasgow for independence while Aberdeen and Edinburgh voted to remain in the union. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, was particularly vehement in its vote, with 61.10% of the votes going to the No campaign, second only to the fiercely anti-independent Orkney islands where 67.2% of the population rejected the independence referendum and voted “No”. Over 2 million votes were cast in favor of remaining in the UK, while 1.6 million were cast for independence.
David Cameron addressed his country in front of 10 Downing Street just after 7am, London time, this morning. Describing himself as “delighted”, the Prime Minister called for the nation to settle their differences. “Now it is the time for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward.” Less than 8 hours after politicians were earnestly discussing his possible resignation and infamy as the Prime Minister who lost the Union, Mr. Cameron has gained a tremendous amount of political capital as the politician who listened to the will of his people, and tackled the hard issue of Scottish governance. “We could have blocked that, we could have put it off, but just as with other issues, it was right to take – not duck – the big decision …it was right that we respected the SNP’s majority in Holyrood and gave the Scottish people the right to have their say.”
Cameron demonstrated the beginning of his plans to put that political capital to work, announcing that William Hague, the leader of the House of Commons, will be drawing up plans to separate the powers of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, bringing a decisive end to the West Lothian Question that has dogged talks of devolution since 1977. He also appointed Lord Smith of Kelvin, the former head of the BBC and organizer of the Glasgow Commonwealth games, to head the legislative process for giving more powers to Scotland, with legislation to be drafted by January. Such a change would necessarily require the implementation of a federal system in the United Kingdom.
Alex Salmond was gracious in defeat, “I accept that verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.” He did, however, leave the door open for future efforts, qualifying the results by saying that Scotland has “decided not, at this stage, to become an independent nation”, calling the massive number of Yes votes “substantial” and a step towards Scotland’s expanded powers in the future, stating “ “The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid form.” Salmond will likely not be in the spearhead of that next effort though; he has announced his resignation as First Minister and leader of the SNP this morning, effective as of November’s next party conference. Salmond will, however, stay on as Member of Parliament for Aberdeenshire East, where he appears ready to relish “the opportunity to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire on the ‘vow’ that they have made to devolve further meaningful power to Scotland.”
That process has already been ensnared by Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour Party, contradicting Cameron’s planned timing for devolution and calling for a constitutional convention, seeking to tamp the Conservative party’s political muscle. Miliband has been overshadowed by his former boss, Gordon Brown, in the referendum and his shrinking presence has given rise to perceived weakness in the shadow minister, an image he’s taking active steps to dispel. In an interview with the BBC today, Miliband spoke of the need to avoid back room deals and have a transparent process, one country at a time.
Her Majesty, the Queen, is still in residence at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, and is expected to release a statement later today on the referendum. She has stayed on the sidelines throughout this two-year referendum buildup, and appears to be in no hurry to enter the fray even after the fact. While she may yet witness the birth of federalism in the United Kingdom, it is unlikely that Elizabeth II will ever face another Scottish independence referendum in her lifetime.
Despite not getting the vote that he wanted, Alex Salmond has stimulated more change and momentum for not simply Scottish politics, but British politics, than any politician since at least Margaret Thatcher, perhaps so far back as Clement Attlee’s cradle-to-grave social welfare state. Britain is on the cusp of change, but it will be addressing those changes as a United Kingdom.
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