Next steps: Scotland has said no to independence but the debate about the country’s future is far from over
By Kate Shannon
Without a doubt, the morning of 19 September was one no one will forget. After a campaign which lasted over two years, Scotland awoke to the news that a huge proportion of its population had said No to independence – 2,001,926 people to be exact. And yet, while this was a decisive win for the Better Together campaign, the 1.6m who voted Yes could not be ignored. In the final run-up to the referendum, the leaders of the three unionist parties pledged to give Scotland more powers if it voted No and as soon as the result was known, many looked to Westminster to start delivering their promises.
Alistair Darling, who led the Better Together campaign, said the people of Scotland had “chosen unity over division and positive change rather than needless separation”.
“It is a momentous result for Scotland and also for the United Kingdom as a whole,” he said.
“As we celebrate, let us also listen,” he added.
Speaking in front of Number 10 at 7am on 19 September, when the No vote was all but confirmed, David Cameron said there could be “no disputes, no re-runs – we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people”.
He added: “Political leaders on all sides of the debate now bear a heavy responsibility to come together and work constructively to advance the interests of people in Scotland, as well as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for each and every citizen of our United Kingdom.
“To those in Scotland sceptical of the constitutional promises made, let me say this, we have delivered on devolution under this government, and we will do so again in the next Parliament.
The three pro-Union parties have made commitments, clear commitments, on further powers for the Scottish Parliament. We will ensure that they are honoured in full.”
Cameron then announced that Lord Smith of Kelvin had agreed to oversee the process to take forward the devolution commitments, with powers over tax, spending and welfare all to be agreed by November and draft legislation published by January.
He added: “Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs. The rights of these voters need to be respected, preserved and enhanced as well. It is absolutely right that a new and fair settlement for Scotland should be accompanied by a new and fair settlement that applies to all parts of our United Kingdom.
“I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.”
As First Minister Alex Salmond announced he would stand down, further promises were demanded from Cameron. In his speech announcing his intention to go, Salmond said Scotland now has the chance to “hold Westminster’s feet to the fire” on the vow they made to devolve more powers to Scotland.
He said: “I spoke to the Prime Minister today and, although he reiterated his intention to proceed as he has outlined, he would not commit to a second reading vote by 27 March on a Scotland Bill. That was a clear promise laid out by Gordon Brown during the campaign. The Prime Minister says such a vote would be meaningless. I suspect he cannot guarantee the support of his party.
“But today the point is this. The real guardians of progress are not the politicians at Westminster, or even at Holyrood, but the energised activism of tens of thousands of people who I predict will refuse meekly to go back into the political shadows.”
For Lord Smith, heading the new commission charged with delivering more powers to Scotland, the task is not going to be easy. He told the BBC those involved in the talks would require “courage” and “compromise”. He said: “We have a willingness, shared by all five of Scotland’s main political parties, to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament. My message to the political parties is a simple one – Scotland expects you to now come together, work together and agree the detail of what those powers should be.”
He stressed that Scottish civic organisations and the wider public would get a say on the issue of more powers for the Scottish Parliament and said the commission aims to get agreement between the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Greens on the way forward by 30 November.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary John Swinney met with Smith last week to discuss the details of the Smith Commission. Following the meeting, a spokesperson for the Deputy First Minister said: “Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney met with Lord Smith this afternoon and have confirmed that the SNP will participate fully in the process he has set out. As the First Minister set out in his statement, we welcome Lord Smith’s appointment and we have made clear to him our belief that there must be meaningful consultation not only with civic Scotland but also with all of those who have become so engaged in the political process as a result of the referendum. It is vital that the Westminster parties honour their vow to the people of Scotland to deliver substantial more powers to our national parliament.”
Fears were raised that further devolution for Scotland could be held up by Cameron’s pledge to give more powers to English MPs at the same time. However, the Prime Minister has vowed to give tax-raising powers to the Scottish Parliament “in tandem” with moves to restrict Scottish MPs from voting on English matters.
However, he is under pressure from Conservative backbenchers angry at the way he, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg offered extra powers to Scotland in the run-up to the referendum. The pledge was labelled “disgraceful” and “panicky” by former leadership rival David Davis, while ex-Cabinet minister Owen Paterson said MPs had been kept in the dark about the plan and Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw wrote that any further plans to dismantle the Union should be made illegal.
Looking at some of the wider issues around the No vote, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has said devolution must offer change for people and places in poverty. Julia Unwin, JRF’s chief executive, said the result provides “an opportunity” for a new settlement for people and places in poverty across the UK.
She said: “As well as Scotland, cities, regions and the North of England must be given the tools to regenerate their communities and tackle poverty. The two are not separate agendas. We cannot afford to see a return to business as usual: nearly one in five people in Scotland live in poverty – a level unacceptably high for such a wealthy country. Poverty is a risk, waste and a cost Scotland cannot afford.
“This result is not a defeat for social change, rather the start of an opportunity to make lasting improvements to Scottish society and our economy. But any devolution of powers must be coherent. The central test that should be applied to all proposed new powers should be: what is the effect on people and places on poverty?
“Any new settlement must take into account the cities, regions and nations and its potential to reduce poverty. Devolution on its own will not reduce poverty and any offer of new powers must be judged by the impact it has on poverty, and come as part of a comprehensive strategy to address levels of hardship. This opportunity must not go to waste. Politicians, together with businesses, individuals and civil society, need to bring down the high levels of poverty in Scotland, as well as in the rest of the UK.”
In the wake of the vote, Scotland’s leading business, industry and employer organisations issued a joint statement urging the Scottish and UK governments to focus any new devolution settlement on driving economic growth.
The statement – issued by the Federation of Small Businesses, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Institute of Directors, CBI, Scottish Financial Enterprise, SCDI, ScotlandIS, Chemical Sciences Scotland, Scotch Whisky Association, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Engineering, Scottish Building Federation and ICAS – also underlines the business community’s commitment to work constructively with both governments.
It reads: “With the Scottish Parliament set to become a more powerful force in our economy, the touchstones of the new devolution settlement must be boosting business and growth. It is also really important for business that whatever settlement is now agreed is stable and sustainable, and seen to be so. In the weeks and months to come, we envisage playing a full, constructive part in making this happen – and that must include a discussion around how any extra powers should be used to make Scottish business more competitive.
“The UK and Scottish governments both have a huge influence on the business environment. We hope that both will continue to engage with Scottish business, actively and visibly, on the key issues within their remit. In some areas where responsibility is shared between both governments, such as exporting, there is now an ideal opportunity for both to put business and prosperity at the top of the priority list and work together to streamline and co-ordinate these services.”
During the referendum build up and particularly towards the end of the campaign, polls and polling were hugely important. Mark Diffley, director of Ipsos MORI Scotland told Holyrood that the narrative on public opinion up until the last few weeks of the campaign was that although the Yes campaign had made steady progress, Scots would vote to stay in the Union by a comfortable margin. He said this changed shortly after the second TV debate, in which the First Minister was widely viewed as outperforming Alistair Darling, and the polls narrowed considerably with the two sides running neck and neck until a few days before the vote.
Diffley said: “As we discovered in our online focus groups with voters who had switched to supporting independence, the reasons for this shift occurred both because of the positive messages and passion of the Yes campaign and the perceived negativity and lack of fervour shown by Better Together. And the shift to Yes, having brought on prime-ministerial ulcers, certainly galvanised the No campaign, leading to offers of extra devolution being beefed up and fast tracked in the closing stages of the campaign.
“In the end, No did win the vote by a relatively comfortable margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent, with the late movement back to the status quo picked up in our final poll which, along with one other pollster’s final survey, proved to be the most accurate predictor of the final result; we had at 53:47 (or 50: 45 before undecided voters were excluded), well within the margin of error for a poll of 1,000 Scots.
“Though we are pleased to share the accolade of the most accurate poll, we overestimated the Yes vote and underestimated the proportion of abstentions. Given the evidence of previous referendums in the UK, where final polls from all companies have overestimated the level of support for the campaign supporting change in 12 of the last 16 occasions, this result is perhaps unsurprising. Polling in referendums is traditionally difficult. The biggest problem is in identifying ‘differential turnout’, those who tell us in a poll that they will vote but then do not do so. In our final poll, 95 per cent of respondents said that they were ‘absolutely certain to vote’ but actual turnout on the day was 10 percentage points lower.”
Diffley said the problem for Yes was that support for independence was much higher among those groups who don’t usually vote – the young, the working class and those living in more deprived neighbourhoods.
He added: “Far more Yes supporters than No supporters in our final poll were people who had registered for the first time. Those who supported remaining in the UK were more likely to be drawn from groups traditionally more likely to vote, especially older Scots. So, although the final result of the vote was not known until around 6am, for me, the writing was on the wall for Yes when news of turnout rates in Dundee and Glasgow filtered through, because these were areas where Yes had to get the vote out and win by large margins if they were to win overall.
“This issue of turnout highlights the fundamental difficulty of polling in a referendum; that we cannot call on our past experience of voter behaviour as we can in elections. As the unprecedented high turnout on September 18th showed, voters behave differently in referendums, making the pollsters’ job tougher. This will be the major issue that we will need to address in future referendums.”