At the very last moment, Scotland decided to stay. After two years of long, and often bitter campaigning, Scotland voted to stay within the United Kingdom.
Markets rallied at the news. Sterling, which had fallen in recent weeks amid uncertainty over whether an independent Scotland would be part of a currency union hit a two-year high against the euro.
The UK stock market’s FTSE 100 also opened 0.7 percent higher at 6,865. Financial stocks with a strong link to Scotland also rallied. Shares at Royal Bank of Scotland, which had warned it would relocate to England if Scotland voted for independence, jumped 4.1 percent and Lloyds Banking group was up 2.6 percent.
The markets were reacting with relief to what they hoped was an end to the uncertainty over the future of the United Kingdom.
But as Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, and later Prime Minister David Cameron made their speeches, accepted defeat and victory respectively, it became clear that even though Scotland had voted against independence, the country would still change.
The ‘No’ campaign against Scottish independence won with 55 percent of the vote, compared to a 45 percent vote for independence. The turnout was a record breaking 84.5 percent – the highest figure recorded in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918. Voter turnout at local elections in May were just 36 percent, and there is little doubt that the referendum campaign has energized voters in Scotland.
“The campaign for independence had created a scare and fear at the heart of the Westminster establishment as they realized the mass movement of the people that was going forward in Scotland.”
As Mr. Salmond conceded defeat early on Friday morning, he claimed that it would have been unthinkable, even just a few years ago, to believe that as much as 45 percent of the Scottish population would support independence. He said his supporters had created “a scare and fear at the heart of the Westminster establishment as they realized the mass movement of the people that was going forward in Scotland.”
As it looked as if the campaign for independence might win, the British government promised Scotland that in the event of a ‘No’ vote, it would receive a huge devolution of powers: a package called Devo Max that will give Scotland virtually full control over tax and spending on welfare, health, and education.
The draft legislation for this will be published by January. Mr. Cameron promised on Friday morning that he would also devolve powers to other parts of the country, partly to appease critics to claim the government had allowed itself to be bullied and blackmailed by Mr. Salmond into giving Scotland more privileges than the rest of the U.K.
Mr. Cameron said that he had asked former Conservative leader and foreign minister, William Hague, to draw up proposals to make sure that Wales and Northern Ireland received the same powers at Scotland, at the same time.
In a speech given outside his Downing Street office Friday morning, he said that the new political settlement had to be “fair to the people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”
He also promised to devolve more powers to the regions of England and to cities.
Most controversially, he said he would consider the issue of “English votes for English laws,” meaning that parliamentarians from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland would no longer be able to vote on issues, of education, health tax and welfare, in England because English parliamentarians have no say on these issues in the three nations.
Business leaders, who had welcomed the ‘No’ vote, were quick to say that this promised devolution should also not create barriers to trade within the U.K.
John Cridland, head of the Confederation of British Industry, which represents employers, said in a statement that Mr. Cameron’s new plans should “not undermine the strength of the single internal market.”
He added that the campaign “inevitable leaves scars which will take time to heal,” and said the U.K now needs to reassure international investors that the country was a stable place to do business with.
Meera Selva is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin, who has reported on independence movements from Africa, Europe and Asia. To contact the author: email@example.com