Scottish independence: The most important question that remains - what happens now?


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The Independent Online

I woke up this morning in the other Perth. The one in Australia, not Scotland. As if to match my mood, it’s as dreich and wet here as I’d expect from a Scottish September Sunday.

But here’s the thing. Even on the other side of the world, last week’s referendum is what people are talking about. As soon as they pick up on my accent, the Aussies want to know how I voted; how I feel; what it was like to be part of it. The short answers? I voted yes; I feel sad for the country I love; it was amazing. Exhilarating, exciting, energising, extraordinary.

But right now, I can’t help feeling that what’s most important is the question they don’t ask – what happens now?

It’s hard to resist the conviction that it’s far from over. In the face of a new politics that listened to voices seldom heard from, the big beasts of the old politics came out of the undergrowth to practise the traditional black art of jam tomorrow. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and – what’s that other guy’s name, again? Oh yes, Nick Clegg – produced a list of promises that now sits in the Palace of Westminster like a grenade. And then Gordon Brown rediscovered his passion and pulled the pin.

Now the clock is ticking. That list of promises may have bought a “no” vote last week, but already it’s starting to unravel. Cameron is tying Devo Max for Scotland into a proposal for English parliamentary votes for English issues, a proposal that, in effect, makes Scottish MPs into second-class citizens in the Commons. Labour is tying itself in knots. And Brown’s timetable leaves little room for wrestling with the contradictions and complexities of delivering those big promises. And if they fail to deliver, it won’t just be the “yes” voters who will be very bloody angry. It’ll be all those who wanted more than we have right now but who didn’t quite have the nerve to go all the way last Thursday. And that’ll add up to a lot more than 45 per cent.

“So what?” one of my friends scoffed when I made this point. “The Scots can be as angry as they like. What can they do about it?” What, indeed?

For starters, there’s a general election on the horizon. By next May, we’ll have a clear idea of the worth of those promises. Cameron, faced with Ukip, can’t afford to fail his English electorate. Labour can’t afford a solution that diminishes their Scottish MPs. Imagine a Westminster Parliament where the balance of power lies with Ukip and the SNP. If the City thought independence was a recipe for uncertainty, let them ponder that.

And then there are the Scottish elections in 2016. Alex Salmond may have spoken of the referendum as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. But that wasn’t a pledge and it certainly doesn’t bind his successor or his party. This campaign has demonstrated that there are more voices than the SNP who want an independent Scotland, and I suspect they’ll only grow stronger between now and then. The Greens, the National Collective, the presently non-aligned who may find a new home – they’ll all be ready to show the three main parties the door. Already, people are talking about the next time around.

The most compelling statistic I’ve heard since Thursday is that if the votes of those over 65 were taken out of the equation, the “yes” vote would have climbed to 54 per cent. As my teenage son would say: “Do the maths.” The settled will of the Scottish people may not stay settled for very long.

‘The Skeleton Road’ by Val McDermid is out now (Little, Brown; £18.99)