It was not to be. With an 87 per cent turnout, Scottish independence was rejected by 55 per cent of voters in the September 18 referendum.
Following vigorous debate and discussion throughout the country, the Yes campaign gained strength leading up to the vote, up 20 percentage points in support, but it still fell short of the No side.
Vote-counting from each of 32 local authorities (councils) went on through the night until the decisive result from Fife at 6 a.m. local time Friday. Early returns revealed No strength with a series of wins reported by locality. The capital, affluent Edinburgh, and the oil capital, Aberdeen, gave some 60 per cent votes to the No.
The Yes side led briefly at 50.2 per cent when good results from Dundee (57 per cent) were announced, but it won a majority in only four districts, including 53 per cent in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and like Dundee, once a manufacturing centre.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street at 7 a.m., nine hours after the polls closed, U.K. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the results. Earlier, in conceding, Scottish Nationalist Party leader and Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond -- fronted by a One Scotland sign on his podium -- announced that Scotland would move forward together.
Cameron, wearing a mauve tie the colour of the thistle, the floral emblem of Scotland, pledged to move ahead with referendum promises made by his Westminster No campaign partners: more powers over tax and spending would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. As well, Cameron said not only should Wales and Northern Ireland expect to receive more authority for their parliaments, the question of how England itself could exercise more regional power -- English votes on English matters -- needed to be addressed.
Cameron and his Westminster colleagues from the No side offered concessions on devolution of powers, towards the end of a campaign they expected to win in a walk.
Further devolution ("devo max") was the question Salmond wanted to be the third option on the referendum ballot. Cameron refused, and it turned out to be a gamble when the Yes side showed such unexpected strength as to throw the outcome into doubt in the days leading up to the vote.
Salmond can be expected to negotiate hard for further devolution of powers; in a sense that is a "win" his party seeks short of independence.
The No campaign leadership made up of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (partners in the governing coalition), and the Labour Party led by Ed Miliband, each has its own devolution proposals. Cameron has cranky Conservative Party opinion to marshal to boot.
In his speech, Salmond pointed to the Westminster establishment operating a campaign to generate fear. Few doubt fear contributed heavily to the No verdict. The Scottish leader could just as easily have referred to the "Western establishment" with the U.S. President, the OECD, IMF and elements in the EU leadership speaking out about the risks of Scottish independence.
What Scotland lost in the referendum vote was the right to manage its own affairs, independent of Westminster.
The Scottish Holyrood parliament was created by an act of the Westminster parliament. It has no powers of its own, only those lent to it (or devolved) by Westminster, which retains a right to overturn decisions made in Edinburgh by Holyrood.
There are no constitutionally separate powers in the U.K. It is unitary, not a federal state. In federal regimes each level of government has its own independently constituted authority; the U.K. may move in that direction, but federalism is not an agenda in the U.K.
When negotiations begin between 10 Downing Street and 6 Charlotte Square, the residence of the Scottish Prime Minister, the stakes will be high for both principals. To be successful, these negotiations will have to include all parties from both sides. Otherwise, with each PM charged with obtaining short-term political advantage for his party, an impasse is most likely.
Disappointment among Yes supporters is to be expected. No amount of self-congratulation about the wonderful campaign waged for democracy and self-government can reverse the majority verdict.
The wonderful Scottish writer Neal Ascherson, author of a lyrical essay about his homeland, Stone Voices, thinks Yes supporters should act otherwise. With three months to go in the campaign, he implored his fellow Scots that following the vote, whatever the result, to decide "from today we shall start to act as if we were citizens of an independent country."
Ascherson writes about how the democratic spirit was released in Scotland with the creation of its parliament. Holyrood lacks functional power, but it has captured the full attention of its electors, putting a lie to the notion that voting does not matter.
While most of the Western world lives through its decades-long legitimacy crisis where governments lose respect, enjoy little genuine support, and are the object of virtually no affection, Scottish citizens have embraced democratic politics.
Simply by happening, the referendum confirmed that the people of Scotland are sovereign. The U.K. and Scottish parliaments can do little to deny this, their democratic authority being in fact derived from it.
Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs. He is in Scotland to cover the referendum debate for rabble.ca.
Photo: Kyoshi Masamune/flickr
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.