Thursday, Sep 29th

Last update12:02:43 PM GMT

You are here::

Scotland stays, now what?

E-mail Print PDF

scotlandOnline Desk: When 3.6 million Scots voted on Thursday on whether to leave or stay within the United Kingdom, they were answering one simple question: Should Scotland be an independent country?But for a time some politicians on both sides of the debate wanted to include a third choice on the ballot: maximum devolution of powers to Scotland within Britain, or so-called devo-max. Even Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), backed including such an alternative, arguing that he was “not for limiting the choices of the Scottish people.”British Prime Minister David Cameron and many of Salmond’s SNP colleagues, though, were against the idea. Scots, Cameron said at the time, would be faced with “what I’ve always wanted, which is one single question. Not two questions, not devo-max, not different options; a very simple, single question.”Scots answered that question decisively on Thursday, voting 55 percent to 45 percent to stay in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Cameron, who may well have faced calls to step down if the union had broken, said he was "delighted" with the referendum decision, and there should be "no disputes, no re-runs."“We got a chance to vote. So that’s what I’m proud of, I’m proud that I voted yes,”‎ said Lindsay Burgar, a nurse from Oban.However, what Scots also got —even though it wasn’t on the ballot paper —was the promise of greater autonomy, something approaching devo-max.Unionists had always said they would offer Scots more autonomy if they voted to stay, but had not detailed what that would look like. That began to change as panic over a possible Yes vote took hold in the two weeks before the vote.The leaders of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats —who form the current national government —and the opposition Labour Party promised Scots a fast-track timetable for further devolution, including decisions on welfare, borrowing, and tax-raising powers. They also signed a pledge to maintain indefinitely the higher funding levels that Scotland receives compared with many other regions of the UK.On Friday, Cameron also promised he would seek to shake up the constitutional arrangements for the rest of Britain. "It is absolutely right that a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of the United Kingdom," he said.Those promises open up a Pandora’s box of further problems. Many voters outside Scotland see Scotland's gains as a bribe and have grumbled that Scots are getting special treatment.Cameron's words sought to address a thorny constitutional problem: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland elect representatives for their own regional parliaments and for Westminster. English voters, on the other hand, have representatives only in Westminster.If his proposed changes don't go far enough, it may lead to increased support for populist parties, such as the euro sceptic UK Independence Party, in the UK's 2015 general election. That, in turn, would increase the chances of Britain pulling out of the European Union.“The genie is out of the bottle,” on the need for change, said Labour lawmaker Peter Hain, who has served as both Secretary of State for Wales and also Northern Ireland. “We need to recognize the reality that the United Kingdom should have a federal political structure with a constitutional arrangement which defines the demarcation of powers between Westminster and the rest of the United Kingdom.”That will be fraught with difficulty, which may explain why politicians have spent so long ignoring the issue. It was Labour lawmaker Tam Dalyell who in 1977 first posed what became known as the West Lothian Question, named after his Scottish constituency: Should lawmakers elected to Westminster from Scotland be able to vote on English matters, if English lawmakers could not vote on matters devolved to Scotland?It’s more pertinent now that assemblies in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff control domestic affairs over which English lawmakers have no say. As a result, some English politicians argue that England should have its own, purely English parliament.Graham Allen, Labour lawmaker and chair of a parliamentary committee that has said it will hold an inquiry into the future of devolution, is one of those who believe England does not need its own parliament, but should combine over-arching union with more devolution to regions. Change, he said, was both much needed and inevitable.“I think they (the politicians) have proved ... that they can move like lightning when they need to,” Allen said. “We need all the parties to actually stiffen up, show some leadership and some boldness and just commit themselves publicly to devolution and union, the twin pillars for the next 200 years in the United Kingdom ... Otherwise it is trench warfare and piecemeal change, crisis and anxiety, and I don’t think that is necessary.”