It all came down to Thursday.
As I wrote in last week’s column, “Scots could disunite the kingdom,” that was the day Scottish citizens age 16 and older were asked to answer yes or no to the following question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” If voters approved the measure, the 307-year-old relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom would be severed, and March 24, 2016, would become the country’s newly minted Independence Day.
The results were announced early Friday morning, and with a whopping 84.6 percent voter turnout, the measure was defeated 44.7 percent (1,617,989) Yes to 55.3 percent (2,001,926) No.
The result was a bitter pill to swallow for Scots who had pushed for the referendum, with Yes campaign leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond announcing his immediate resignation in the wake of the defeat.
On this side of the Atlantic, I followed this story with great interest. I found the idea of an independent Scotland intriguing to say the least. I actually would have found it quite thrilling if Scots had taken a cue from the rest of the former British Empire in the years after World War II and thrown off the yoke of the U.K. (Cue selections from the “Braveheart” soundtrack.)
But, in an effort to help soothe fresh wounds, here are five reasons I think Scots, and everyone, really, should take pride in what just occurred:
• The campaign to sever national ties was bloodless. No civil war occurred and no one died. How many independence movements this large and popular can claim the same?
• Even in defeat, Scottish power will reach new heights. Just because the Yes campaign lost the vote, it doesn’t mean nothing was accomplished. “In the last weeks of the campaign, Prime Minister David Cameron and other London-based politicians vowed more autonomy for Scotland if voters rejected separation,” reported Jill Lawless of The Associated Press on Friday. “A visibly relieved Cameron said Friday he would stick to his word on further powers for each of the U.K. four regions — a pledge that could change the country forever. Promising to give Scotland new powers on taxes, spending and welfare, Cameron told reporters outside his Downing Street office that the new plans would be agreed upon by November, with draft legislation by January.”
• The campaign spurred voters of all ages, and especially young people, to the polls in record numbers. “Scotland’s vote for independence set a record for turnout in any election held in the United Kingdom since 1918, when all adults were given the right to vote,” reported Howard Koplowitz of The International Business Times on Friday. “Thursday’s turnout bested the previous record of 83.9 percent in the 1950 U.K. general election.” This mass collective experience will have a positive effect on civic involvement in the country for years to come.
• Scotland will continue to provide a useful counter-weight in the U.K.’s political and financial sectors. The country’s politics lean far to the left, with only one Conservative member of Parliament claiming victory in a Scottish constituency during the last general election in 2010. And with a strong gross domestic product of around $240 billion, Scotland by itself ranks just above Portugal and Ireland, according to a Sept. 10 report in The Guardian. If the vote had passed, the United Kingdom’s politics would have taken a sharp turn to the right and the economy would have taken a sharp turn south.
• Don’t dream it’s over. When this campaign began it was considered a longshot. By the end, the No campaign was seriously concerned it might actually pass. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it returned again. This energy hasn’t been destroyed, and we haven’t heard the last of it.