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What is the legacy of the Scottish independence referendum?


It has now been more than a month since the Scottish independence referendum. The Scottish people made the most monumental decision in the nation’s history, the ‘No’ vote may have won but it should not be forgotten that 45% of Scots wanted to leave the 300 year old union. Relief was etched on the faces of the Westminster party leaders, they may have avoided witnessing their worst nightmare but the difficult road back from the brink is one of the longest they will face.

The most enduring legacy will be how the biggest question of all is answered: what extra powers will be granted to Scotland? Cameron, Miliband and Clegg all pledged to give more power to the Scottish people in the event of a ‘No’ vote. What will this mean, if anything? Unfortunately, there does not seem to have been any prior agreement about how this change will be implemented.

Conservative and Labour, as the two largest Westminster parties, hold the key to the future of the union. However, their visions of this future appear to very different. The issue has fallen into a debate on who should be able to vote on laws affecting only England. William Hague has warned that allowing Scottish MPs power over English votes, but not the reverse, is an unavoidable issue. In response, Gordon Brown has urged the major parties to push forward with the timetable for devolution, or risk appearing to have betrayed the trust of Scottish voters.

Sadly, the future of the union appears intrinsically linked to party politics. Many suspect that the two major parties are looking to strengthen their own future election prospects. The Conservatives could solve the issue of their unpopularity in Scotland by barring their MPs from voting on laws affecting England, where they are far more successful with voters. Conversely, the Labour party could lose the huge advantage they have in Scotland, which has been and could be crucial to them winning marginal majorities in parliament. Added to this complexity is the further issue of regional bodies in England, particularly in the North.

It is hugely concerning that we find ourselves in this position. Disaffection with Westminster politics was an important topic in the referendum – 74% of ‘Yes’ voters named it as one of the most important issues affecting their vote – yet the major parties are continuing to look suspiciously self-interested in their approach to Scotland. Perhaps some things never change…

It is difficult to say what immediate change will happen, but perhaps it is unrealistic to believe that the change needed to satisfy the near success of the ‘Yes’ campaign can be achieved. The legacy of the referendum appears, then, to have been this difficult and disappointing situation. Beyond that, we will have to wait and see what happens, if anything.