How Scotland Won Independence By Losing The Independence Vote

How Scotland Won Independence By Losing The Independence Vote

So, on 18th September 2014, 718 years after its first battle against English rule, Scotland eventually voted ‘No’ to independence. A full month on, as the dust settles on the outcome and all commentators, observationists and pub-philosophers air their final views on the matter, what has really been the result for Scotland?


In terms of physical vote, the 55% weighted ‘No to Independence’ was a relatively close call, though the general consensus, even now, is that the difference between the Yes and No camps turned out to be much larger than was ever anticipated. The flag and banner-waving vocal minority, however, was always going to be the more visually present opinion in the media-led lead-up to the actual day.


But what was the final decision built on? What factors led people to this overall result?


Firstly, the importance to the Scots of this referendum can be evidenced in the unprecedented number (97%) of eligible voters who actually registered. Real voter turnout on the day was the highest in UK history, recorded at 84.5%. If one compares this with the turnout for the 2010 UK General Election, which stood at 65%, one is left with a clear measure of how key this referendum was for so many of the Scottish people.


In the lead-up to Referendum day, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Yes Campaign, seemed to be excessively over-relying on an emotionally-led William Wallace approach to rallying support by racial means, rather than by reassuring people that yes to independence was a viable option, through political and economic answers to fair questions:


  1. On the subject of currency, Salmond insisted that Scotland would continue to use the pound, despite the UK Government and all main parties claiming otherwise. The fact that this would be a decision for Westminster and therefore out of Salmond’s hands was not an issue that could have sat comfortably with the thinking electorate.


  1. Regarding Scotland’s membership of the EU, Yes campaigners continued to claim that an independent Scotland would remain a member, despite a number of legal experts believing that it would have to re-apply – a process that has taken other EU members, on average, eight years to complete. This, what Alistair Darling described as Salmond’s “roulette” attitude to the EU could never make Scottish firms – and therefore, Scottish workers – feel safe. Added to this was the fact that, following a succession of high profile economic crises regarding economically fragile EU countries, the European Union would be unlikely to choose to open its arms to yet another small, unproven applicant knocking at its door. This again could not have escaped the consideration of many voters.


  1. The Scottish Nationalist Party has pointed to North Sea oil as the major contributor to independent wealth for a new Scotland. However, while the SNP claimed that Scotland holds 60% of the EU’s oil reserves, surely, the truth is that if Scotland holds it, it is currently the property of the UK and, therefore, it is Great Britain who actually owns it. How the North Sea reserves would be geographically (or otherwise) split, should independence have happened, was and still is mere speculation. And this doesn’t even take into account Norway’s stake in the territories and who currently owns the distribution infrastructures, etc. Such conjecture, again, could never have been acceptable to businesses and individuals needing concrete reassurance of an economically safe new Scotland.


  1. Scottish independence would have meant that the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons would be moved from Scotland. In fact, this was a headline that the ‘Yes’ campaign was selling as a ‘positive’, for a newly independent country. However, Babcock, the defence contractor that runs the Faslane trident base there and currently employs 4,750 people claimed that independence could result in significant job losses. Unemployment is a tangible issue that is never going to win voters. (Also, one might argue that if one is holding 60% of the EU’s oil reserves, having nuclear capability on your doorstep is a rather prudent move!)


Clearly many of the counter-claims regarding these four key questions could be put down to Westminster propaganda, via the Better Together campaign, designed to put the Scottish voters ill at ease with the reality of full independence – a strategy made even easier by companies like Babcock being financially in the pocket of Westminster. However, Alex Salmond needed to have done his homework if he was to mute a credible argument to the electorate. And this he seems to have squarely failed to do. Instead, he deflected with instant-gratification headlines, such as ‘Free Childcare’ for parents, etc, which, while being something that individual voters might identify with, failed to explain how Scotland could finance even this without hiking taxes elsewhere.


In conclusion, it would seem therefore fair to suggest that having negotiated a favourable structure with Westminster for a referendum, having secured a majority in the Scottish Parliament and having found his Westminster opposition to be the UK’s first coalition since the war (and therefore, usefully fragmented), Salmond still seems to have blown it by purely not doing the math(s) – by failing to offer his electorate a credible argument that might easily have swayed the final 6% that he needed in order to achieve full independence.


In short, his failing may be easily perceived as a woeful underestimation of his people’s intellect and their ability to consider the small print. His failing was to rely too much on blind patriotism and too little on solid economic consideration.


However, as in all political matters, the electorate only sees what is displayed before them, through media circus and public relations exercises. In business, it is common practice to set ones objectives in private, before going out to negotiate for the stars in order to secure the moon that was always one’s original aim.


Would it be too ‘conspiracy theorist’ to suggest the possibility that the extra powers now being negotiated for Scotland through Westminster always was the real prize and that Salmond needed the larger arena that only an event like an Independence Referendum could command in order to secure the public and political attention necessary to achieve this aim? And if so, was the real outcome for Scotland a well-executed and successful one for the Nationalists?


Alex Salmond certainly played a strong political game against Westminster, holding his poker-nerve until Cameron eventually folded under the threat of a dissolved union and conceded a last-minute pledge of increased fiscal and welfare devolution, something the Conservative government will now need to see through very publically, in order to secure the permanence of the referendum decision made.


In the modern game of politics, sometimes the quiet victories are the cleverest and most enduring. No blood was spilt, greater devolution of powers will be gained than is currently held by the Scottish Parliament and Salmond can be commended for breathing a whole new life into the democratic system in Scotland. Certainly he has created a critical and informed people, in preparation, perhaps, for future, further independence. Perhaps he did stage a battle in order to win the fight. After all, aren’t devolution and independence increments of the same thing.


Was this merely a battle, and not the actual war?

Adrian Sturrock

Adrian Sturrock

Adrian Sturrock is a Business teacher, writer, occasional musician and ethnic minority (except when in Wales), specialising mostly in observation and unconsidered opinion. He currently lives in Buckinghamshire UK with wife Natalie, his travel companion, best friend and the person responsible for keeping him out of trouble on social media. They have three children between them. Oh, and he once had a horse fall on him.

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