Scotland embarked on the autonomy path with the establishment of its own parliament in 1999.
That followed a public referendum two years earlier that resulted in an overwhelming ‘Yes’ victory.
But, it seems from the latest vote that Scotland is not yet ready for total autonomy – much to the relief of David Cameron.
If the Scots had split away he would have gone down in history as the prime minister who failed to save the United Kingdom.
But the political consequences of the ‘No’ vote are huge: Westminster must now stand by its pledges for greater Scottish control over things like taxes, spending and welfare.
And time is tight: Cameron has promised all that will be agreed with Britain’s two other main political parties – Labour and the Liberal Democrats – by November, with draft legislation in January.
Taxation will be a major sticking point.
Since 1999, the Scottish parliament has been in charge of its own policy when it comes to local government, health, education, agriculture and the environment, as well as transport and tourism.
Foreign policy, defence, employment and social security remain within Westminster’s remit, along with trade and energy issues.
Crucially, many in Cameron’s Conservative party believe extra Scottish devolution should be matched by reduced powers for Scottish MPs who currently can vote on English-only laws in the Westminster parliament.
They also want changes to a system under which public spending per head is typically 20 percent higher in Scotland than in England.
Addressing that Cameron said: “Just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to vote on these issues. All this must take place, in tandem with and at the same pace as the settlement for Scotland.”
He has also said there will not be any major reforms until after the UK general election in May next year.
To analyze the consequences of this referendum, euronews correspondent Margherita Sforza spoke to Vivien Pertusot of the French Institute of International Relations in Brussels.
“The British Prime Minister David Cameron has made promises and said he will listen to the demands of pro-independence supporters. What can we expect?”
Vivien Pertusot, French Institute of International Relations:
“We can expect two main things – firstly for the Scottish to be given more power and also for the Scots to be given more scope.”
“Not just the Scots…”
“Indeed, not just the Scots. For Scotland, there will be more latitude in relation to tax. But it’s true that on the other side, David Cameron will address the so-called ‘English issue’. That is to say, that within the UK, the least represented people are actually the English. They have no regional assembly, unlike the Welsh, the Northern Irish or Scots. It’s true that there’s little chance the English will have their own parliament, but David Cameron will find a way to make sure that the English would vote on their case first.”
“Didn’t the referendum show the EU’s not prepared in case of a split?”
“Yes, we realized that the European Union is not prepared. To some extent, we can compare this with the Lisbon Treaty coming into force and the possibility of a member state leaving the European Union, which didn’t exist before. A new treaty may consider discussing the possibility of a region of a country joining the European Union after a split. But there’s the fact that few EU member states want to voluntarily and clearly write the rules for a region that breaks away and then wants to join the European Union.”
“Aside from the result, could this referendum inspire other nationalist movements?”
“Yes, it gives wings to some independence movements. That said, there are two types of independence: strong ones that already exist – like the Catalans or the Flemish. Then there are smaller separatist parties, especially in Eastern Europe, but they are a tiny minority and they struggled to capitalise on the Scottish movement.”
“Catalonia, Flanders, they are are realities in Europe. There are separatist movements throughout the European Union. Is there a political lesson to be learned from this referendum?”
“I think there is more than one. The first is that regional policy is a policy that works pretty well, because it gives regions the ability to to be dynamic, to be themselves, to have their own political identity. In the national context, they can benefit more from some specific support from the European Union, for example, financial aid. They can say “why not us?”. So there is this positive lesson, regional politics works.
“Then there is the lesson for individual member states, and that is that things can change, identities are not fixed, and a strictly European identity is still difficult to achieve today. More regional identities do exist, and therefore at European and national level how do we manage these separatist and nationalist movements? There is a level of dialogue that is missing.”