The United Kingdom, for now, has been saved. On September 18, residents of Scotland voted 55 percent against creating an independent country versus 45 percent in favor of sovereignty. Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband greeted the news with muted delight. The issue of Scotland’s place in the union had been “settled for a generation,” Cameron remarked, or “perhaps for a lifetime.” Alex Salmond, who recently stepped down as Scotland’s First Minister and will soon end his tenure as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), was less definitive. Most Scots had spoken against forming an independent country, he conceded, but he qualified the result by adding “at this stage.”
As I described in an earlier article for Foreign Affairs, Scottish nationalism is a resilient force. The referendum has created a deep divide in Scotland and in the wider union that will not be easily repaired. The margin of victory for the anti-independence camp (those who voted “No” in the referendum) was greater than recent polls had predicted, but the long-term trends show a narrowing gap between Scots favoring independence and those backing continued union. The sizeable undecided camp -- as well as the “silent unionists,” as some observers have called them -- seemed to turn out in force for the “No” side, apparently finding the prospect of permanent independence less enticing than London’s promises of greater fiscal powers. By 2016, the Scottish Parliament’s privileges will be expanded to include the power to design and install its own tax regime north of the English border. The mere fact that the referendum took place and the strong “Yes” showing have now produced something approaching devo-max, or maximum devolution of policy prerogatives short of independence, for Scottish institutions.
For all these reasons, the Scottish question is by no means settled. Indeed, the referendum marks the beginning, not the end, of a debate on a range of questions for the entire United Kingdom about its constitutional order, its party system, its
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