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Archive for September, 2014

Referendum Reflections

It’s almost two weeks now since Scotland said a loud No to independence. It seemed wiser to reflect on the campaign and its outcome after a little time had passed instead of in the heated aftermath, so here are some thoughts.

Firstly, let’s put the final result to bed. At 55.3% to 44.7% or 2,001,926 to 1,617,989 it was a clear victory for the No campaign. Alex Salmond accepted that on the night, although some of his supporters are still making conspiracy theory noises about a fix. It would do them far more credit if they simply came out of denial, accepted the defeat and moved on.

And it is also a bit much for those who have told us for long enough that 50% + 1 was a clear mandate for independence to see a 55% vote against as anything other than decisive. For those who talked repeatedly of the sovereignty of the Scottish people to question their verdict now. For those who supposedly prize self determination to do anything other than abide by the settled will of the electorate.

I can accept that many are, of course, upset at the result. It’s never easy to take a loss after working hard for a cause over months or years. But some of the language used from the Yes side about those who simply chose to use their vote in a manner they disagree with has been quite shocking. I refuse to repeat the range of epithets here, although I’m sure anyone who inhabits the world of social media will know exactly what I mean.

The two years of the referendum campaign has been a divisive period in Scottish political life. But then a referendum by its very nature is a polarising affair, with only two diametrically opposed outcomes possible. And with a Yes and a No campaign there were always going to be clashes in style as well as in content.

Did the Yes side run the better campaign, as seems to be the conventional wisdom? There is probably some truth in that. It was a different style of campaigning, largely community based in an era of mass media communications. But there was often a sense of campaigners believing in their own hype, caught up in their own rhetoric, and of gatherings that were more about preaching to the converted than winning over the undecided. One nationalist blogger described this as “what we did remarkably well during the #indyref campaign – Yes folk sitting in meetings with other Yes folk agreeing with each other.”

But it is far too simplistic to label one campaign as positive and one as negative. The Yes side put forward a proposition with plenty of emotional appeal but also with massive flaws. And it certainly lost some key arguments during the campaign. The No campaign attacked these inherent weaknesses as it had to do, although I would argue that its balance between questioning the opposition and setting out its own case was wrongly weighted.

From the start of the campaign it was clear that Better Together was not campaigning for the status quo, but rather for a continuation of the devolution process. More powers for the Scottish Parliament were always on the agenda. But the key pledge eventually made by the party leaders should have come earlier in the campaign.

I don’t believe that it was a panic measure. Rather it was something I always expected to happen at some stage. And there is a delicate balance in a campaign between making a big announcement too early and reducing its influence on the result or leaving it too late and being open to a charge of last minute nerves. I think the Better Together campaign and the individual parties involved handled the announcement badly by delaying it far too long – and they will be very relieved that the error was not ultimately a fatal one.

The promises made in the pledge must now be delivered, and I do expect more powers to be devolved on tax raising and spending. It is entirely right that the parties are held to account on this issue – although to hear Alex Salmond talking about a lack of progress on the Sunday morning a mere 48 hours after the result felt just a little much. Lord Smith’s commission will produce a “command paper”, the first part of the process, by the end of October and that will set out the terms of the next stage in the debate.

So the end result of this referendum should be a stronger Scottish Parliament within the UK, as indeed the majority of Scots wanted. The irony remains that the party that will still be governing the devolved Scotland is the one that doesn’t want devolution. And that should make the politics of the next Scottish election in 2016 look very different – although clearly the wider political landscape will first be set by next year’s UK general election.

In the shorter term, we will have a new First Minister following Alex Salmond’s imminent departure. It appears certain that his hand picked successor Nicola Sturgeon will take over, and it remains to be seen whether there will be any amendments to policy or governance style as a result. It seems unlikely, although there may be some further changes to the top team as she looks to the future.

What has undoubtedly changed is the framework of the whole debate about devolution within the UK. The agenda is not now just about how Scotland is governed. Rather there is a wider debate about exactly how a union can operate in a situation where one of its component parts is so much larger than the others. And it has always made sense to me to look at the bigger picture. To seek to create a better and more democratic union rather than walking away from it and starting again.

The referendum process has been a long and bruising one. It has achieved a higher level of political interest and debate than we have seen in many years, as evidenced by the record turnouts in many areas. And that can only be good for our democracy.

Let’s hope that the same energy is now focussed on the positive task of further enhancing our devolution.

 

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It’s all over – and Scotland has decided to remain within the UK.

After 31 of 32 local authority areas had declared their results, only 4 had voted for independence with the remainder voting against leaving the union. In percentage terms, the vote stands at 55.4% No to 44.6% Yes. The one remaining result, from the Highlands Council area, will make very little difference to the final figures.

Analysis of what this result means, why it happened and how Scotland moves forward from here will come very soon. For now, let’s recap on exactly how the result developed.

After a very long campaign it was also to be a long night for those waiting to find out the future of Scotland. The polling stations closed at 10pm but it was to be almost another four hours before the first result was declared.

So the initial period of the night was actually pretty dull. Unlike a general election where there are exit polls and key marginal to discuss, this was a new situation. There were no potential swings, no gains and losses, no changes from the last time … because there was no last time.

Politicians from both campaigns anxiously tried to sound confident, but not overconfident, while actually knowing next to nothing. An on the day poll form YouGov predicted 54% support for a No vote, but how accurate would that turn out to be?

The first real information of the referendum results night came after midnight with turnouts of 84% in Orkney and 89% in Clackmannanshire being announced. The high levels were expected of course, but who would it favour?

The race to be first of the 32 Council areas to declare a result was of interest to some. The Western Isles was hampered by fog, causing some ballot boxes to take to the seas rather than being flown to the count. And there were delays elsewhere too. Although the Highlands was always expected to be a late result, an accident on the A9 added a large delay to that count, while in Dundee two separate fire alarms caused the counting hall to be evacuated.

The first result came from Clackmannanshire at 1:27am. This was expected to be a very good area for the Yes campaign, but there was to be an early shock. The No campaign secured a majority with 53.8% of the vote. The Wee County is of course a very small area, and this result was not expected to have a massive impact on the final national vote. But it was a blow for the Yes campaign.

More turnout figures came in before any more results. 75% in Glasgow seemed low in comparison to many, although with 50% being common for the city in many recent elections it was actually pretty good. And Stirling, East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire all came in at over 90%.

Orkney was second to declare at 2:01am. The expected heavy victory for No was duly delivered with a 67.2% share. Shetland came in 40 minutes later and once more the likely No win came with 63.7%. And the Western Isles was next, announcing a narrower No win with a share of 53.4% just after 3am. This one was another blow for Yes, which had been predicted to win in Eilean Siar, as the islands are officially known.

The first West of Scotland result came from Inverclyde at 3:33am. In another area where the Yes campaign would have expected to come out ahead there was disappointment, although very narrowly with No polling 50.1%. Renfrewshire followed with a larger No majority, a share of 52.8%

Dundee provided the Yes side’s first victory of the night, and the 57.4% vote for independence was much as expected. The city was expected to give the best result for the Yes campaign and the victory brought the overall national totals close again. And another Yes win in West Dunbartonshire with 54% meant that the two sides were almost even with 8 of 32 results declared.

But three quick No victories just after 4am in Midlothian with 56.3%, East Lothian at 61.7% and Stirling at 59.8% soon moved the picture back in the No side’s favour. And another No win with 53.5% in Falkirk, an area where the Yes campaign had high hopes, reinforced the trend. Yet more No victories followed quickly in Angus (56.3%), Aberdeen City (58.6%), Dumfries & Galloway (65.7%), East Renfrewshire (63.2%) and East Dunbartonshire (61.2%).

North Lanarkshire bucked the trend with a narrow Yes win (51.1%) but its neighbour South Lanarkshire soon after declared a large No win (54.7%), as did Perth and Kinross (60.2%)

Glasgow was perhaps the most eagerly awaited result of the night, having the largest electorate, and it declared just before 5am. The Yes campaign were perhaps narrow favourites and came out ahead with 53.5% of the vote, a good majority of some 25,000 votes.

But that high point for the independence campaign was followed by a string of defeats that effectively confirmed the overall national result. Scottish Borders (66.6%), North Ayrshire (51.0%), South Ayrshire (57.9%), East Ayrshire (52.8%), Edinburgh (61.1%), Argyle & Bute (58.5%) and Aberdeenshire (60.4%), all voted No. West Dunbartonshire was the one bright spot for Yes, giving a fourth victory with a 54% Yes vote

At 6:06am the Fife declaration took the No campaign over the winning line with a 55.1% share of its vote. With two council areas still to declare, the result was official and independence had been rejected.

Moray declared slightly after this with a 57.6% No vote, leaving only the much delayed Highlands result outstanding.

So around 3.5 million people have voted, a stunning turnout of 85%. A clear No was the outcome, and that has been accepted by both sides as a legitimate expression of Scotland’s self determination.

Now we move on to obtaining more powers for our devolved parliament. This was never a result that would result in the status quo. There was always going to be change.

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