The Scots have voted no to independence — thus say all the headlines here for the weekend. Thus reverberates the clarion call of the union down to the next generation that would attempt to break things off. Thus a 10 percent margin ends the parliamentary career of Alex Salmond.
Dramatic, I know, as it’s not exactly the unexpected outcome — the last couple of weeks have proven that, with the sudden surge in “yes” popularity in the polls sending politicians in Westminster and Edinburgh scrambling to appease the independence-lovers. Despite the fact that most people I know in the United States don’t understand why this was an issue in the first place, the two sides aren’t as far apart as you might think. I’ve been in Scotland for almost four weeks now, and I certainly know more about the political climate than I did when I got here, but I am less sure of which answer would have been the “right” one. I’m not a Scot. I have no family ties to the UK I have no say in this. But let me explain why independence wouldn’t have been such a nonsensical idea, after all — and also why the ultimate outcome isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.
First of all, let me dismiss the claim of “Scotland couldn’t make it as an independent country” outright, because the battle wasn’t fought on those grounds. Here, everyone knows that’s not true. It wasn’t a matter of whether an independent Scotland was viable, but rather whether it would be better off going it on its own than as a part of the UK.
The main arguments of the “yes” campaign weren’t nationalistic ones — they weren’t claims of English tyranny and Scottish blood spilled. This wasn’t a gunfight. It was a few million tick-boxes on white sheets of paper. “Yes” argued that as an independent nation, Scotland could guarantee its place in the EU and keep Scottish public universities free for Scottish students — yes, that’s right, free. It could protect the National Health System from potential cuts and get the UK’s nuclear weapons, primarily housed in Scotland, out of the country. Scotland could control its own revenues from oil and gas, as well as those from whisky. These things are, like it or not, under fairly constant pressure from the Conservative government in Westminster, which has been imposing austerity measures which impact even the farthest reaches. Although the health system is, in theory, devolved to Scottish Parliament, Westminster can still make policy that affects it. Additionally, with the recent upward surge in United Kingdom Independence Party voters — essentially the closest thing that the U.K. has to our “Tea Party” in the U.S., except probably more harmful — it’s fully possible that the next election will bring in a Conservative-UKIP government. Since the vote, there has been rioting in Glasgow where supporters of independence were beaten, Nazi salutes were caught on tape in front of the war memorial and several unionist thugs were arrested. This was rightfully condemned by those on both sides, but there’s no escaping that it was exactly what pro-independence campaigners feared from the fringe elements of the “no” side. Besides all that, take into account the staunch labour support of Scotland. Independence starts not to sound like such a silly idea.
The mantra of hope-over-fear which the “yes” side had been espousing is at odds with the more internationalist arguments of the “no” side — the official name of which, if you missed the John Oliver bit, is “Better Together.” There’s no disputing the fact that the UK has been able to accomplish some miraculous things. It makes a lot of sense that a country should work to solve its problems domestically before breaking into pieces. Not only that, but going independent really would have been an enormous risk, particularly economically. The same ugliness we saw from a few far-flung unionists in Glasgow on Sept. 19 may have manifested itself as violence in an independence victory, too. Questions about the currency remained mostly unanswered up to decision day, as well as the natural question of what happens when the oil in the North Sea runs out. The UK needs Scotland as much as Scotland needs the UK or more — it’s doubtlessly a major part of the delicate balance that currently shores up the Labour Party in Westminster and dilutes the rampant euroskepticism of the South. The feeling of neglect by Westminster politics is not Scottish alone. It stretches out to northern England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Plenty of people from these places stood with Scotland in its bid for greater control over its own fate. This is why the Cameron last-minute offerings of more powers may have given the “no” campaign a solid push. This really was a smart move, and I hope the plan that has been further unveiled with respect to continued devolution will actually happen and will actually help.
The Tory government in power scares an awful lot of people up here. Independence would have been a leap of faith — it would have been risky, but it would not have been unreasonable, and people should stop making it out as such. I would even say it’s pretty likely that a couple decades from now we’ll see another independence effort with a different outcome. Then again, what do I know? Perhaps the continuing union will boast benefits that will be too good to leave from, or will simply be even more intertwined. The geopolitical order is always changing, and people who say that one vote or the other was a guarantee of stability are either psychics or incredibly foolish. The only certain thing is that the citizen landscape of Scotland is irrevocably changed — with turnouts of over 90 percent in certain counties, I don’t think there’s any going back to sleep for the Scottish people.
But the future is, as ever, long and unknown. Maybe all the people I saw buzzing on the streets a week ago will go back to their cozy houses and put their saltires away until the next national holiday. Then again, maybe the people liked the feeling of doing something. Maybe it’s a new beginning and the political reigns have returned to the populace permanently, regardless of the outcome. Maybe the thousands of good, honest, opinionated people that turned out to rally for either side in cities, writ their votes large on the cliff faces and laughed at the world’s ignorance until the last minute will remain, will keep involved, will keep talking. Only time will tell. I hope so.