21st Century Britain: You Say You Want a Devolution?

scottish_independence_sign_9-19-14 Sign on display in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 22nd in anticipation of the vote on September 18th. (Photo by EQRoy / Shutterstock.com)

In the end, it wasn’t even close. Scottish voters, turning out in record numbers, gave a decisive No! to independence from Great Britain by a better than ten-point margin. This puts an end to the Scottish National Party’s dreams for at least a generation, just as Quebec’s secessionist movement has quieted down greatly since losing in a much closer vote (49.42% to 50.58%) almost twenty years ago. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s position is strengthened by the result, but it remains to be seen if he can recover all the political clout he spent practically begging Scotland to vote No.

The Scottish Parliament, first convened in 1999 following former PM Tony Blair’s promises of "devolution," will gain additional local control over domestic issues such as welfare spending the North Sea oil revenues. The details won’t be worked out in the form of legislation before January, but the Scots might now find themselves in a weaker position to make demands than they were just a week ago. When independence was still a possibility, Westminster held the weaker hand. With the door now firmly shut on independence, the SNP may have to take what they can get, declare victory, and head back north.

But that doesn’t mean the devolution movement is dead in Great Britain — far from it.

Having seen the goodies Westminster dangled in front of the Scots, and a general dissatisfaction with the Parliament’s direct control over seemingly everything, smaller semi-nationalist groups are starting to find their own voices.

Most everyone expects Wales and Northern Ireland to make their demands for local autonomy. Both have large populations, and local histories distinct from England’s. The Six Counties of course are also separated from Britain by the Irish Sea, if such things mean anything anymore.