Scottish independence vote: An end to the matter?

What we will say is, whether it is Yes or No, the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK is going to change

The Independent on Sunday refrains from offering its Scottish readers advice on how to vote on Thursday. That is not because our values are weak but because they conflict with each other. We are a liberal, green, pro-European newspaper that believes in social justice and the devolution of power and responsibility. Some of those values might be better served, for the Scots, by independence, but would that be at the expense of those values for the rest of the United Kingdom? Can environmental objectives be achieved better by nations coming together or coming apart? Would European unity be enhanced or weakened by breaking up member states into smaller units?

Balancing those values and applying them to this choice is a decision for the Scottish people. Whatever the result of the referendum, we would continue to be a Scottish newspaper just as much as we are an English, Welsh and Northern Irish one. We would continue to bring you the best news and comment, and to advocate our values, wherever you live in what is currently the UK.

What we will say about the referendum is that, whether it is Yes or No, the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK is going to change. Independence may appear to be the more clear-cut option, although the terms of the separation would have to be negotiated, and Alex Salmond’s pitch has been as much about continuity as change. And, as Hamish McRae argues on page 45, independence would make only a marginal difference to the economies of the two countries, certainly in the medium term.

However, if Scotland votes to stay in the UK, the Westminster party leaders have agreed that the Scottish Parliament would have “much greater” tax-raising powers. That, in turn, would raise the question once again – and this time with feeling – of whether MPs for Scottish seats should be allowed to vote on legislation that would apply only in other parts of the UK. If the annual Budget presented by the Chancellor applied only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it would  be odd for it to be presented by an MP representing a Scottish constituency.

Not that this would be a constitutional crisis. The inhabitants of these complicated islands would continue to muddle through somehow. But the assumptions of a unitary state would have to be swept away, and not before time. A more radical devolution of power to Scotland, in or out of the UK, ought to encourage the passing of power closer to the people in all parts of what is currently one country.

Nor will Thursday’s vote be the end of the matter, whatever the political leaders say now. If No wins narrowly, with the votes of over-65s proving decisive, it is inconceivable that the Scottish National Party would abandon its reason for existing. It might not be Mr Salmond himself who comes back for what his opponents have called a “neverendum” in several years’ time, but it could be Nicola Sturgeon or one of the rising generation of  SNP hopefuls.

Whatever happens on Thursday, roughly half of Scotland will be bitterly disappointed. Even if it is a Yes vote, even if none of the 140 nations that has become independent since the war has reunited with its parent country, and, despite the Prime Minister’s warning that “this is for ever”, it is hard to believe that Unionists would accept that the debate is closed.

The civic benefit of the passions roused by the independence debate is that turnout is likely to be extraordinarily high – more than 80 per cent, as against 65 per cent in the last UK general election. The referendum campaign has animated and engaged the Scottish people in taking responsibility for their future as few such contests before. That is a great gain for democracy.