Referendum reflections: Has the UK moved away from its centralised model?

'Scottish Parliament' / Andrew Cowan / CC
'Scottish Parliament' / Andrew Cowan / CC

So it is all over bar the shouting (and no doubt a fair bit of crying). Scotland has rejected independence and chosen to stay in the Union. Game over? Quite the opposite, the game is, in many ways, just beginning. It is testament to how far the Yes campaign has come when they see 45% of the vote, along with being presented with an apparent blank cheque of new powers for the Scottish Parliament, as a heartbreaking outcome. In many ways, after the soon to be infamous ‘vow’ was made by the three Westminster leaders, they couldn’t lose. Win and they have everything they have ever dreamed of, lose, and they have 90% of everything they have ever dreamed of. I suspect that once the tears have dried and the emotions have cooled this realisation will start to dawn on most within the Yes camp.

On the No side there is a palpable feeling of relief rather than joy. Yes they have saved the Union, yes they achieved their goal of undermining Alex Salmond’s economic arguments on key issues such as the currency. They are though well aware, or at least should be, that they came so close to carrying out one of the most disastrous campaigns in modern political history. A campaign that oscillated between complacency and panic, which was quite rightly accused of being negative and too concerned with talking about risk and fear rather than possibility and hope. That is until they let the beast out of the cage. Gordon Brown has many detractors, I have on many occasions been one of them, but to underestimate his influence in the final few weeks would be a mistake. He highlighted what had been so wrong with the No campaign and so right with the Yes campaign-passion. He understood that the argument was not just about pounds and pence: Better Together had to also deliver on a personal and emotional level. He spoke with a belief and conviction in what Scotland could achieve with the Union, which couldn’t help but lead one to the conclusion that if he had spoken like that when he was Prime Minister this whole situation may have never arisen.

In the end the Yes campaign just didn’t do quite enough to clearly outline a vision for a future Scotland. It is not enough to get rid of Tory Governments, it is not enough get rid of Trident. They needed a New Deal, a declaration of what Scotland means. There was no Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness to be seen. That is what a lot of swaying voters needed to see. They were, however, better organised, more passionate and played the underdog card to perfection. They were also more optimistic, and convinced over one and half million British citizens to break with the Union so they must have had something.

So what happens next? Well the last ditch promise of more powers for Scotland was probably needed to save the Union, but it comes with a price. If the final package does not meet with approval north of the border, then people who switched from Yes to No as a result of it will feel utterly betrayed, so much so that we could end up right back where we started in a few years’ time. If, on the other hand, they do meet Caledonian expectations there will be inevitable complaints from south of the border of why their northern cousins are being handed a massive wad of cash and power without anything in return, and demand some similar treatment.

This might not be the worse thing. If the UK is to survive as an experiment then it has to move away from the creaking old centralised model of power that may have been revolutionary in 1832 but does not meet today’s needs. If the UK is to make it to 2032 it has to change. This is the chance to do exactly that and it must be seized. This vote was not purely about independence, it was about sending a message to Westminster that reads “you no longer represent us, you no longer speak for us”. This is true not only in Scotland but across the UK. If we are lucky it will serve as the kick up the backside that the mainstream politicians in this country needed. To fix our democracy and speak to the people rather than at each other.

So the challenge is laid down, to the three main Westminster Parties, whose combined complacency towards this issue was nothing short of breathtaking in this campaign. The Union has been given one last reprieve, if you don’t take heed it may not get another.

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John Lang 4 Articles
John is an experienced communciations professional, who has worked on a number of Scottish and UK political campaigns, as well as a variety of roles across the energy sector.

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