So that’s it. The votes cast and counted, the result announced. Scotland remains in the union. Alex Salmond leader of the independence campaign is resigning as First Minister of Scotland. It’s all over. No. Now the fighting really begins.
Salmond is clearly the most astute politician in Britain today. Although he lost the ultimate vote it has to be acknowledged that he achieved something he would have been glad of at the beginning of the campaign.
He got the wording of the question he wanted; a positive response for independence or a negative response for the union. This shaped the campaign and gave the ‘Yes’ for independence a distinct advantage over the ‘No’ for remaining together.
He had asked for a third option on the ballot, a greater measure of devolution, or devo max. Salmond wanted devo max as he thought it an easier goal, and a major step towards independence. David Cameron thought he had got one over on Salmond when he refused the devo max option. Now that the referendum is over what is Scotland promised? Devo max.
Establishment politicians stayed aloof from the northern squabble, until they panicked in the last month at the surge in the polls for independence, one poll even giving the independence vote a lead. All three party leaders cancelled business down south and rushed north promising the Scots anything we wanted. They were like three drunken Hooray Henrys trying to impress a sceptical barmaid. We could get anything we wanted; tax raising powers, fiscal autonomy, Irn Bru on tap, deep fried heroin, we could have it if only we would stay with them.
We voted ‘No’ and it wasn’t because of desperate promises. Neither was it, as the independence campaign asserted, because of scaremongering by banks and big business. Who trusts a banker today? It was because we kept our feet on the ground and were not swayed by the whims of politicians of either side. The ‘No’ vote was despite the politician’s interventions; the dreams of the independence campaign or the fears of the union campaign.
All the Westminster promises, all the enticements were intended to do two things: firstly to retain power, and secondly, and more importantly, an attempt to reconnect with a population who have grown tired of politics as usual.
Top down politics was rejected, whether from Salmond holding out dreams of a millenarian utopia, or Westminster attempting to find technical solutions to a greater political problem. Ordinary people rejected both separation and ever more extravagant promises. It was the people who did what the establishment couldn’t, they thought hard and reacted with sense to hold the union together.
Now it’s England’s turn. Cameron, Miliband and even the duplicitous Clegg made their promises to get the Scots to stay. Now they have to satisfy the justified anger of the English. Why should English taxpayers fund expenditure in Scotland over which their MP’s have no say, whilst Scottish MP’s can make laws applying to England alone? The American colonies broke away with the cry of ‘No taxation without representation’, why not England?
Already the tripartite unionist agreement is breaking up with Labour leader Miliband rejecting Conservative leader Cameron’s proposals for greater devolution for England. Why? Short term political advantage, in that Scottish MP’s give Labour a large tribal representation without which they would have difficulty governing England in future.
Panicked politicians have screwed things up again. Party leaders made wild promises without thinking of the consequences or even consulting their parties. Now there will be pressure to turn the United Kingdom into a federation of fiercely competing localities. Greater devolution to Wales and Northern Ireland will be demanded. What about the English regions, the Midlands, the North East or South West? We are even hearing serious calls for devo max for English counties and cities.
If we thought we had got rid of back of an envelope political reactions with the departure of Tony Blair we were mistaken. Incredibly complex constitutional readjustments are going to have to be made. Why? Because party leaders panicked and made promises they hadn’t thought through.
Alex Salmond may have lost the referendum, but he ran rings around Westminster. If Alex Salmond is the most adroit politician of our day it is because of his undoubted political intelligence, and also because he was up against pygmies.