Scotland has voted No to independence. But following a tight campaign, its position within the Union won’t remain unchanged. What happens next and what does it mean for the key players?
Prior to the result, the Prime Minister repeatedly insisted that he wouldn’t be resigning in the event of a Yes vote. Here was his take on the matter, as reported by my colleague George Eaton:
“My name is not on the ballot paper. What’s on the ballot paper is ‘does Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom, or does Scotland want to separate itself from the United Kingdom?’. That’s the only question that will be decided on Thursday night. The question about my future will be decided at the British general election coming soon.”
However, just because Scotland has voted No to independence doesn’t mean he’s in a particularly comfortable position.
Many Tory backbenchers have been furious at his hasty decision, alongside the other two pro-Union party leaders, to grant significantly greater powers to Scotland.
As the polls tightened towards the end of the campaign, the three Westminster leaders appeared to panic, and offered a “timeline” of further devolution for Scotland. The former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced this in Scotland on the hoof, apparently without consulting Cameron, telling voters that devo-max negotiations would begin immediately following a No vote. The leaders this week made a “vow” to Scotland to grant it more power.
Many Conservative MPs are steadfastly against this thick and fast devo-max promise. They have been privately voicing their fury about their leader’s decision all week. Now that the referendum is out of the way, it is thought that they will begin publicly airing their anger. One Tory grandee told the Standard:
“When Scotland votes No, as I hope it will, there are going to be a lot of questions about this whole process [of devolution].”
“There will be a bloodbath. Last night as I was listening to Cameron saying we are going to be providing all these additional benefits to Scotland, when we are struggling in so many areas of the UK. It’s all happening on the hoof, in cliquey conversations on telephones in Downing Street. It isn’t happening, and there are a number of us who are incensed who will make sure it isn’t going to happen. But let’s see what the results are first.”
Needless to say, many of these MPs will rebel when Cameron tries to legislate for his devolution plan. Even Claire Perry, a government minister, broke ranks and warned there can be “no financial party bags to appease Mr Salmond”.
It is likely that Cameron, having rescued the Union by a whisker, will now have a tough time presiding over a party that is far from “better together”.
Before the vote, there was a lot of talk that the Labour leader, as well as the PM, would have to resign in the event of a Yes vote. He had a lot of responsibility to rally support among Scottish voters, considering the Labour party’s drastically stronger position than that of the Tories in Scotland.
Now that Scotland has voted No, Miliband’s position is pretty safe. But this won’t be a time for Miliband to relax in relief and exhaustion.
Labour party conference begins on Sunday. He will now have to make good, and potentially go further, on his party’s devolution agenda. He made a speech earlier this year promising to rebalance UK growth using English devolution: “the biggest economic devolution of power to England’s great towns and cities in a hundred years”. This will have to feature prominently in his conference and beyond, due to the constitutional shockwaves caused by the close-run Scottish independence debate.