Scotland's Decision: A constitutional chain reaction part II

So Scotland voted no. Yes won 45% of the vote, significantly short of a majority and indeed what most of the polls in the run-up to the referendum suggested. Yes won in just four local authority areas, losing in 28. All in all a comprehensive defeat.

Or is it? Is 45% in favour of independence that much of a defeat? It is a historic high, and would have seemed deeply implausible even a couple of months ago. 45% for independence is no endorsement of the UK as it is currently organised. Indeed the strength of support for independence forced the pro-union parties into a last ditch effort to shore up the No case by firming up the commitment to boost devolution in Scotland.

That commitment has set the immediate post-referendum agenda. It has been remarkable overnight observing Yes supporters morphing into supporters of further devolution as they saw the vote turning against them. Just as remarkable was the vigour with which No politicians like Jack McConnell and (very surprisingly) Michael Forsyth were revealing themselves as rather more enthusiastic about more devolution than the formal proposals of their parties appear to be.

And then there are the knock-on effects. The Prime Minister’s speech reflecting on the referendum result did not just reaffirm the timetable for more Scottish devolution initially set out by Gordon Brown (and appoint a coordinator of the process in the form of Lord Smith of Kelvin), but also promised a decisive answer to the West Lothian Question. This no doubt was seen as necessary after taking the temperature of the Conservative backbenches where some were complaining about how additional powers for Scotland were unfair to the English.

So, because the Yes side looked for a while as if it could win, and more powers for Scotland needed to be offered to entice voters back to the No side, we now get English votes for English laws in the House of Commons, on the same timetable as additional powers for Scotland. And Cameron also promised action on implementing the proposals of the Silk Commission on further devolution in Wales too.

The defeat of the Yes side has set off a constitutional chain reaction which looks set to reshape the UK’s territorial constitution. Some defeat.

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Charlie Jeffery's picture
post by Charlie Jeffery
University of Edinburgh
19th September 2014

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