Scotland: looking in to the future’s eyes

As many of you probably know last Friday the majority of Scots decided to vote against independence and to remain part of the United Kingdom. It was a narrow win, with the no voters counting 55% of the population and the yes voters 45%.

The results came in a moment of tremendous solemnity, after two years of intensive campaign and heated debates,which led to a turnout of about 84.5%, an extraordinary success for democracy and political participation, together with the extension of the vote to 17- and 16-year-olds.

So, what now?

The referendum’s clear message is a demand for change.Many of the no voters are just as dissatisfied with Westminster politics as the supporters of the yes campaign and all eyes are now on Prime Minister David Cameron to keep the last-minute promises he made when he realized that had the choice been between independence and the status quo Scotland would have in all probability left the UK. A couple of days before the votingthe PM and the leaders of the two other major parties promised, in general terms,extensive new powers to Scotland over taxes, public spending and welfare in case of a negative vote. Yet, the only thing they really have agreed on so far is the timetable according to which the new measures are to be implemented and not what these measures will exactly be.This could be problematic, as now the government will have to quickly come up with a satisfactory and substantial package for the Scots. Whether they will be able to make the first deadline and present the first plans by the end of October will depend on how smoothly the discussions between the parties will go. From the Scottish National Party’s side, as soon as the question of the new leader is resolved (Alex Salmond stepped down after the results of the referendum were announced), they will push for a devo-max formula (maximum devolution of powers),which includes full control over tax, public spending, and welfare.

How about the rest of the UK?

As a result of more concessions made to Scotland more demands could come for the other countries in the UK. One crucial matter is the one concerning the Barnett formula, the mechanism through which public spending is allocated across the state. Thanks to this formula Scotland already receives 20% more than England of public spending per year. Although Cameron has stated that the formula will continue to be used it is likely that Wales, which is much poorer than Scotland, will require a revision of the mechanism for public spending allocation.

Another soft spot is the so-called “West-Lothian” questionconcerning whether MPs elected outside England should be allowed to vote on matters that affect only England (as of today English MPs cannot vote on Scottish matters).

Whatever the future may be for Scotlandthe country has undergone a phase of introspection and discussion during this past two years signalling that people will not let politics be made by politicians alone. Now that the Scots have spoken, it will be difficult to silence them.

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