19th September 2014
And the votes are counted, the results are in, and the elation, jubilation, and anxiety have all dissipated. Scotland voted No, against independence and for continuing within the Union. Not easy to know who is most disappointed. Alex Salmond, SNP leader and Yes vote architect must be as sick as a parrot, as this would have been his overriding claim to historic fame, the man who led Scotland to freedom. 1.6 million Scots are also presumably pretty much as gutted as an Arbroath Smokie today, having felt they had enough to break free and realise the dream, no matter how flawed that might have seemed to many of us who didn’t share their vision. Many Catalans, Basques, and others in Europe who fancy their own referenda must also be rather disappointed, as the Trojan Horse tripped and fell at the final fence.
But what of everyone else, the more than 2 million who voted Yes, and everyone else looking on? Not easy to read the other effects of the vote. Tories will surely have mixed feelings about this vote, as they stood most to gain, politically, from this possibility of a breakaway, making their chances of victory in post-independence British elections far greater with Scotland’s Labour, Liberal, and SNP MPs stripped from Westminster. However, the Tory party was once the Unionist Party, and the feelings of loyalty to the Union do run very deep for many traditional Tories. Cameron will also be relieved not to be the Tory who allowed the Union to be broken up, his rather eccentric decision to allow the vote being widely grumbled about within his own ranks. The Libs and Labs will be delighted, as this helps them dream of victory in 2015. The Liberal-Democrats will probably have little but dreams to keep them warm, as Nick Clegg and his crew have managed to kill off support for the Liberal Party better even than former leader Jeremy Thorpe’s involvement in a 1979 trial that involved a homosexual love tryst, a personal argument between friends, and a murder, as well as the killing of a dog. One imagines that it was the dog that lost the Liberals most votes. Labour will see this as a real chance to use their ‘northern’ support to defeat a largely unpopular Con-Dem coalition, but their leader, Ed Miliband, exerts the sort of charismatic charm usually associated with accountants and drainage engineers, and a unique blend of privileged arrogance and parochial glibness that seems to universally irritate. His only real selling points are that he isn’t someone else: Cameron, Clegg, Blair, Brown, or Alex Salmond.
And of the vote itself, well, there isn’t too much mystery there. Of the 32 council districts, only four managed to produce a Yes majority. Of these, only one had a turnout higher than the (extremely high) average of 84.6% (West Dumbartonshire), and this had a rather small number of votes cast (62,450), as opposed to Glasgow which had 364,126 votes, a 53.5% Yes vote, and only 75% turnout, the lowest of the 32. The next lowest was Dundee, my old university home, which produced the first, and largest percentage, Yes vote majority (57.3%), from a 78.8%turnout. The largest percentage No votes came in the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway (both areas in the south, beside England), the Shetlands, and the Orkney Isles (66.6%~63.7%), as well as urban and suburban areas outside Edinburgh and Glasgow. The pattern is that furthest from Edinburgh and Glasgow, and in the wealthiest parts of the country, and where the turnout was highest, the Yes vote was at its weakest. Let us hope that people don’t fancy doing this all over again in a couple of years.
However, as with the independence vote being passed, rejection signals the start of the ‘follow up’. Promises to be kept, such as more powers for Scotland, more support, but also Cameron has now raised that old, thorny issue of what became known as the ‘West Lothian Question’: how much power an MP should have depending upon his/her constituency location? This means, with a devolved government in Edinburgh in control of education, health, farming, transport, police and most other things short of strategy and security, should Scottish MPs be able to vote on these matters related topolicy in the rest of the UK in the House of Commons? This was first raised in 1977 by the Labour MP, and professional troublemaker, Tam Dalyell, in response to a previous referendum on Scottish devolution (self-government, as they have had there for 15 years now), which was rejected (by a convoluted voting procedure). Tam Dalyell was always a thorn in the side of his and every other party as he actually seemed to care deeply about truth, justice, and morality, and questioned his own right to vote on certain issues when his constituents could be separately represented in a Scottish Assembly. Cameron has taken up this issue so that he can have his cake and eat it: keep the union and yet cut down on opposition parliamentary power derived from Scottish seats. He might not be able to force the Tories into power, but he can certainly make it a damn sight more difficult for anyone else to govern.
Oh, and Tam Dalyell’s autobiography is entitled The Importance of Being Awkward. Unsurprisingly, he denounced his own party leader, Tony Blair, as a war criminal. One thinks back and rather wishes Tam were still the MP for West Lothian, just dying to get his teeth into the upcoming post-referendum parliamentary debates. The clashes to come between Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband will be more akin to collisions between sheep or clouds, rather than the bared teeth and claws of a proper backbench beast. We can only hope that the most diligent MP in the House of Commons, former coal miner Denis ‘The Beast of Bolsover’ Skinner is on fine form and ready to put in a good, hard shift at the Commons coalface.