It’s over! The fat lady has sung. The people have spoken. And I’m dog tired. Before I write about the result can I ask why, oh why, every time there’s an election Edinburgh is one of the last to count the votes and declare?
Counting ballot papers is not rocket science. There are parts of Scotland more rural or desolate – or bigger, like Glasgow – that manage to organise themselves more efficiently, but still time after time Edinburgh brings up the rear. Scotland’s capital city was so late that the BBC had already declared the result ahead of Edinburgh’s tally being counted and announced. Frankly it’s an embarrassment, it’s not good enough, and our councillors ought to take a serious look at the issue.
There, having got that off my chest let me turn to the result and what we might learn from it.
Firstly, the result itself. Naturally I am very pleased with the outcome, for a No vote is what I have been arguing for. But I am also pleased that the Yes campaign did well, polling in the mid-40s for this will ensure that the need for proper constitutional change cannot be ignored. Change that makes the Scottish Parliament fully accountable for its actions by giving it greater responsibility and making it raise the majority of the money it spends.
The result also makes it far more likely that there will be long overdue reform of Westminster, too. For if the Unionist parties want to avoid having another referendum like this any time soon then they need to recognise the degree of dissatisfaction and disconnection that the British people have with Westminster politics. It’s part of the reason the Yes campaign did so well – but it is also a large part of the reason that Ukip has become the recipient of protest votes across England.
It is not just the Scottish people who voted Yes that want change, many of those that voted No also want change – they just didn’t want independence as their kind of change. And English people want change, too – as the Clacton by-election will soon remind us – but the mainstream parties have failed to talk about reform in any serious way, creating a great deal of cynicism and disaffection across the whole of the United Kingdom.
It was Tony Blair that delivered devolution, but as I have consistently argued the institutions are flawed for they were not so much conceived as ends in themselves but as vehicles to keep Labour in power. Blair’s reform of the House of Lords was also half-hearted, for it was designed purely to neutralise its ability to amend his government’s legislation – and so both reforms failed. Both now need to be radically improved, Blair’s constitutional vandalism must be repaired.
So Cameron, Clegg and Miliband need to take today’s result on board and deliver the change that they have been talking about – but also see it in the wider context of changing the UK, too – by finding a solution for better English governance, completing the reform of the Lords and rebuilding institutions that will help forge Britain’s solidarity that has been sorely tested in the last two years.
Secondly, let me remark that the silent majority has spoken. There were not so many No posters in the windows, no stickers on cars (and we all know why) or No rallies, marches or concerts. Of course not. For the vast majority of No supporters loved being British as well as Scottish – and being proud in your Britishness is not something we regularly express. We can be Scottish and British at the same time, but it is our Britishness that is a modest thing and the Presbyterian stake in so many Scots also makes many of us less remonstrative.
To give the sense of momentum, the Yes campaigners had to create a bandwagon for people to join and for the momentum to build up. They did that well at the start, such a pity that some – far too many in my view – got carried away and thought shouting down opponents, abusing people like JK Rowling, marking cars and vandalising No posters would help their cause. It didn’t, instead it turned many Yes voters away from that sort of nationalism, for it signalled a Scotland they would be uncomfortable in.
It is being said that it was a great thing for democracy that so many people became engaged in the debate and involving themselves in politics for the first time, and this is indeed true.
But it should not be forgotten that the No voters won because of the high turnout, not despite it. They were engaged and turned out, too. Supporters of our Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland came out in their droves because they wanted to preserve much of what we have, to maybe give it another chance to change, or because the rather vague benefits and often wild promises of Alex Salmond were not worth the risk of losing the protection and opportunities that come from being in partnership with our own people on the rest of this island.
Scotland voted emphatically for a No – by a greater margin than expected. Now the Scottish Government must get down to work, for it has been absent without leave for the past two years.