Scottish referendum aftermath: Analysis

Alex Salmond conceding defeat this morning.
Alex Salmond conceding defeat this morning.
Ian Dunt By

What does this mean for Britain?

Regardless of the 'No' vote, Britain is still in for a period of massive constitutional change. The YouGov poll two weeks ago which put 'Yes' ahead may turn into the most relevant in British political history. It sparked an extraordinary flurry of panicked activity from Westminster, with promises of vast new powers for Scotland. That will then trigger a domino effect of Tory MPs - but not just Tory MPs – demanding recognition of English rights too. Particularly, this takes the form of preventing Scottish MPs voting on English laws which won't affect their constituents. There will be wrangling. Labour doesn't like the idea of an English parliament because it limits its influence. Tory MPs are rather keen, for the same reason.

David Cameron made a speech this morning in which he addressed some of those concerns and implicitly accepted the timetable put forward by Gordon Brown which would see a draft bill by January. In parliamentary terms, that's serious speed.

We don't know anything apart from the broad outlines. There won't be an English parliament. There won't be full federalism. But the change will be big. If the Tories have their way, Scots will get full power over income tax. They could get control over welfare too, as well as corporation tax and air passenger duty. And a change of government – especially if it was a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats – could see even more reforms brought into play, with issues like voting and House of Lords reform suddenly thrown into the mix.


There will be squabbles, there will be many MPs who accuse Cameron of promising too much on the back of one poll. But no matter what the result, one thing is clear: Nearly two million Scots voted to get out of the UK. That is an intolerable position for a healthy democracy to find itself in. Even though the result was not as bad as some had predicted, it was much worse than had been expected two years ago – or even two months ago. This is a wake-up call, and only the most oblivious of MPs would fail to recognise that.

What does this mean for David Cameron?

The prime minister will be counting his lucky stars this morning. Perhaps he could have survived the recrimination which followed, although few people believed that to be the case. But much worse would have been the indelible mark next to his name in the history books. He would have been the man who lost the union. That's the sort of thing which keeps prime ministers up at night.

But the relatively narrow victory, and the panicked, emotional scenes that preceded it over the last fortnight, have contributed again to the weakening of the prime minister. He has never been a strong leader, torn between his right wing backbenchers and the centrist voters he needs to win elections. Now he is even more weakened, committed to constitutional change which he will have to pay a political price to deliver.

The events of last week will also have cemented the impression that Cameron is not a natural winner. Sure, 'No' was victorious. But no-one credits him with that. His contribution was characterised by the arrogance of not putting a third option on the ballot paper, the bullying of the Better Together approach to the campaign, the complacency that saw the union nearly fall apart, and then the panicked humiliation of his trips to Scotland, nearly crying and begging for them not to go. He may have avoided calamity. But the impression of failure will remain.

What does this mean for Alex Salmond?

There will be no calls for Salmond's resignation. He secured a referendum on Scottish independence when it was basically a fringe issue for a few headbangers. And then he went on to nearly win it. He conducted it well, with considerable aplomb. Salmond will also be in a key position to push for the further powers coming Scotland's way.
Salmond has always been a gradualist. He would have preferred the devo-max option on the ballot paper, even though it meant independence was less likely. Salmond is well positioned and will be celebrated, despite the defeat.

However, his lifelong dream remains unachieved. And he must think to himself – if he can't do it now, with a Tory right-winger in Downing Street during a period of austerity, when will he?

What does this mean for Gordon Brown?

It's the last minute twist you never saw coming, but Gordon Brown played a huge role in the final days of the campaign. He channelled the passion and positivity and charisma which had been lacking from Better Together. Who'd have thought?

Truth is, his speech in Glasgow yesterday probably had very little effect. Glasgow did vote for independence after all – a fact which should horrify Labour. But we won't know how many more might have voted for independence if it wasn't for that speech.

In reality, these questions don't matter. Politics is about stories and sometimes those stories are more important than the truth. That speech was stamped in political journalist's minds. It will provide a much more generous cap on the storyline of Brown's political career. Or, who knows – perhaps it will reignite it. Whatever happens, he's no longer the least popular man in Westminster. Those who distanced themselves from him, like – ahem – Ed Miliband, may have cause to regret having done so.

They may have other things to worry about, however. The result was good for the union, but disastrous for Labour. It has lost touch with much of its heartlands in Scotland.

What does this mean for Westminster?

One thing is now clear: Not-Westminster is the most popular political movement in the country. Ukip can use it, the SNP can use it, anyone can use it. The animosity towards Westminster is so deep and universal it is almost impossible to imagine it changing. For any MPs with a sense of their democratic role, fundamental change of how and why Westminster works has to be a part of the response to the Scotland vote. It's this, more than anything else, which will be lasting issue of the referendum campaign.

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