Referendum Reverberations – Whether it’s a Yes or a No
The second and final televised debate on the Scottish Independence referendum ended with press and polls declaring Alex Salmond the winner. The truth may be more complicated; the long-term victor depends not on how Scotland votes, but on what happens in the months following that vote.
As Alistair Darling stayed behind his rostrum, the voice of caution in a debate fuelled by emotion as much as fact, Salmond stepped forward, passionately telling the audience his brand of independence: keep the Pound, the Queen and the North Sea oil. He needed – and offered – no second options; he was ‘seeking a mandate’ from the Scottish people to keep these, no matter what Darling and his Tory ‘bedfellows’ said.
However, on current polls, Salmond could find himself in a position where he has to make do with the other option – Devo Max. Some suggest he would actually prefer this. Although concerns have been raised over Whitehall’s lack of readiness for a ‘Yes’ vote, it is just as timely to look at the implications if the Scots vote no.
Despite saying in Monday’s debate that he will accept defeat and move on, Salmond means to move straight onto Devo Max. Already the Government has said it will look at further devolution, the details of which will be demanded post haste. A lot of thought has already gone into what it will mean: expect full autonomy over domestic policy, and the Conservatives have already published their initial proposals. So expect plenty of more debate about the future of Scotland as party manifestos are prepared over the next six months.
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. Meanwhile, UKIP are unlikely to be the only ones banging the drum for an answer to the West Lothian Question.
For young people the referendum in Scotland will be a chance to prove that their voice counts. The success, or not, of allowing 16-18 year olds to vote for the first time will be much debated, with arguments no doubt put forward that there now is an evidence base for lowering – or not – the franchise. Giving 16 year olds the vote, as Labour has already promised, is only worthwhile if they actually do it. Scotland will be the proving ground.
Many Scots have already voted in the first wave of postal ballots and the televised debates are done. The countdown to the 18 September will be punctuated by plenty of polls which, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percent, will ensure even more media coverage if the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes get within 5% rather than current 10% difference. But no matter what happens in three weeks, reverberations from the referendum will be felt in British politics for a long time to come.