By Roman Orsini
Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom after a historic referendum on Thursday, Sept. 18. An astounding 85 percent of Scots went to the polls — 55.3 percent (2,001,926) voted against independence while 44.7 percent (1,617,989) voted in favor.
Scotland and Britain have been unified since their Treaty of Union in 1707. The Scottish National Party, which won majorities in parliament in 2011, introduced the referendum last November. Its vote was agreed to by the government of the United Kingdom. Scottish citizens over the age of 16 were eligible to vote.
The referendum marked a turning point for the U.K. and reflected the desire of many Scots to have autonomy from London.
“Our vision is of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations,” SNP leader Alex Salmond said. “We do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better.” Following the referendum result, Salmond resigned from his post as Scotland’s first minister.
“The rights of these voters need to be respected, preserved and enhanced,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said. In recognition of the secession movements, the U.K. government is to allow greater autonomy to its nations.
“Just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs,” Cameron said in a statement.
The effect is that the U.K. may move closer to a more American, federalist model, in which Scotland becomes self-governing or close to it.
Economics played a significant role in the referendum debate. Scottish nationals felt that their economy would maintain without the U.K., pointing to the country’s large supply of oil, and that their government could be in the best position to set its own policies.
A study by the British Centre for Policy Studies said that Scottish government expenses would rise soon after independence in order to pay out pensioners.
The CPS also projected Scotland’s oil revenues to fall in the coming years, making it more difficult for the government to meet debt obligations.
Scotland’s financial sector would be rattled because of high investor uncertainty, according to BBC. A flight of capital could have taken hold shortly after its independence. The U.K.’s position as an European Union member could have been damaged were it to lose Scotland. There were also questions of whether or not an independent Scotland could gain E.U. membership.
The E.U. and the U.S. welcomed the result as a democratic triumph and took comfort that Great Britain would remain unified. Other secessionist movements, such as in Catalonia, Spain are still being debated.