The future of the U.K.
Kitty Baker | Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The Union Jack. An iconic symbol that appears on everything from high fashion to car decals. The flag that was created to represent the strong unity between Scotland and England, by intertwining the flag of England (St. George’s Cross) and the flag of Scotland (Saint Andrew’s Cross), stands as a symbol of the connection that has been tested and still remains, although shaken.
Last Thursday, Scotland put to a democratic vote whether or not to stay in its 307-year-old union with England, formally known as the United Kingdom. While the eventual outcome came out in favor of the “Better Together” campaign and a “No” vote, the win was not a landslide, with only 55 percent of Scotland’s voting populace choosing to remain a part of the U.K. 85 percent of established voters exercised their right, proving that politics can still remain relevant in an era that is overshadowed by disillusionment and hostility towards “politics.”
As a result of the Scotland Act of 1998, the Scottish people were given their own Parliament and along with this, the power to make laws on “devolved matters” (several more powers were given over to this Parliament in the Scotland Act 2012). However, the U.K. Parliament has certain powers that are its alone, mostly concerning U.K. or international decisions, which are referred to as “reserved matters.” These include, according to the Scottish Parliament website, broadcasting, foreign policy, defense, immigration, etc.
The “Yes Scotland” campaign, headed by Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland (he has said that he will be stepping down after this defeat, but will remain as a member of Scottish Parliament) wanted completely devolved powers. He and his campaigners promised that being independent would allow Scots to make their own future, instead of being dependent on a Parliament that is not aligned with many Scottish voters (currently, there is a Tory (conservative) government in place in England, and much of Scotland votes Labour). The independence campaign’s message was, according to the “Yes Scotland” website, that by becoming independent it could make “the right choices for our society and our economy.”
The No “Better Together” campaign, launched by Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, represented the voice of those who wished to remain the United Kingdom, and included prominent U.K. politicians such as David Cameron, the current conservative Prime Minister, and other British figures like J.K. Rowling.
David Cameron, towards the end of the battle for hearts and minds, made promises to the Scottish people, in hopes that it would turn the tide and help to bring favor to remaining with the U.K. Among the promises he made were increased taxing, spending, and welfare powers given to the Scottish parliament.
Now, the question remains, why did Scotland vote to stay a part of the United Kingdom? The “Better Together” campaign, according to one BBC article, always had the edge (the BBC has come under fire from many in the “Yes Scotland” campaign for having biased coverage, a reminder to read a variety of news sources). “Better Together” always had a slight majority. This majority was threatened as the time to vote neared, but in the end, helped the campaign come away with victory. There have also been suggestions that some Scots were afraid of the risk that would come if they chose to separate from England. Can Scotland survive on its own? The “Yes Scotland” campaign answered with a resounding yes, but it is hard to shake off all doubts. With the promises from the U.K. Parliament of more devolved powers, for those who were worried about risk, sticking with England seemed the more promising of the two.
What will be interesting in the coming months is watching how the U.K. will move forward as a still united but fragmented entity. Will Parliament renege on its offers, which the “Yes Scotland” campaign claims Cameron already has done with some of his key proposals for more devolved powers. What does it mean for the rest of England? Manchester and other cities in the U.K. have long asked for more devolved powers. Will Scotland’s voice send shockwaves throughout this fragile political system?
As a proud citizen of the United Kingdom, I am happy that Scotland chose to remain a part of this auspicious union. However, I hope that this result reminds British politicians that it is their duty to respond to the cares and needs of every citizen. Together, we can move forward, with our flag flying high.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.