With Scotland’s decisive rejection of the Independence option in the landmark referendum held on Thursday, the political focus in both Edinburgh and Westminster has shifted to the question of ‘devo max’ (maximum devolution) and the specifics of the devolution package that the leaders of the three main parties of the United Kingdom promised on the eve of the referendum.
The victory of the ‘No’ campaign, led by the two Labour leaders — the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour’s Alistair Darling – was anticipated by opinion polls. It is the extent of the ‘No’ camp’s victory, however, that has come as a surprise to both sides. The sound and fury of the last two weeks, dominated by the ‘Yes’ campaign, had sent politics and markets into a churn.
An unprecedented turnout of 84.59 per cent led the ‘Yes’ camp, which had in the last few weeks of the campaign mobilised a large number of voters to register, to believe that the new voters would vote their way. The results proved the opposite: the majority were simply not convinced of the merits of going it alone.
The ‘No’ campaign received 2.1 million votes or 55.3 per cent of the total votes cast; the ‘Yes’ side trailed with 1.8 million or 44.7 per cent of the votes.
The ‘Yes’ campaign, in fact, won only in four of 32 councils — the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow (53.49 per cent), Dundee City (57.35 percent), North Lanarkshire (51.07 per cent) and West Dunbartonshire (53.96 per cent).
First Minister Alex Salmond, the able political leader of the ‘Yes’ campaign, was magnanimous in defeat, thanking voters for pledging their support for his campaign, and called on the three main U.K. parties to “live up” to their promises of devolution. “I accept the verdict of the people and I call on all of Scotland to follow suit,” he said. “It is important to say that our referendum was an agreed and consented process and Scotland has by a majority decided not at this stage to become an independent country.”
He repeated his charge against Westminster of “scaremongering” and claimed that the “mass movement” created by the ‘Yes’ campaign had terrified the government. The max devo package has yet to be spelt out, and initial statements by Prime Minister David Cameron suggest that it has already created divisions.