Saturday, September 20, 2014


Scotland’s Pro-Unity Vote


By on 10:23 AM

In the end, Scottish voters stepped back from breaking with the rest of Britain. The decision to maintain the 307-year-old union was the right one. Scotland already enjoys a significant degree of autonomy, and Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, has promised more. Besides, separation would have been a plunge into a dangerous unknown. But this will not be the end of the dream of independence — not for the Scots, nor for the Catalans, Flemish, Basques and other people who nurture the dream.

The reason the no ballots prevailed despite polls that showed the ayes, who were more passionate and visible, gathering momentum in the final weeks, is not hard to understand. For the cautious majority, the allure of self-rule failed to quell the real advantages of union.

Untangling 300 years of joint institutions — military, diplomatic, commercial, cultural, social — would have been messy and contentious. It would have meant finding a new home for Britain’s nuclear-armed Trident submarines, which are based in western Scotland, and finding a way for Scotland to continue using the pound as its currency. A chorus of economists had warned that breaking out of the United Kingdom would hurt Scotland, and a parade of British politicians like Mr. Cameron had made impassioned pleas to the Scots not to break away.

Yet all these facts and difficulties were well known to voters, and did not prevent 45 percent of them — more than 1,617,900 — from voting for independence. The Scots demonstrated that even in countries where there is no ostensible suppression of national culture on a continent that is supposed to be in the process of forming a more perfect union, a people with a shared history and identity can still be swayed by powerful longings for full self-rule.
If Quebec is any guide, losing one referendum will not put an end to the dream. Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish independence movement, announced after the vote that he would resign as first minister of the regional government and as head of the Scottish National Party, but he also declared that “for Scotland, the campaign continues and the dream shall never die.”

Even with unity, though, much will have to change. The passionate debates in the months before Thursday’s referendum have altered how the Scots see themselves and their place in Britain. On the other side, many members of Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party are chafing at the promises of greater autonomy for Scotland that the prime minister and other British political leaders made in the final days of the campaign, and voices are rising for appropriate similar privileges for England.

For the foreseeable future, however, Scotland remains in the United Kingdom, and the British who could not believe that their country stood on the brink of being broken apart can breathe more easily. Above all, there is cause to celebrate that so impassioned a debate took place in so peaceful and democratic a manner.

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