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Scottish Referendum: The High Roads & Low Roads of Unity & Disharmony.
It's been the largest bone of political contention in Britain for decades. In a nation where electoral fervour is a sputter and a spark in a dank room, the air around the topic of Scottish Independence became inflammable! Explosive gasses as the day of the vote grew closer threatened to turn noxious as the bat of opposing forces swatted the ball of ideas back and forth between camps. Opinion swayed endlessly like the Saltire caught in a vigorous September breeze, as it doubtlessly was the case when Polling Stations opened across Highland and Lowland yesterday. Speculation and anticipation gained nerve-tinged high pitch, a heady ballad of bag pipes bouncing off Grampian-esque mountainsides of not only Scottish, but British clamour. Left, right and centre, celebrities waded in, from David Bowie's vicarious plea through a Kate Moss mouthpiece at the Brit Awards, to Russell Brand's cyber activist newsdesk "The Trews" advocating freedom seized back for the people. Attaining full circle when the tennis star with a chameleon nationality, Andy Murray (when he wins he's British, when he loses he's Scottish), decrying the negativity of the No campaign and "outing himself" as yes - not that many were surprised by his assertion.
The day came, the caber was tossed in the air and we all waited to see where it would land - I'm tiring of the Celtic puns...
A record breaking turnout hit the voting booths (as high as 91% in some regions), an adrenaline shot to the arm of a waning, sickening landscape of British democracy. With renewed vim and vigour, the hounds of discourse and the throngs of two opposing armies waited it out...
It was a close run thing. One region declared with only 86 votes separating the two, No claiming the day there. Even areas like Glasgow only declared support for independence by no overwhelming margin, Yes gaining ground in Scotland's largest city by about 25,000 votes from more than 350,000 (the largest city offering the lowest turnout at 75%). Other areas like Dumfries and Galloway voted No in a landslide 70/30, even the capital, Edinburgh surprised, branding like a tattoo (sorry) with 61% voting No.
At the end of the referendum, No achieved victory, albeit a slim one 55% voted No, compared to 45% voting Yes. Britannia is a stronger harridan than many gave her credit for, it seems! Salmond failed to get upstream, positively smoked by the bear claw of his own people... and Sturgeon will have to put the caviar back in the fridge for Hogmanay. The First Minister resigned and the thirst for democracy for that which is deemed by people to matter, has prompted a wider debate of a little fragmentation to the Union, to the extent we could have regional devolution... the evolution of politics ostensibly needs a lot more branches!
For Better of for Worse? The Ball and Chain of Any Union...
307 years is a long time. The Act of Union in 1707 merged England and Scotland. Queen Anne ceased to be Monarch of several nations and become Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (whilst still embracing the nebulous idea of France at the same time). Scotland and England having separate monarchs by that point had become fogged by time's inexorable frog march. 104 years earlier, the last Tudor Monarch of England, Elizabeth I, died. England was in a succession quandary, the notion of democracy been long forgotten since the days the language of the word's origin held supremacy in Europe, or the era of a Roman Republic. England's Virgin Queen had left behind a fertile country of wealth (being the richest in Europe), but the "chaste" daughter of the lecherous Henry VIII left her Gloriana nation minus an heir. It was the roving eye of her father that had put England's back even further against a wall. Having broke with the Church in Rome, his actions prompted a Protestant overhaul and a messy divorce with Papal authority. That meant a Protestant Elizabeth had a far smaller staple of eligible heirs to select from an already hostile continent. The only option were Elizabeth's cousins in the north.
Having already done away with her Catholic cousin and the Scottish King's mother, one would think perhaps James VI would have shown England the middle finger. However, Mary, Queen of Scots had spent most of the last two decades of her life in captivity, one way or another, thus never knew her son. James had been raised by his Protestant father (also Elizabeth's cousin, Lord Darnley) therefore, more English and French than tartan blood Scot, James was more than willing to indulge in the riches of the English court (and patently, the young men on offer).
Since 1603, the two nations had the same Head of State (minus 11 years of English Commonwealth under Cromwell, when Charles II remained King of the Scots. So 104 years is actually 93). The Act of Union put paid to any division and formed one nation. Although Scottish law courts remain under their own jurisprudence... and the nation sailed along into Empire with unity (minus blips like the Jacobite Rebellion of course. Queen Anne's Catholic younger brother and subsequently, nephew, were displeased with their German cousins, the Protestant Hanoverians, receiving the throne as agreed at the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession).
After that, we all skipped along in merry unison, right? Apparently not. The first mumbles towards support of Scottish Home Rule emerged in 1853. At first (oddly) it was associated with the Conservatives, yet swiftly gained Liberal backing. In 1885, the Secretary for Scotland was re-established, yet Prime Minister at the time W.E. Gladstone, introduced a Bill for Irish Home Rule, which reignited the desires for such north of the border. It was a second Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, who became a proponent for "Home Rule for all" overseeing the application for Scottish Home Rule before the Commons in 1913... of course, World War One put any debate on devolution on the back burner (and many of the lads who would have voted for it, in a trench in western Europe).
The Scottish National Party (SNP), formed in 1934, winning their first Parliamentary seat in 1967. Winnie Ewing triumphing in the Hamilton By-Election. A gust up the kilt for the bracing loins of devolution, the first referendum for such taking place in 1979. The final vote was cast and the Celtic fervour was truly split, but votes favouring devolution achieved victory... yet devolution didn't. A condition of the referendum required that 40% of voters needed to say Yes and having only managing a 63.9% turnout meant only 32.9% of eligible Scottish electorate assented.
1997 however, altered the landscape instead of constricting it. With 74.3% opting for devolution (44.87% of the entire Scottish electorate). The Scottish Parliament was formed and the foundation stone on the bonnie road towards yesterday was first laid.
Should there be devolution in all UK nations?
The Thorny Thistle of "What Next?" The Sharp Spike on the Rose!
Now that Independence has been rejected. The Union faces a lot of questions. Will it last another 307 years? None can say. Will Scottish Independence become a reality in any of our lifetimes? Possibly. Will Scotland achieve the dynamic title of - a more apt description for an Isotonic sports drink - Devo Max? More than likely. Will Spain grant the same privilege to Catalonia? Never! British youths are more likely to keep their legs crossed in Magaluf than that happening! But the most prevalent issue is, what about the potential of more powers to the other 3 nations of the Union? or even regions in the Union itself?
The Welsh Assembly has been healthy in it's governance of Welsh issues and the discussion for greater devolution was on the table before the Scottish referendum. The Ulster Assembly has been operating out of Stormont Castle since 1921, yet as it stands, there is no English Assembly or English Parliament. Since 2002, parties such as the English Democrats have sought English Devolution. It is now legitimately being suggested before, during and after the Scottish referendum. With UK MPs meeting in Westminster separately from English MPs who convene there at alternate times (although there is a strong hue and cry about the Assembly being in Yorkshire... size matters, apparently!)
The hunger for regional representation has grown from a sense of alienation people feel from their elected representatives. For many, Westminster, with it's neo-gothic spires, represents a far off castle where evil monsters of oppression dwell and suck like vampires on the taxpayer. Nosferatu pigs gorging on the blood, sweat and tears of the proletariat. Add blame deflected from our wondrous leaders onto the serfs for the financial crisis and clearly those in former industrial heartlands, now ghost towns, hundreds of miles away from Westminster, will feel as though they are controlled by the Emperor from Star Wars!
I suppose the salient question here is: "will the establishment keep their promises?" The cynic in my laughs bitterly, "no" to that question, which is precisely the problem. Distance isn't really the issue, the hundreds of miles between a voter on Shetland to Edinburgh and the hundreds of miles between that same voter to London, though larger, makes no difference to the position of the Shetlander. Yet the notion of a person who empathises with said Shetlander and will stand their corner at not just a regional, but a national level, is important, it makes you feel as though you matter.
In this day and age, internet and 4G are growing increasingly ubiquitous in their reach and influence. Governmental processes are available to the public in an unprecedented manner. We could participate on actual procedures as they happen and vote on processes on Parliament at the same time, view debates and think tanks... admittedly some would rather watch paint dry. Which is why the call for true regional representation is such a demand.
This fallout from this process has unearthed a strange dichotomy, however. The creation of entities such as the EU hint at a future of global union, where the populace exist under one entire planetary democracy. Yet the Scottish independence referendum and an opportunity for devolution into nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Regions? London and South East, East England, South West, East Midlands, West Midlands, North West and North East (plus Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counties). Each County Council becoming an Assembly is perhaps a stretch too far...
Yet it has highlighted the possibility of a more insular regional dialectical process and attitude. A nature that involves a weakly sewn together matrix of areas and authority, locked together by a currency and passport (USA anyone?) There are both positives and negatives to draw from this. An inference that additional separation may encourage a stronger sense of closeness. One thing's for certain, there are probably more than 307 ways this could go...
© Brad James, 2014.
Should there be devolved powers in UK regions as well as nations?
- Scottish independence: live results as they happen - Telegraph
Results from the counting of votes for the Scottish independence referendum.