So after all was said and done: after all the claims by Scots Nationalists (and hopes from assorted Irish nationalists – and North Korea) No won by a 10% margin.
To be fair this was an outcome which was fairly predictable apart from the wobbles of a few weeks ago. The simple fact was that the default level of support for independence in Scotland has been hovering round the 30-40% for many years. At the start of the campaign it was that and now it is 45%.
To describe the Yes campaign as a failure is maybe unfair in that it came closer than might have been expected two and a half years ago. However, despite seeming to have had all the momentum that momentum seems to have been false.
It is quite difficult to change people’s sense of self and nationality and despite the Yes campaign’s attempt to sell this independence as Independence-lite with Salmond claiming that England would not become a foreign country in the event of a Yes vote this was self evidently false. Keeping the Queen would not have stopped the rest of the UK becoming a separate country just having the monarch does not make the UK and Canada the same country. Having a land border and potentially sharing use of Sterling as well as having no border controls did not make the post independence Irish Free State (later RoI) anything other than independent.
For the Yes campaign’s vase to be believed intellectually every assertion they made eowul have had to be correct and for that everyone else’s assertions would have had to be overcome or else proven wrong. Over currency, joining the EU and the Euro, pensions, the fiscal position, the NHS, NATO etc. etc. in every case Salmond was asking people to believe that he was correct and everyone else wrong. Not only that but he was claiming that presenting a victory in a Scottish referendum would somehow force other countries to accept his mandate to tell them how to conduct their relations with Scotland. It was actually in many ways a colonial position with the Scots cast as the colonial masters: actually deeply ironic in view of the claims of some in the Yes campaign that Scotland was some sort of colony of England.
If the economic case did not add up the emotional one was based on much shakier ground than was often suggested. The reality is that Scotland as a country has much more in common with the rest of the UK than it has with any other country or countries. There are many more shared than unshared values. Indeed Scotland may be more communitarian than parts of the UK but the part it has least in common with: the wealthier parts of the South East is actually a small part of the UK. Relatively stable communities still finding it hard to break out of the recession is a common theme be it in Scotland or most of the rest of the UK. The rise of UKIP especially in the east of England speaks to the same sort of emotions (with Farage careful not to stress many of the free market principles of his party). That UKIP won a European seat in Scotland also demonstrated the significant common ground between Scotland and England.
The Yes campaign’s on line campaign was clearly much more assertive but it is unclear how beneficial that was. At times it did seem overly aggressive. The claims of attacks on property displaying No Thanks posters seem to have been overstated but there clearly were flash mobs organised via twitter which shouted down No speakers. That may have seemed like a good idea demonstrating an apparent majority for Yes but is more likely to have looked like antidemocratic yobbery. Salmond’s dismissal of such concerns played to his apparent arrogant and bullying persona.
The No campaign might be suggested to have fought a poor campaign especially considering how the polls looked two weeks ago. Clearly they were much less dynamic than the Yes campaign despite having what was realistically an easier message to sell. There may well have been a degree of complacency at least until two weeks ago, though Alistair Darling always warned that the polls would tighten. His somewhat dour technocratic campaign was by its nature negative and selling the status quo is always an inherently more negative message that “change”.
The refusal to get involved in emotional appeals was, however, all along seen as a strong point and a deliberate strategy to try to minimise the “Braveheart” flag waving anti English effect. Gordon Brown managed in the last few days to inject emotion. Brown’s pichc was extremely good but the emotional component of it could really only have been sustained at the end (if one wants an analogy the best I can think of is bowling repeated Yorkers at the end of a twenty twenty cricket match).
Some have suggested recently that Cameron’s insistence on a single question was a mistake but it must be remembered that a multi option was opposed by the No campaign as that might have allowed independence to sneal through the middle. In addition victory for devomax might well have resulted in calls a further referendum on independence in a few years. By this mechanism despite some anxieties for the supporters of the Union the issue has been settled probably for the foreseeable future.
Cameron has to an extent allowed Salmond what he wanted in terms of timing and question. Despite those relative advantages they still came up well short.
Going back before Cameron’s time it is interesting to consider the effect of devolution on this election. Had there been no devolution there would have been no Scottish parliament and as such no Salmond as First Minister to push for the referendum. However, going back to before 1997 the Scottish parliament was seen as essential to keep Scotland within the union. By that analysis the refusal to grant devolution would have brought a majority of NP MPs and the same need for a referendum. Hence, the devolution of the Blair years might be suggested to have facilitated an independence referendum yet ensured its ultimate failure.
A degree of embarrassment for the pollsters is the inaccuracy some of their claims have been. There was often suggested to be a “silent majority” of “shy unionists” and this seems to have been borne out. It seems that the Yes campaign had managed to make Yes the trendy thing to say and as such those giving their opinions to pollsters were more likely to say Yes. In addition there are allegations of attempts by yes supporters to manipulate online polling systems. Whatever the reality of this it seems that this campaign somewhat resembles the 1992 general election when Labour was consistently ahead but in reality the Tories won a healthy majority. After that the opinion pollsters made attempts to factor in people refusing to admit supporting the less trendy Tories. It seems in the last twenty years they have forgotten that people do not always vote the way they tell pollsters they are going to.
Despite an outcome favouring the status quo it seems clear that the prounion parties will now have to honour their offers of devomax. That will clearly change the nature of the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom. This will be interesting in that the vast majority of the population of the UK will not necessarily have a say in that change. It is of course one of those recurring fallacies made by the grossly ill informed to state that the UK has no written constitution. Rather the constitution is written in many different laws and has been modified as needed over the years: what the UK has is no single written constitutional document.
The UK constitution will rather, adapt to the current circumstances, much as it has over the centuries. It remains, however, for the time being the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Patrick Mayhew was correct in his assertion that the threat to the integrity of the UK would come in Scotland before Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s turn will of course come within the next two years: after all Gerry Adams promised liberation by 2016. Funny we have heard little about that recently.
This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.