“I accept the verdict of the people. And I call on all the people of Scotland to accept the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.” — Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who led the campaign for secession.
Edinburgh (AFP) – Scotland may have rejected independence but will now be handed new powers by Britain which could amount to effective home rule — though experts warn that agreeing these could be messy.
“Devo max” — greater powers which fall short of full independence — was not on the referendum ballot paper.
Britain’s three main political parties ahead of the referendum agreed that Scotland could set more of its own laws from next year if it voted “No”.
“The status quo is gone,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday in his final Scottish speech of the campaign.
“There is no going back to the way things were. A vote for ‘No’ means real change.”
Cameron was now expected to make an announcement as early as Friday for an overhaul of local governance in Britain.
Analysts say London needs effectively to hand Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond full control of domestic policy — and even this may not kill off calls for another independence referendum.
“If ‘Yes’ loses, Mr Salmond still wins,” political commentator Andrew Rawnsley wrote before the vote in Sunday’s Observer newspaper. “Even if the union wins a reprieve, the argument is clearly not going to end there.”
Negotiations will now start between Cameron’s Conservatives, coalition partners the Liberal Democrats and the main opposition Labour party on what extra powers to give the Scottish Parliament, which was set up in 1999 and already controls areas like health and education.
A policy paper due in November will outline what these new steps will be. They are likely to include greater control over taxation and some state benefits payments.
Draft laws on decentralisation could then be ready by January.
– Unlikely timetable –
This fast timetable was agreed when Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown stepped into the debate after an opinion poll just 10 days before the vote gave the “Yes” camp a lead.
Brown has promised Scotland “nothing less than a modern form of home rule.”
Polls suggest this would be popular with the public.
Asked what should happen next after a “No” vote, 67 percent said Scotland’s parliament should take primary responsibility for tax and welfare benefits, according to poll trackers What Scotland Thinks in August.
But some say Brown’s timescale is too fast to be realistic given differences between the three parties on what they are prepared to give away.
“To rush headlong into new legislation may curry favour in the short term but is unlikely to provide a lasting settlement,” wrote Professor Nicola McEwen of Edinburgh University in a blog this month.
McEwen told AFP that Salmond’s Scottish National Party, in power north of the border, is also likely to put forward its own proposals “which would look completely different to what is on the table now.”
Assuming an agreement can be reached for Scotland, it would increase pressure for more powers to be handed to other parts of the United Kingdom — the English regions plus Wales and Northern Ireland.
There would also be an irony in the situation for Cameron.
When negotiations were taking place on what questions should be on the referendum ballot paper, it was reportedly the SNP who wanted “devo max” included.
The pro-union side, led by Cameron, is thought to have opposed it in a bid to secure a simple outright win for “No”.
The promises made by the British government have also prompted politicians in Cameron’s Conservative party to call for the same treatment for England.
Newspapers in northern England on Friday united to demand more powers for their regions in a “fair deal after so many promises were made to Scotland during the referendum campaign”.