Scotland settles debate; UK stays one

Scotland’s decisive vote against separation from United Kingdom sends a message across the world that the Scots are not in favour of secession.

The Scotland referendum was closely watched across the world. The defeat of the Scottish nationalists will dampen the mood among secessionist groups elsewhere. A victory for separatists would have had consequences not just in UK but in Europe and other parts of the world. Still, for governments confronting secessionist movements within their borders, the Scottish referendum result carries valuable lessons. An alienated people, even those with a strong sense of nationalism, will not opt to break away if they are convinced they have a stake in the existing system. Had the secession happened, a good part of UK would have been split leading to major changes in the UK geography and its political scene. Scotland is predominantly Labour, sending a large number of Labour MPs to Parliament and a positive vote would have permanently altered power equation in the UK Parliament.

The referendum evoked passionate arguments and was fiercely fought. The vote meant that the widely anticipated ‘velvet divorce’ between Scotland and the UK will not happen, at least for now. Although Scottish nationalists were able to fire the imagination of millions of Scots that their future - especially their economic situation - would be brighter in an independent Scotland, fear of instability and an uncertain future appears to have prompted many to turn their backs on independence and the dramatic changes that separation would entail.

The vote, however, must not be interpreted as endorsement of the status quo. A joint agreement reached by the three biggest UK-wide parties – the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – promised Scotland further devolution of powers and played a key role in winning support for continuing union with the UK. The government will have to deliver on that promise now. The issue is a veritable minefield that could prove tricky as there are serious differences among the main parties on an array of issues including the extent to which taxation powers should be devolved to Scotland.

Constitutional reform in Scotland will prompt calls for reform in Wales and England as well. Prime Minster David Cameron has announced that his government will honour the timetable for devolution set out in the referendum campaign. However, with the UK scheduled to go to the polls next year, the devolution question could get caught in the eddy of electoral politics. An immediate challenge before the government is to heal the wounds laid bare by the divisive campaign that the two sides ran. 

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