Author: Gerry Mooney

The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum - Constitutional Turmoil?

Updated Monday, 2nd March 2015
In Scotland there is continuing fall-out from the Referendum. Learn more. 

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Scottish parliament Debating chamber in Scottish Parliament In the first quarter of 2015, the continuing fall-out from the Referendum is all too evident. 45%, some 1.6m voters cannot be ignored or dismissed. The promises made of more devolution for Scotland if it voted No by the leaders of the main Unionist Parties, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg, which were instrumental in securing a NO vote, have already caused massive political eruptions across the UK. In Scotland there is already growing concerns that the well-publicised vow for more powers for Scotland is already being diluted or delayed, as the three main UK parties squabble over the timetable for future devolution, their respective political futures and the growing emergence of ‘the English question’. 
 
The 'English question’ is now on the UK political agenda in ways that few could have predicted before the Referendum for Scotland – even if it has been steadily growing as an issue, thanks in so small part to the rise of UKIP and the views of backbench Tory MPs. It is an irony that the outcome of a campaign for Scottish Independence has resulted in a heated debate around ‘English Independence’ – or devolution for England. Within England, though particularly among northern regional and city elites, there is a growing clamour for some kind of devolution, regional assemblies or even city-states. It is not clear how widespread the support is for an English Parliament but the emergence of UKIP, the de facto Party of English nationalism which has been largely unsuccessful in generating much support in Scotland), poses massive problems for the Conservative Party but also to some extent for Labour in England too.
 
However, support for some kind of English parliament or assembly has been steadily building for some time now – and therefore is not entirely a surprise – and of course suggestions that Scots were driven by an anti-Englishness also contributes to a growing sense of English nationalism. Opposition to the EU is also an important component of this. Here again UKIP are arguably among the main beneficiaries of a rising English nationalism/national-sentiment and it also explains why David Cameron and other Conservative politicians in particular – but they were not alone in this respect – were so against an Independent Scotland being part of any form of currency-union based on the pound sterling. UKIP would have gained much support at the expense of the Conservatives in this respect.

From a Scottish to an English Democratic Deficit?

That Europe’s largest national grouping/country without any legislature of its own, that is the English/England, are  now starting to demand powers and fairness ‘for England’ can only further lead to the fragmentation of the UK and may in turn fuel more demands for Scottish Independence. It was long argued by many in Scotland that it suffered from what was termed a ‘democratic deficit’. By this is meant that the outcome of the 2010 General Election, which saw a Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition emerge to form the new UK Government, did not reflect the wishes of voters in Scotland who opted instead for Labour and the SNP.
 
This also echoes the period from the late 1970s through to 1997 when successive Tory UK Governments fared poorly in General Election voting in Scotland. But is a new form of democratic deficit about to emerge, one that is impacting more on England? Among others this is highlighted by Simon Heffer, writing in the Daily Mail, on November 22. 
 
To complicate matters, Labour seems certain to face a savaging in Scotland. One poll has forecast it might hold just five of its current 41 seats because of the relentless march of the Scottish National Party. It is therefore quite possible the SNP could hold the balance of power in Westminster. And since it has ruled out any deal with the Tories but indicated that it would help Labour, this would land us with a Miliband government that only a small minority in England would have voted for.
 
The idea of a party that wants Scotland to leave the United Kingdom shoring up the government of the UK is an insult to democracy. It would be even more outrageous if a Labour-run government relied on SNP votes to push through measures that affected only England. Yet if, in turn, the SNP refused to support a Miliband government on measures that only affected English voters, the result would be constitutional and governmental paralysis — with Parliament unable to pass laws on health, education, transport, local government, the legal system and so on. In sum, we would have an administration that was unable properly to govern 85 per cent of the population. From the Daily Mail. 
 
This also once more points to the continuing constitutional fall-out from the September 2014 Independence Referendum, what Professor Charlie Jeffrey of Edinburgh University has termed a ‘constitutional chain reaction’. The inevitability of Scottish Independence has been widely proclaimed in the aftermath of the September 2014 Independence Referendum. While this may be dismissed as mere fantasy, a growing number of Scots would appear to be in agreement with such as view, not least due to political developments taking place elsewhere in the UK. What is certain is that the entire Independence/future of Scotland question does not appear to be going away anytime soon. For many it now can be seen as simply a first stage in the path to a growing separation from the UK. 

Growing crisis

We are reminded here that in different ways the YES and NO votes were votes for different degrees of change. It has long been acknowledged that whatever the outcome of the Referendum, things would not remain the same. Reflecting on the Referendum in the weeks and months that followed, amidst the clamour of the main UK parties to deal not only with Scotland but with the emerging English and wider UK constitutional questions, the UK will never be the same again.
 
There is a growing crisis of legitimacy for the UK state – which is clearly under notice from voters in Scotland to address Scottish demands. But can this be done without alienating other countries in the UK? If many were persuaded to vote NO due to a fear of uncertainty – arguably the uncertainty that is following the NO vote is greater than that which may have come with a YES vote. 
 
This article is part of a series of articles on the 2014 Scottish Referendum.

 

 

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