6 Issues Arising From the Scottish Referendum

Students on the final year Critical Issues in Contemporary Politics module were this year asked to produce blog posts as part of their assessment. The students were asked to write academically rigorous but easily comprehensible posts on current contemporary political issues of interest to them. Three of the best were selected for publication on this blog and will be published over the next three days. They cover topics from Reform of the House of Lords (Jack Williams), the Fallout from the Scottish Independence Referendum (Andrew Miller) and Fracking in the UK (Charlie Povah). Here is the second in this series from Andrew Miller on the wider implications of the Scottish Independence Referendum.

6 Issues Arising From the Scottish Referendum

On 18th September 2014, Scotland produced staggering results in their independence referendum. Alex Salmond and his ‘Yes campaign’ achieved something spectacular when they gained 45% of the electorate. Even more amazing was the 84% voter turnout! Considering exceptionally low turnouts in the past, this statistic is outstanding. Yet, the question lingers: what now? What will Scotland do, now talk of independence is finished? What will the whole United Kingdom do, now the people have spoken?
Before the big day, the whole British Isles was bombarded with news coverage of various polls, different speakers, desperate campaigns, and big promises for a United Kingdom ‘Better Together’. It was astonishing how every politician and campaigner for ‘No Thanks’ made big promises about Scotland’s future in a United Kingdom. Now Scotland has chosen to be better together, what has been done to keep these promises? With over a month since the referendum, it is time to ask what actions, if any, have been taken to ensure Scotland is listened to. At this crucial time before the general election next May, it is important that UK parties do something about Scotland and the other devolved bodies. Additionally, voters must keep the UK government democratically accountable. Thus, it is worth examining six major issues arising from the Scottish independence referendum.


Further powers for Scotland
David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, days before the referendum, signed a pledge for a No vote and the devolvement of more power to Scotland. Immediately after the result, Cameron declared:

‘The three pro-union parties have made commitments… we will ensure that they are honoured in full. And I can announce today that Lord Smith of Kelvin – who so successfully led Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games – has agreed to oversee the process to take forward the devolution commitments with powers over tax, spending and welfare…’.

Then the party conference season began. With it came opportune moments for the leaders’ parties to pressure them on their vow. Labour, for example, lobbied Ed Miliband to include devolution in the party’s 2015 manifesto. The conferences possibly assisted the parties’ proposals to the Smith Commission. Together, the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens focussed on five key issues: taxation; welfare; defence and foreign policy; economic policy; and other policies like transport, energy, broadcasting, and immigration.
However, three primary questions have arisen so far from these proposals. First, there is debate over what ‘devo-max’ looks like. Secondly, there is discontent about the Commission’s suggested timetable. BBC News reported it as ‘unrealistic’, while the SNP deputy leader called it a ‘cut-and-paste job’ and the Greens referred to it as ‘a damp squib’! Thirdly, regarding financial policy, it is contested whether the Union should retain the Barnett formula to regulate public spending. The Smith Commission is viewed as “a window of opportunity” to consider these issues of governance, participation, and accountability’ both in Westminster and Scotland.

‘English Votes for English Laws’ (EVEL)
A similar issue about Scotland’s future power concerns the historical West Lothian Question; should Scottish MPs have the right to vote on policies specifically relevant to English seats? Focussed on giving further powers to the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish assemblies, first created with the introduction of devolution in 1997, Whitehall politicians have debated whether an English-only assembly should be formed. Supported predominately by the Liberal Democrats and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), EVEL argues England has been ignored and should be given its own powers. Cameron has also emphasised the need for a solution to this issue if further powers are to be given to Holyrood. On the other hand, Labour stand firmly against EVEL; their fear being they will lose the ‘capacity to deliver policies in England’ as a result of their strength in Scotland and minority in England.
What support is there among the public for EVEL? One survey suggests there is a large number in England in favour of an English institution representing English interests. It also reveals most people consider UKIP a better advocate of English reform. It concludes the reason is ‘a clear and growing sense of English political identity’. Although nothing concrete on EVEL will happen until after the general election, it remains a key question in discussions about a new constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom.

Cross-border questions: Wales and Northern Ireland
The Scottish Referendum, having influenced relations between England and Scotland, has also raised questions about cross-border cooperation. Scotland’s case has set precedent for further devolution, led by Plaid Cymru, in Wales and for improved relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Concerns about democracy in these regions have been raised. Compare the high young voter turnout in Scotland with that of the last Welsh Assembly election: 35% of 18-24 year olds voted. Politicians in Wales, particularly, want to ‘revitalise’ democracy by moving further power from Westminster to Cardiff where it will be closer to the people.

The future of the SNP
This is a more obscure issue: the SNP are predominately a nationalist party, who have been defeated by the populist vote. There is potential for future achievements of the SNP though. A recent poll placed them significantly ahead of Labour. Similarly, the party’s membership rapidly increased after the referendum. YouGov suggests it is the result of a loss of respect for Labour, who fails to represent the majority of Scotland anymore. What do the SNP do now? General political consensus is they adopt a more gradualist strategy, where they promote, at least until the next opportunity, a ‘devo-max’ vision. Any achievement though, is unlikely to be as extreme as some predictive 2015 election maps suggest.

National political leadership: Nicola Sturgeon v Gordon Brown?
Recent polling data should undoubtedly raise concerns for the main UK political parties, particularly with the upcoming general election. Personnel movements which have occurred already are indications of the seriousness of this post-referendum period. It was natural for Alex Salmond to resign after his passionate belief and campaign for Scottish independence. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and, I guess we should include Nigel Farage, have a lot of pressure to keep their promises. Really significant questions, however, revolve around one former prime minister, who, some might say, saved the day for the ‘Better Together’ campaign. Gordon Brown gave one of the best speeches prior to referendum day. He showed himself to be a true Scotsman, patriotic but not nationalistic. Unsurprisingly, the media and others, such as George Galloway, have asked, “will he revive Scottish Labour?”
Not only for the party in Scotland, but for Ed Miliband, who during campaigning in the country his party once dominated, learnt about his unpopularity as leader. Only 25% Scots trust him! So, while the SNP’s successor leadership seems settled with Nicola Sturgeon, it is a good time to carefully watch Scottish Labour. It would not be easy for Brown, as there are other promising candidates. Anas Sarwar, for example, is part of the ‘devolution generation’ and has been equated with Tony Blair. Yet, there is currently an open contest.

The future of democracy
The Scottish Referendum was, undeniably, an example of strong democracy. It has been described as ‘a festival of democracy’. Its legacy too involves strengthening democratic values and institutions. This can only be objectively questioned. Is there a greater willingness now to vote at elections? Will young people continue to be actively engaged in politics? Where do political parties go now? Ccan the staggering 84% turnout on 18th September be sustained?
Taking the high youth engagement and interest in Scotland’s Referendum, there is much to be optimistic about. Does this mean lowering the voting age? Certainly, it has potential to provide channels for this enthusiasm, which is surely not a negative aspiration. Thus, while some scepticism has arisen about the electoral conduct of the Referendum, what happened in Scotland provides hope, precedence, and questions for the future of democracy in the UK.

As a hereditary Scot, I can settle with the No vote of the referendum. Yet, what really matters is what follows the referendum. Already there has been movement and talk in Westminster and Holyrood. The Smith Commission has met its first deadline and works towards the next major one in January 2015, when the report of the Commission on further devolution, EVEL, and cross-border questions is published.
Should we look further afield, though, towards May 2015? The future of the SNP, national leaderships like Scottish Labour, and, ultimately, the future of democracy, will be answered, at least in part, at the next election. What is more significant about May 2015 is that it will be within the Union. The Scottish referendum has set British politics on a course of developments revolving around these big six issues that affect not only Scotland but also the United Kingdom.

Citations (in order of hyperlinks)
BBC News. (2014) ‘Scottish independence: Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg sign ‘No’ vote pledge’. BBC News. 16 September 2014. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29213418. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Cameron, D. (2014) ‘In full: David Cameron statement on the UK’s future’. BBC News. 19 September 2014. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29271765. [Accessed 4 November 2014].

Press Association. (2014) ‘UK party leaders issue joint pledge to give Scottish parliament new powers’, The Guardian. 16 September 2014. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/16/cameron-miliband-clegg-pledge-daily-record. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Murphy, J. (2014) ‘Ed Miliband under pressure to act swiftly over devolution reforms’. The Evening Standard. 22 September 2014. Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/labour-conference-ed-miliband-under-pressure-to-act-swiftly-on-devolution-reforms-9748496.html. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

The Smith Commission. (2014) ‘The Smith Commission’, Available at: https://www.smith-commission.scot/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

BBC News. (2014) ‘What are the parties’ proposals to the Smith Commission?’ BBC News. 10 October 2014. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29570658. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

BBC News. (2014) ‘Smith Commission timetable ‘unrealistic’’. BBC News. 16 October 2014. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29653880. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Wilkinson, M. (2014) ‘What is the Barnett formula?’ The Telegraph. 24 September 2014. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/1580787/How-the-Barnett-formula-works.html. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Cairney, P. (2014) ‘The Smith Commission: will greater powers come with greater democratic accountability?’ Economic and Social Research Council. 28 October 2014. Available at: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/smith-commission-will-greater-powers-come-greater-democratic-accountability. [Accessed 31 October 2014].

Carrell, S. (2012) ‘What is the West Lothian question and why does it matter?’ The Guardian. 18 January 2012. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/jan/17/what-is-west-lothian-question. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

BBC News. (2014) ‘Nick Clegg backs ‘radical’ English devolution plan’. BBC News. 12 September 2014. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29155854. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

De Mowbray, C. (ed.) (2014) ‘Referendum Reflections’. Economic and Social Research Council. 29 October 2014. Available at: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/referendum-reflections. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Williams, L. (2014) ‘Taking England Seriously, report of the Future of England Survey 2014’. Wales Governance Centre. 14 October 2014. Available at: http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/wgc/2014/10/14/taking-england-seriously-report-of-the-future-of-england-survey-2014/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Institute for Government. (2014) ‘Scotland in a changing union: ensuring effective cooperation after the referendum’. Institute of Government. 16 July 2014. Available at: http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/events/scotland-changing-union-ensuring-effective-cooperation-after-referendum. [Accessed 5 November 2014].
Roberts, R. (2014) ‘Wales Bill: an opportunity to strengthen Welsh democracy’. Lords of the Blog. 15 October 2014. Available at: http://lordsoftheblog.net/2014/10/15/wales-bill/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

What Scotland Thinks. (2014). ‘How would you be likely to vote in a UK General Election?’ What Scotland Thinks. Oct 2014. Available at: http://whatscotlandthinks.org/questions/how-would-you-be-likely-to-vote-in-a-uk-general-election?groups=null&companies=%5B%22244f004f-8b03-459a-bc29-a1c0011d739a%22%5D#table. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Kellner, P. (2014) ‘Labour’s Scottish Nightmare’, YouGov. 31 October 2014. Available at: http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/10/31/labours-scottish-nightmare/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

De Mowbray, C. (ed.) (2014) ‘Referendum Reflections’. Economic and Social Research Council. 29 October 2014. Available at: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/referendum-reflections. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Sulieman, C. (2014) ‘STV poll: SNP at 52% as Labour face general election meltdown’, STV News. 30 October 2014. Available at: http://news.stv.tv/scotland-decides/297729-stv-poll-labour-would-annihilated-if-general-election-held-tomorrow/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Forsyth, J. (2014) ‘Who will revive Scottish Labour?’ The Spectator. 13 September 2014. Available at: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/09/who-will-revive-scottish-labour/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Kellner, P. (2014) ‘It’s Make or Break for Miliband the Unloved’, YouGov. 22 September 2014. Available at: http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/09/22/its-make-or-break-miliband-unloved/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

The Scottish Parliament. (2014) ‘Nicola Sturgeon MSP’. The Scottish Parliament. Available at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps/currentmsps/Nicola-Sturgeon-MSP.aspx. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Nelson, F. (2014) ‘Anas Sarwar is favourite to lead Scottish Labour’, The Spectator. 25 October 2014. Available at: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/10/gordon-brown-and-anas-sarwar-in-the-running-as-new-leader-of-scottish-labour/. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

De Mowbray, C. (ed.) (2014) ‘Referendum Reflections’. Economic and Social Research Council. 29 October 2014. Available at: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/referendum-reflections. [Accessed 5 November 2014].

Clark, A. (2014) ‘Trouble at the Polls…? Reflections on the Referendum Process’, Political Studies Association. 24 September 2014. Available at: http://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/blog/trouble-polls%E2%80%A6-reflections-referendum-process. [Accessed 5 November 2014].


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