It’s a no! But is this the beginning of a federal United Kingdom?
What a result, what a campaign. It’s already become a cliché to say that the Union has changed forever despite the result but let’s examine the five things that will change now the votes have been counted.
1. Devo max for Scotland, localism for everyone else?
Devo Max for Scotland is also likely to lead to a debate on wider devolution in England and Wales. With all parties pushing decentralisation and the bidding war already started on the sums to go to Local Enterprise Partnerships (Labour recently trumping the Conservatives’ £2bn a year with a proposed £30bn over five years), expect local authorities of all colours to push for more freedoms and powers.
2. Barnett Formula revisited
Like the West Lothian Question (see next) the Barnett formula – whereby Scotland gets 10% and Wales 5% of every 100% spent on public spending – is a longstanding and thorny political issue. It is manifestly unfair however politically expedient in the past and now. But local authorities especially in the north – who have long felt aggrieved by the extra cash being shipped over their heads to more prosperous parts – can be expected to mount a significant challenge.
3. Finally an answer to the West Lothian Question
This is the one question that has proved as intractable as the infamous Schleswig-Holstein Question (about the diplomatic relations between two neighbouring duchies). On that question, Lord Palmerston is reported to have said: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.”
Labour has hitherto ducked the somewhat inevitable solution to the West Lothian Question: that Scottish MPs – including the 41 out of the current 59 who are Labour – should not be allowed to vote on English matters such as the NHS. Is now the time that the Conservatives will press this conclusion home to their advantage? A number of Conservative backbenchers have made it clear that they will demand a fair share for England, although Labour’s position is unclear after Douglas Alexander criticised the Prime Minister’s call to answer to the question “a knee-jerk response… driven more by politics than the needs of the constitution”. William Hague has been tasked with finding the solution.
4. Votes at 16?
For young people the referendum in Scotland was a chance to prove that their voice counts, and the fact that they did turn out demonstrates that when young people feel engaged in the issue they will vote. Whether or not 16-18 year olds will be allowed to vote at the General Election next year, or in 2020, will be much debated, but the fact remains that there are now a group of young Scots who have voted. Can anyone really justify taking that vote from them when they have embraced the responsibility as they have?
5. Labour (and Conservatives) to do badly in Scotland at the 2015 General Election?
Will the vigour of their campaign produce a sympathy vote for the SNP at the General Election? No-one can claim that Cameron, Clegg and Miliband had a good campaign, and their last-minute interventions were seen as late and opportunistic rather than statesmanlike. Expect the only Conservative MP in Scotland to lose his seat and for Labour to see a fall from the current total of 41.