At the risk of (further) boring people by providing yet more spiel about Alex Salmond’s big fat Scottish divorce I wish to venture into the counterfactual, namely, what England’s reaction is likely to be after the vote.
Much has been made of the possible repercussions of a yes vote. The divvying up of the national debt, the ramifications for sterling, the nuclear submarines on the Clyde etc. The British government’s official line is that no hypotheticals have been discussed, and there simply has not been any contingency planning. Nobody believes this fad, but it is vaguely useful in denying Salmond the ‘inevitability’ argument.
But if Scotland were to vote in the affirmative, what would happen in London is fairly predictable. Having been rejected by Scotland, British politicians would be in no mood to grant the sort of nonsense concessions Wee Eck seems to want, such as a seat on the Bank of England. So Scotland would have to adjust to hard reality in any case. However it is likely to be even harsher than that, as the rest of the Kingdom would be dominated by Conservatives, based in England, with no sympathy for any part of Salmond’s agenda, and a determination to stick up for their own country’s privileges, even if that were to inflict actual pain on a new independent Scotland. This much is somewhat obvious.
But what happens if (when!) the Scots vote no? Well once the laughter over Salmond’s humiliation dies down, and the relief in Downing Street over the Union is spent, a new emotion is likely to dominate the Edinburgh-Westminster devolution discourse: contemptuous disinterest.
This is most likely to be an asymmetric phenomenon. The Scottish establishment, particularly the SNP, will continue to press London on all manner of issues, asking for concessions and subsidies hither and thither. But the English political class, much like the English public (particularly in the South) are likely to spurn them utterly.
The reasoning is fairly straightforward: when asked to stay or go they stayed – they can’t then continue to whine about the vagaries of Union life. So whereas previously there has been obfuscation, delay, or indeed concession, in future Westminster is likely just to say no. For they know that they no longer have to fear the ultimate bogeyman of the plebiscite.
Now, it is possible that a closer vote, with a narrow victory for the Better Together, could continue to yield pressure. But this is unlikely; constitutional fatigue would set in amongst the political class in a way which it has already filtered into the wider public.
For that’s one thing this referendum has created; the foreseeable end of English patience. The Scots can vote yes or no in 2014. The English are likely to say no regardless thereafter.
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