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Scotland, After the Referendum

New Year has always been a bigger celebration than Christmas in Scotland, and the New Year Hogmanay festivities were a good time for the Scots to start the process of reconciliation following their unsuccessful and divisive independence referendum. No less a personage than Queen Elizabeth II has warned them they face a challenging year. “After the referendum many felt great disappointment while others felt great relief, and bridging those difficulties will take time,” the 88-year-old monarch said in her annual Christmas broadcast.

But the Scots were already fully aware that what the Scotsman newspaper this week called “the most momentous year in Scottish political history” could hardly be shrugged off and forgotten. While a majority of the population voted not to end three centuries of union and stayed in the United Kingdom, 45 percent voted “yes” in favor of secession. As a result families were divided, as were communities and regions. For example: Edinburgh, the capital, voted overwhelmingly “no,” but in Glasgow, “yes” voter triumphed.

What had initially been a campaign noted for its civility had soured as it reached its climax, with a panicked Westminster using a combination of scare tactics and threats, and the “yes” campaign responding in kind. When J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, wrote a reasoned argument on her website in favor of the “Better Together” movement against independence, the public was shocked at the flood of vicious responses.

So there is a lot to forgive, if not necessarily forget, both internally and in Scotland’s relations with Westminster.

The post-referendum political fallout started with the immediate resignation of Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and chief architect of the independence campaign. Then, in December Johann Lamont, leader of the Labor Party in Scotland, the country’s second-largest party, quit in protest against the Labor Party in London having tried to micromanage her campaign against Scottish independence.

To say the issue will loom over the spring 2015 British elections is putting it mildly. The promised increase in autonomy for Scotland will be the dainty dish Prime Minister David Cameron can put before the Scottish voter. But despite its defeat, the SNP has ironically picked up support since the vote and now has more than 100,000 members (the highest it has ever been), with the consequent likelihood of more seats in the new British Parliament. Scottish Labor, which technically won the referendum, has lost ground to the SNP in what is historically a Labor stronghold, and could end up with fewer seats than it now has.

With Cameron’s Tories facing a serious challenge on the right from the UK Independent Party, some political commentators see a Labor-SNP coalition government in London as a possible election outcome—making Hogmanay also a good time for the Scots to relish the irony that their bid to leave the United Kingdom may leave them with a stronger role in governing it. 

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