Scottish Independence Referendum 2014

in Views

By Tereza Pavlíková, Martina Krénová, Markéta Šonková, Blanka Šustrová

As we are writing these articles, almost 4 months have passed since Scotland’s independence referendum (or Indyref, as it is sometimes adoringly nicknamed) took place. The heated discussion and strong emotions have cooled down and it has become possible to look at the referendum from a bigger distance. Which we did, and doing this, were trying to see the bigger picture. How was the situation leading up to it? How was the voting and what was it that swinged the scales in favour of Better Together? What are the outcomes? Are the promises being fulfilled and are Scottish people still interested in getting more independent? These were just some of the questions we asked ourselves and attempted to find answers for.

In case you need to refresh your memory regarding the English-Scottish relationships throughout history, an article outlining the background of this complex issue is provided. The referendum itself is divided into the situation leading up to it, the event itself, and its aftermath and outcomes, although we are aware that these are interconnected and cannot be entirely separated from one another. For those who wish to read about the referendum from the perspective of a native, we have also included two interviews. (And, to finish on a lighter note, you can also have a look at the many creative ways the Scottish people and the world commented on the referendum using memes.)

Our goal was to focus on the outcomes of the referendum, to summarise the situation for you, and hopefully point out some interesting information you did not know, or, if you had not been following the referendum at all, to give you an overview.

We sincerely hope that you are going to enjoy all the parts of this section. And, last but not least, don’t forget to take part in our own Scottish independence mock referendum which is, just so you know, entirely anonymous. Read the materials, think about the outcomes, and give a click to either Yes Scotland or Better Together. The results will be announced on our Facebook page. If you cannot decide, some whisky and a snack of haggis should do the trick.

referendum
Illustration by Blanka Šustrová

 

History

 

There is a long and complex history shared between Scotland and England, the United Kingdom respectively. Although the official union was cemented in 1707, it is not possible to take history of either of these two states as a separate matter, for it is very much interwoven. From the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th and 14th centuries – with William Wallace being one of the iconic figures of that era whose legacy is still being cherished – through the Rough Wooing of Mary Stuart, until the time when the Stuarts actually acceded to the throne after the death of Elizabeth I, there is too much in common to examine the history and politics of the two countries separately. And even after the Stuart accession and creation of the union with England later on, Scotland still kept its distinct face which once again came very much into the light with the independence referendum in 2014. Nonetheless, there are important dates that do stand out in the history of this union that need to be mentioned in the light of Scotland’s recent attempts to vote Yes.

The first form of firmer unification of the two kingdoms came in 1603, when James VI of Scotland acceded to the English throne as James I of England. Since Elizabeth I died childless and the closest Protestant relative to inherit the throne was James, after some negotiations, he then came as her successor. The first threat to his rule came in 1605 with the Gunpowder Plot engineered by the Catholics. Even though this attempt was in the end unsuccessful, the Stuart monarchs did not enjoy any particular popularity afterwards either, mainly due to their attempts to rule in a rather absolutist manner. That resulted in execution of Charles I in 1649 and the Civil War respectively, during which the Scottish dynasty was abolished. Although the dynasty was restored in 1660, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 proved that nothing was certain for the Stuarts. This particular event resulted in several attempts of James II’s successors to take over the kingdom later on, consequences of which were repression of the Scots, banning them to speak Scottish Gaelic, wear kilts, play bagpipes and other repressions of their national symbols and identity, with these repressions lasting for a considerable period of time. Nonetheless, none of them succeeded and the throne was safely kept first by William of Orange, by Queen Anne after his death, and by the Hanoverian monarchs thereafter.

It was during Anne’s reign when the two kingdoms became unified under the Acts of Union of 1707. On the one hand, this union helped Scotland economically, since their debt was paid off and they could search working opportunities in the colonies, on the other hand, from then on, Scotland was under a direct rule from Westminster, so their political autonomy was restricted. The 18th century also marked the shift from military struggles to social and intellectual self-defining. First by the so called Scottish enlightenment and then by Andrew Hardie’s John Baird’s 1820 rising that resulted in several marches in the sign of economic hardship the Scots were experiencing. However, later in the 19th century, the Scots were no longer deemed as an imminent rebelling threat, as they were for example during the Jacobite Rising in 1745, and thus in 1885, the post of Scottish Secretary was re-established by the Secretary of Scotland Act. This meant that Scotland had from then on an officially recognized identity, but was still firmly established as a part of the United Kingdom.

The 20th century marked another shift in Scottish self-perception and after the end of the Great War, the ideas of establishing Scotland as an independent political entity arose again. The National Party of Scotland – a precursor of SNP – was founded in 1928 by Hugh MacDiarmid, who prepared the ground for the next generations to come. It was namely in the late 1960s when the Scottish nationalism awoke again, resulting in 1979 referendum. Even though the result was yes for the devolution, the number of voters who actually participated in the referendum was not high enough to make the changes constitutionally happen and with the Thatcher administration, the changes were no longer on the agenda. That changed with the Blair administration, during which the Scottish Parliament was finally established in 1999, with the power slowly shifting towards the SNP since 2007. Their winning of the overall majority in 2011 finally gave a green light to the new referendum in 2014.

Quoted source:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-16649184

 

Campaign

As the Referendum for the independence of Scotland was coming near, several campaigns were launched. On one side there was Yes Scotland representing parties, organizations and individuals in favor of the Scottish Independence and on the other Better Together, a campaign to urge voters to say no. Both presented sound arguments why vote yes or no. The campaign was closely followed not only by members of the Yes Scotland and Better Together campaigns, Scots and people in the United Kingdom, but also people from all around the world. This was mainly due to the fact that the potential independence of Scotland might set off and give a burst of energy to other separatist movements around the world, in Catalonia, Basque Country, the north of Italy, or Belgium, to name a few.

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond

One of the most important moments for the Yes campaign was, when it surpassed the target of one million of supporters and when it took a 2 point lead in the polls less than two weeks before the Referendum. As an attempt to gain more Better Together voters, Gordon Brown, the former Labour Prime Minister, came up with the idea of promising a greater devolution of powers to Scotland if it voted Yes.  The idea caught up, and The Vow signed by David Cameron, Ed Miliband (The Labour Party) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) was published in the Scottish tabloid Daily Record magazine promising devolution of powers. It turned out to be a strategic key point for Better Together campaign that might have won them enough voters to stay in the UK.

Many celebrities joined in the discussion of the Scottish Independence and expressed their opinions that brought about heated conversations. Several non-Scottish celebrity campaigners urged Scotland to vote against independence, but it did not go down as they planned. Although they were behind the “Scotland, you’re my best friend” video and their intention was not to tell Scottish people how to vote or to “bully” them, according to the reactions, the Scottish public seemed to take it exactly that way. Then other celebrities reacted with an open letter that did not say what to do exactly, but stated that they should do what they think was best.

Sources:

Sobota, Jiří. “Skotsko nebude poslední”. Respekt. 21 September 2014. Print.

Cochrane, Alan, and George Kerevan. Scottish Independence: Yer or No (Great Debate). Stroud: The History Press, 2014. Print.

Picture of Alex Salmond: 
http://derekbateman.co.uk/2014/11/18/indyref2/t100poll_salmond_alex/

 

Voting

On Thursday, 18 September, the long-anticipated referendum took place. The atmosphere was heated, among other things by the results of a poll (mentioned in the Campaign section) showing that 51% of Scots were inclined towards voting Yes. David Cameron admitted that the week leading up to the referendum on Scottish Independence had been the most nerve-wracking of his life.

The voting ran smoothly, with only the smallest hiccup of mere 10 possible cases of impersonation. There were also allegations of fraud made via an online petition, but they were later claimed unfounded by the chief counting officer. At 6:08 AM on Friday, the result was clear: Scotland voted No. As the map shows, the Better Together campaign had succeeded in 28 out of the 32 Scottish council areas, with Yes Scotland winning the majority only in Dundee City (57.35%), West Dunbartonshire (53.96%), Glasgow (53.49%) and North Lanarkshire (51.07%). Contrastingly, the No campaign saw the biggest success on the Orkney Islands (67.20%), Scottish Borders (66.56%) and many others, with the narrowest win in Inverclyde, where No won with only 50.08%. For results of all the council areas, see this BBC page with statistics. It seemed that efforts of the Better Together campaign combined with Gordon Brown’s devolution proposals and The Vow signed by the party leaders might have done the trick, creating the outcomes that we have.

The immediate reactions to the results gave no doubt as to what the topics of the aftermath of the referendum were going to be: the devolution of more power to Scotland promised in The Vow, but also to other parts of the UK (including England), as well as changes in the SNP leadership and the debates of when the issue of Scottish Independence is going to re-emerge._77695435_scot_strength_624map

 

Source:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29270441

Picture Source:
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29255449

 

Rival Groups Clash in George Square

On Friday September 19, after the results came in, mounted policemen had to “divide a large number of people waving union jacks from a group of ‘Yes’ supporters” on Glasgow’s George square, usually a meeting place for “passionate and peaceful ‘Yes’ campaigners.” On Friday evening, there was a confrontation between pro-independence and pro-Union supporters. Rule Britannia was sung, a flare was let off and the crowd was dispersed by the police, with 6 people getting arrested.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29288249

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29295421

 

Reactions

“Let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short. Let us dwell on the distance we have travelled and have confidence that the movement will take the nation forward as one nation.”

  • First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond

“The people of Scotland have spoken. It is a clear result. They have kept our country of four nations together. Like millions of other people, I am delighted.”

  • Prime Minister David Cameron

“We’ve taken on the argument and we’ve won. The silent have spoken.”

  • Better Together leader Alistair Darling

“I am indicating a willingness to work with whoever to get Scotland more powers”

  • Deputy First Minister and current SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

“It is a result that all of us throughout the United Kingdom will respect. […] I have no doubt that Scots, like others throughout the United Kingdom, are able to express strongly-held opinions before coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support.”

  • Elizabeth II

“Through debate, discussion, and passionate yet peaceful deliberations, they reminded the world of Scotland’s enormous contributions to the UK and the world.”

  • Barack Obama

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29272198

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29287662

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-29270441

 

Aftermath

If independence had been the buzzword before the referendum, “devolution” is the one significant for the post-Indyref era. The heated discussion about feelings and families of nations has quickly turned into a dry debate over income tax and drafts of propositions. However, the prospects in general are not bleak and things have, albeit rather slowly, started moving. The disappointed Yes voters seem to have taken the referendum’s result as an invitation to take matters into their own hands. The number of members of the Scottish National Party has surged dramatically since the referendum, and is said to be over 100,000 members now. The Scottish Green Party, which also supported the independence, currently has over 7,500 members, with almost 6,000 members joining since the referendum.

Due to the relatively tight results of the referendum, many voices were heard asking if there was a chance of Scotland’s having another referendum in a short time. But as the debate started focusing more on greater devolution of powers to Scotland within the union, it was clear that this was not the way to go at that particular moment. First Minister of Scotland and current SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is allegedly “not talking of an immediate rerun – or even an early referendum”. Nevertheless, the surge in independence parties members is obvious and it is very likely that the question will eventually re-emerge. It might very well be possible that “Scotland’s real verdict [to the independence question] had been ‘not yet’” as one of the speakers at the SNP conference in November put it.

The Smith Commission led by Lord Smith of Kelvin has been given the responsibility for overseeing the process of devolution of more powers to Scotland. On November 27th the  Commission published its recommendations for changes which are to be debated and included in the draft of a new bill in January. The Commission recommended that the Scottish Parliament be able to set income tax rates and bands, allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, have control over Air Passenger Duty and be given a part share in VAT receipts. Opinions on the recommendations were unsurprisingly divided along the Yes/No lines. Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour seemed to be satisfied with them whereas the loudest critique was heard from the Deputy First Minister of Scotland and SNP member John Swinney. His view more or less summarised the Yes voters’ feelings when he said: “I welcome the results of the report but regret that a wider range of powers has not been delivered”.

The debates over the devolution of power can be expected to continue, at least until the upcoming May general election, as the new bill which will be drafted in January will be brought forward after the election. In any case, it is safe to say that even though Scotland’s decision had been “No”, the Referendum brought great changes to the nation and a newly found interest for politics for many of its people.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-29606220

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29289035