- - Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Last Thursday’s Scottish independence referendum threatened to tear apart the United Kingdom. By a margin of 55.3 percent for the “no” side (2.01 million votes) to 44.7 percent for the “yes’ side (1.61 million votes), Scotland decided to remain in the union.

In Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s words, “The people of Scotland have spoken, and it is a clear result. They’ve kept our country of four nations together, and like millions of other people, I am delighted.”

Roughly 86 percent of Scotland residents voted in this referendum. Some individuals think this massive turnout meant the issue had been decided, and the matter was closed.

Perhaps so. What if the “no” ends up being a “yes,” however?

Let me explain.

Scottish businesses breathed heavy sighs of relief when the independence vote failed.

They knew the local economy could have been in huge jeopardy. They were aware England could have attempted to block Scotland from using the pound as a common currency, as a form of retribution for separating from the U.K. The European Union, which would have required the country to reapply for membership, wouldn’t necessarily have accepted Scotland into the fold.

English politicians were wiping the sweat off their brows, too.

Mr. Cameron’s political career, which was indelibly tied to the independence vote, could have ended. Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg, who runs a coalition government with the Tories, would have lost all political influence. Labor leader Ed Miliband, whose party counts on Scottish politicians to obtain political power, could have been trapped in the political wilderness.

I was also pleased with the Sept. 18 result. As a realist, both politically and personally, I still try to examine things in a (hopefully) rational manner. In my view, there are more than a few loose ends that need to be tied up.

At one point, the “no” side led by more than 20 percentage points. The numbers started to tighten, and the “yes” side was reportedly leading some polls a couple of weeks before the actual vote. While the final 10.6 percent margin between the “no” and “yes” sides was substantial, more than 1.6 million Scots were willing to vote for independence.

In other words, the “yes” side is significant enough in overall numbers and popularity to strike back at any point. To assume this vote was a once-in-a-lifetime event would be the worst possible decision that Scotland could ever make.

As a Canadian, I’ve lived through two failed separation attempts by the province of Quebec (in May 1980 and October 1995, respectively). Doesn’t this prove that Scottish independence could fizzle out like Quebec separatism?

If they were the same thing, yes. But they’re not.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Andrew Potter recently pointed out, “Scotland is not called a province or a state; it’s a country,” with “identity-forming cultural institutions,” that has been denied “adequate means to express and shape that identity politically.” On the other hand, “Quebec was never an independent country … [it] has had pretty much everything you would want out of home rule, while being denied only the identity-shaping trappings.”

So, here’s the dilemma for England: How do you prevent Scotland’s independence movement from rising up again?

During the referendum campaign, as the “yes” side gained momentum, England’s three main political leaders promised the Scots more financial and tax autonomy. U.K. Chancellor George Osborne specifically said this would be “much greater” than what they had before. Hence, the Scottish Parliament will theoretically have more authority to raise taxes, welfare payments and so forth.

Mr. Cameron, in particular, knew that his reign as prime minister was on the line. Desperate times often call for desperate measures. So, he willingly gave up the proverbial farm when it came to Scotland — which is almost always a huge mistake in politics.

This may help explain why more than 2 million Scots voted to stay in the U.K.

These financial incentives, in a nation that is politically left and decidedly poor, likely caused a sizable chunk of the population to waver in the final days. In turn, many Scots fully expect all of these promises made during the campaign to be binding.

If not, what’s to prevent the threat of a second independence vote? It could also happen sooner, rather than later.

When you really think about, Scotland voted “no,” but the final result could still end up being “yes.” The land of rolling hills, Scotch whisky and haggis may not be out of the woods just yet.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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