So the votes are in. Scotland has voted 44.7% for independence and 55.3% to remain within the United Kingdom. Voter turnout was close to 87% in a display of participation greater than we have seen in any recent election. The EU elections in May drew 33.8% of the British electorate out of their homes to the local voting booth. It’s standard in UK general elections for turnout to be almost twice as high as in EU elections. Consequently, theprotest vote looms large in one and not the other (at least usually this is the case).
It was said in the run-up to the referendum that Alex Salmond couldn’t lose either way: if it’s a ‘yes’ then Scotland becomes an independent state, if it’s a ‘no’ then Scotland will win more powers. Originally, the proposed referendum was to include three options, not just yes or no, but the option of maximal devolution would have been on the table too. This led many to suggest Salmond was really pushing for greater powers. If Salmond was aiming for independence, then this might not be the end of the story, as we have seen in Quebec where there have been two referendums on independence. The major issue for Whitehall is how they can prevent such an occurrence in the British Isles.
No wonder then David Cameron has raised the West Lothian question. He speaks of a ‘devolution revolution’ for the English and not just Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Endless bifurcation has its appeal to international capitalism as each entity can be picked off, its economy chiselled and its workforce disciplined. The appeal is to English parochialism, the same mobilising force behind UKIP, Powellism, and the EDL, can be seen as a move to strengthen the rightward trend of British politics through coalescence and triangulation. Boundary changes would have to be made in any large-scale constitutional shake-up in a country where such questions have been held-off for far too long. So devolution may not necessarily result in an automatic Conservative stranglehold in Westminster.
Decentralisation in a neoliberal world would suit Cameron and his party just right. The Conservatives are facing inexorable decline, having only increased their share of the vote by 3% in 5 years against the Brown government. It’s highly unlikely for any governing party to increase its share of the vote, even if you have the Liberal Democrats as human shields. Meanwhile, the Labour Party lacks any vision or impetus to stand up for its traditional social base. The bet may not be for a rejuvenated Tory Party,. That fight may have already been lost. It’s not just that the social democratic model is rotting before our eyes. The old Toryism is going the way of the dodo too. In that regard, what is left but to fall back on the trilateral consensus and devolve the Union into a morass entrenching austerity.
As for the Scottish National Party, it was once the case that the left-right coalition (which composes the SNP) was set to break apart once they had achieved independence. It looks unlikely that will be the case as long as Scotland remains within the UK. Salmond will try to maintain the public services and welfare provisions in Scotland for as long as he can. Additional powers may help this, or hinder this, it’s difficult to foresee. It still is the case that the SNP is not a socialist party. It isn’t even a republican party, and it was willing to accept NATO, as well as international free-trade agreements, and the vanity projects of Donald Trump. I can see the ultra-left in Scotland pinning the blame on the SNP for not being pure enough and Salmond will rebuke this with the language of pragmatism.
Photograph courtesy of UK in France Published under a Creative Commons license.