The United Kingdom will remain united. Residents of Scotland voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom on Thursday by a comfortable 10-point margin, with 55 percent voting "no" in a referendum to break away from the union.
In an address Friday morning, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called the no victory a "clear result," saying "there can be no disputes, no reruns—we have heard the settled will of the Scottish people."
In the aftermath of the vote, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, spokesman and leader of the independence movement and the Scottish National Party, said that he will resign in November, when a new party leader will be elected. In the same speech, he said that the referendum has put Scotland "in a very strong position." Although he will step down, he said, "For Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die."
But this doesn't mean that tomorrow will be just like yesterday. As part of Cameron's efforts to convince Scots to vote to stay in the union, he pledged to shift the national balance of power to give member countries more control over their own affairs.
In an emotional speech in Aberdeen earlier this week, the prime minister promised that "there's no going back to the way things were. A vote for 'no' means real change."
Now, Cameron has to make good on the promise of increased "devolution," a term in British politics that refers to the delegation of powers from the level of the United Kingdom to the level of its component countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Scotland was promised an extreme form of devolution (devo-max, in the parlance of British politics) in return for a "no" vote. Before the referendum, Scotland was in charge of setting policy on some elements of government, such as agriculture, education, health, and law-enforcement policy. But the power to decide on issues such as welfare, trade, foreign policy and defense, energy, and the constitution were reserved by Westminster, where policies were determined on behalf of the entire U.K. Devo-max would give Scotland control over almost every one of those reserved powers, with the exception of defense and foreign policy.
Cameron repeated the devolution promise Friday, saying, "We must now deliver on time and in full the radical package of newly devolved powers to Scotland." Labor leader Ed Miliband backed that up, saying in a speech in Glasgow on Friday that "this was a vote for change.... We know our country needs to change in the way it is governed and we know our country needs to change in who it is governed for. We will deliver on stronger powers for a stronger Scottish Parliament, a strong Scotland."
But devo-max comes with one particularly big problem: While there is a Scottish Parliament to gain more power, there is no English Parliament to match it. This could be especially dicey when matters come in front of the U.K. Parliament that deal primarily with England and don't impact Scotland, but could be voted upon by Scottish MPs.
Some English MPs are already calling for limiting the voting rights of Scottish MPs in Westminster, or for a separate English Parliament to handle matters relating just to England. David Cameron has tried to put an early stop to calls for the latter, saying that the U.K. "is not remotely at that stage" where an English Parliament would be needed. But Michael Gove, the Conservative chief whip, said early Friday morning "that there needs to be change in order to ensure that Westminster works better for the people of England and Wales and Northern Ireland," suggesting inevitable changes to how the U.K. Parliament votes.
Cameron seemed to hint at this Friday morning as well.
"So now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together and to move forward," he said. "A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement, fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well." William Hague, leader of the House of Commons, said Friday that, with more devolution, it would be "inconceivable to continue to allow Scottish members to vote on everything that is happening in England," suggesting that this'll become an issue for next year's general election.
Already Friday, the leader of the Welsh nationalist party is demanding that "any offers to Scotland must be offered to Wales, too.... Wales should not be treated as second-class to Scotland."
Salmond conceded the vote early Friday and called on "all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland."
Salmond has promised that there will not be an immediate push for another independence referendum. "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity," he said earlier this week, "Perhaps even a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Scotland." That said, on Friday morning Salmond seemed to open that door a little: "Scotland has, by a majority, decided not, at this stage, to become an independent country."
Even though the opportunity did not win Scotland its independence, the tide of popular support behind the "yes" campaign likely earned the country greater powers of self-governance, despite the fact that it will remain within the framework of the United Kingdom. Now, politicians will turn their energy toward determining exactly how devolution will play out.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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