It’s official: the Scottish people have rejected independence. But the matter is far from settled—the months and years ahead promise spirited debate over governance of the British union.
As results first started trickling in around 2:00am ET from each of Scotland’s 32 council areas, it quickly became clear that the “Better Together” campaign against independence would likely prevail.
Turnout, while high, was slightly below expectations, hovering around 80-85 percent for most areas. Notably, Edinburgh, the largest council area by population, clocked in at a mere 75 percent. In a campaign that showed tightening polls in recent weeks, disappointing turnout in several areas including Edinburgh may have made the difference.
Ultimately, those favoring a united Great Britain secured 55 percent of more than 3.6 million total ballots cast. Turnout nationwide, nearly 86 percent, shattered the previous Scottish record of 81 percent in 1951—when the Conservative Party of Winston Churchill was on the ballot.
Recognizing the significance of this swell of civic pride and responsibility, even Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, a vocal proponent of the “Yes” campaign, was gracious in defeat.
“The process by which we have made our decision as a nation reflects enormous credit upon Scotland,” he said. “A turnout of 86 percent is one of the highest in the democratic world for any election or any referendum in history. This has been a triumph for the democratic process and for participation in politics.”
Promising to honor the 2012 agreement between Edinburgh and London in which all parties agreed to accept the result as valid, Salmond called on his countrymen to look ahead.
“Today of all days as we bring Scotland together, let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short,” he said. “Let us dwell on the distance we have travelled and have confidence the movement is abroad in Scotland that will take this nation forward.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron was, unsurprisingly, eager to move on as well.
“Now the debate has been settled for a generation,” he said. “So there can be no disputes, no re-runs; we have heard the will of the Scottish people.”
But as BBC political editor Nick Robinson notes, the debate is far from over.
“The fact that over 1.5 million British citizens voted to break away from the rest of the UK, the fact that a majority in Scotland’s biggest city—Glasgow—backed independence, the fact that the Westminster establishment briefly thought this vote was lost, is the reason for that,” he said.
There is a deep hunger among the Scottish people for constitutional change. And in the final days of the referendum campaign, Cameron promised greater “devolution” of power to Scotland. The table is set, then, for both sides to come together and work out the details.
Also of note is the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds were permitted to vote in the referendum—a first for the nation. While the youth vote appeared to lean against independence in the final days of the campaign, the very act of their participation symbolizes a new era for Scottish politics.
Eyes are now turning to Spain, where citizens in the Catalonian region are slated to take a vote for independence on November 9. Madrid has been less accommodating than London, swearing that the results will not be binding, but that hasn’t stopped pro-independence organizers from looking with hope to the Scottish referendum.
“The main point for us is that the Scots have been able to vote and express their will collectively for their future. Whether they voted yes or no, that would have been all right,” said Ricard Gené of the Catalan National Assembly. “What we really feel is envy about the possibility of voting. This is what we are fighting for.”
Nicandro Iannacci is a web strategist at the National Constitution Center.
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