Handicapping the Scottish independence referendum was tricky, but the analysts who thought Scotland would vote for independence had some persuasive arguments. The independence movement was better-organized and more exciting; it did a better job of using both traditional and new media; the political leader of the movement, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, was charismatic and capable; young voters were fired up about casting a historic independence vote; the Scots were tired of living under ruling coalitions in London they didn’t vote for; the Scots were swinging left, while the rest of the UK was having a few second thoughts about cradle-to-grave socialism; the referendum was set up so that Scots living abroad, who tended to favor remaining in the United Kingdom, couldn’t vote. Even the wording of the referendum was said to make independence sound like the rightful due of the Scottish people, which could influence fence-sitters to vote yes.
But in the end, three centuries of union were preserved, and it wasn’t even close. Turnout was huge, and the final tally came in 55 percent against independence, 45 percent in favor. The “Yes” vote did enjoy some regional successes, however, notably including Glasgow, which voted by 53 percent in favor of independence.
Conventional wisdom now swings smoothly to the conclusion that the Scottish independence referendum was never all that serious to begin with – it was always meant to be a shakedown, an effort to rattle cages in London and squeeze out political and financial concessions for Scotland. In that, it seems to have been successful, although it remains to be seen just what the vague promises made to Scots by England during the campaign will amount to in practice. One suspects those promises will be generously fulfilled, to prevent the whole drama from repeating itself in the near future. Consider the contrast between the statements made by Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron, as reported by the UK Guardian:
David Cameron has declared a “clear result” in the Scottish independence referendum after Scotland voted by a 10.6-point margin against ending the 307-year-old union with England and Wales.
The prime minister promised a devolution revolution across Great Britain, including votes on English issues by English MPs at Westminster, as he hailed Scotland’s decision to remain inside the UK.
“There can be no disputes, no reruns ??? we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people,” Cameron said in a statement outside No 10 Downing Street shortly after 7am on Friday.
Earlier, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, struck a defiant note at a downbeat Scottish National party rally in Edinburgh, saying he accepted Scotland had not “at this stage” decided to vote for independence.
He paid tribute to what he called a “triumph for democratic politics” and said he would work with Westminster in the best interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK ??? warning the leaders of the three main parties to make good on their promises of enhanced devolution for Scotland.
“We have touched sections of the community who have never before been touched by politics,” he said.
Clear result, Scotland has spoken, no disputes, no reruns, settled will of the people… now, let’s get busy with devolution! Which sounds like an excellent idea, actually, provided it’s managed properly. I suspect “devolution” – more properly, decentralization – will be the big story of the 21st Century, just as centralization was the big story of the 20th. Centralized power doesn’t work: its promises are never fulfilled, its errors are epic in scale, it wastes hideous amounts of money, it fosters bitterness and unrest by forcing top-down solutions on dissenting people, and it dilutes the sense of representation that democracy is supposed to bring. That was a common lament from Scots who favored independence – they felt they had no effective voice in the central government. It’s a complaint that found sympathy among Americans observers, whose nation was founded on precisely those complaints… and where today’s citizens feel increasingly disconnected from a massive and distant central government they don’t control in any meaningful way. By definition, centralization is the dissolution of representation, an idea I explored at greater length over at RedState yesterday.
Some interpret the failure of centralization as the death knell for large and diverse nations. Even liberals are prone to bang out “America is ungovernable” screeds when they’re frustrated about not getting their way, or when they’re trying to cover for the latest Big Government failure. The answer may instead lie in decentralizing power to preserve national unions, shifting both power and responsibility to local governments. This has the immediate beneficial effect of making voters feel better-represented, as smaller governments they can more readily influence grow more significant than the distant national capital. It makes the people in different states or regions less prone to resent one another. It breaks up the lobbyist and special-interest domination just about everyone, across the political spectrum, professes to hate… but which is inherent to big, centralized government.
And perhaps most importantly, decentralization gives citizens a greater sense of both control and responsibility for their own fates – something the Scottish independence movement spoke passionately, even poetically about – while also giving those unhappy with local rule an easy way to withdraw their consent without leaving the nation. The Scots have a golden opportunity to use the enhanced powers coming their way to make Scotland a proud example of successful government within the United Kingdom. I hope they do such a bang-up job that the rest of the U.K. ends up wishing they could be more like the Scots.
Holding the United Kingdom together is very good news for Prime Minister Cameron, who was so doomed by the success of the “yes” vote that he was reduced to claiming he wasn’t doomed by the success of the “yes” vote. His political coffin can now be wheeled back into storage until the next crisis. Here’s more of his statement from the Guardian, along with reactions from some other leaders:
Cameron said: “The people of Scotland have spoken and it is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together and, like millions of other people, I am delighted. [Ed. note: for the benefit of American readers, the other two nations of the UK, besides England and Scotland, are Rohan and Gondor.]
“As I said during the campaign, it would have broken my heart to see our United Kingdom come to an end. And I know that sentiment was shared by people not just across our country but around the world because of what we have achieved together in the past and what we can do together in the future.
“So now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward. A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement, fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said the referendum was a vote from the Scottish people for change. “We know our country needs to change in the way it is governed and we know our country needs to change in who it is governed for. We will deliver on stronger powers for a stronger Scottish parliament, a strong Scotland.”
But he said that would go beyond Scotland. “We will also meet the desire for change across England, across Wales, across the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said the referendum “marks not only a new chapter for Scotland within the UK but also wider constitutional reform across the union”.
Echoing the SNP’s argument, he said a vote against independence was “clearly not a vote against change”.
“We must now deliver on time and in full the radical package of newly devolved powers to Scotland,” he added.
Not everyone is wild about the broad outlines of Cameron’s “devolution revolution,” including the feisty UK Independence Party, which thinks it doesn’t go far enough:
Yet that result raises the risk of further turmoil, with MPs from Cameron’s Conservative party threatening to revolt against the prime minister’s late and potentially vital vow to quickly increase the Scottish parliament’s powers while protecting its spending.
The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, said Cameron’s offer of more devolution for England did not go far enough. “The English are 86% by population of this union. They’ve been left out of all of this for the last 18 years. We still have a situation where Scottish MPs can vote in the House of Commons on English-only issues. I think what most English people want is a fair settlement,” he said.
Well, “independence” and “autonomy” also mean paying your own way, Scotland. How about it? Any takers? While we await the answer, Bloomberg Businessweek reports the markets are very pleased with the preservation of the United Kingdom:
Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc, which had threatened to shift their domiciles out of Scotland if it separated from Britain, rose. SAP SE fell the most in more than five months after the biggest maker of business-management software agreed to buy Concur Technologies Inc. Sulzer AG lost 3.8 percent after people familiar with the plan said Siemens AG may make an offer for Dresser-Rand Group Inc. Options and futures on stocks and indexes expire today in a process known as quadruple witching.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index gained 0.4 percent to 349.06 at 1:30 p.m. in London, after earlier rallying as much as 0.9 percent. The number of shares changing hands in the gauge???s companies was more than double the 30-day average for this time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The U.K.???s FTSE 100 Index advanced 0.6 percent to 6861.39, about 17 points lower than a 14-year high reached in May.
???It???s a risk-on day,??? Richard Champion, chief investment officer of Sanlam Private Investments (U.K.) Ltd., which manages $4 billion, said by telephone in London. The Scottish referendum ???is one more thing investors don???t have to worry about. A ???yes??? vote would???ve caused uncertainty for the European and U.K. markets. In continental Europe, we have loose monetary policy that will be supportive for shares.???
There’s a lot to be said for the stability that comes with a comfortable union. Centralization, with its attendant corruption, inefficiency, and arrogance, is the great menace to harmonious union in the new century.