Both sides in the independence debate focused on the future in the aftermath of last Thursday’s referendum result.
The Highlands and the Western Isles followed the national pattern and returned votes in favour of Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom — though by margins slightly lower than the nationwide result of 55.3 per cent for No and 44.7 per cent for Yes.
In the Highlands the No vote carried by 87,739 to 78,069 — or 52.9 to 47.1 per cent. A slightly higher percentage voted No in the Western Isles, where the result was 53.4 per cent for No (10,544) and 46.6 per cent (9,195) for Yes.
Charles Kennedy, the long-serving Liberal Democrat MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, set his sights on bringing more power to Scotland, and the Highlands, within a reforming UK.
“We will need to put the referendum differences behind us and work together for a common and agreed future,” he said. “I’m more than ready to play my full part — for Team Highlands and Team Scotland.
“Let us — Yes and No voters alike — go forward in constructive and friendly spirit together.”
Mr Kennedy joined the many voices hailing the high turnout. The turnout for the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar area was 86.2 per cent; in the Highlands it was 87 per cent; while across Scotland the overall national figure was 84.6 per cent.
Ian Blackford, a former SNP treasurer and businessman now based in Glendale on Skye, suggested the party should now turn its energies to securing “home rule” for Scotland, as opposed to full independence.
Mr Blackford said the SNP should press to have all domestic policy devolved to Holyrood, with only defence, foreign affairs and international relations retained in Westminster.
“I’m not turning my back on independence — it is still our raison d’être,” he said. “But we accept that we lost the referendum. The majority of Scots, however, want more powers and we should look to play a full part in the negotiations over these powers.”
A new commission on delivering more powers to Scotland will be headed up by Lord Smith of Kelvin, with draft legislation due to be published by the end of January.
ONE OF the most notable features throughout the campaign was the level of grassroots engagement — an enthusiastic and impassioned activism that took the Yes campaign so very close to pulling off victory.
Although results were counted and released only on a regional basis, campaign agents conducted their own tallies as the boxes came in.
Figures released by the Yes campaign estimated that in Skye and Lochalsh a majority had supported independence by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. A similarly favourable, though unofficial, estimate was suggested in the Southern Isles.
Carole Inglis from Dunvegan, who co-ordinated the Yes Skye, Raasay and Lochalsh campaign, said independence supporters had much to be positive about, despite the outcome.
“It’s been a brilliant campaign, reflected in the 56 per cent Yes vote for Skye and Lochalsh,” she said. “Of course the referendum result is disappointing, but I think those who were swayed by the last-ditch offer of ‘devo max’ will be more disappointed by the lack of a coherent plan from Westminster as time goes on.
“For me, the highlight of the local Yes campaign was our local support. We had the people on the ground, knowledgeable, passionate and with a ‘can do’ attitude.
“There haven’t really been any lows, and I think that is what has galvanised us to take stock and recognise the giant steps we have taken together. The goal is a better and fairer Scotland. After a quiet and reflective weekend I’m buzzing with ideas, full of hope and looking forward. We are no longer a campaign, we are now a movement simply embarking on the next stage of the journey.”
THE FREE CHURCH of Scotland also weighed in with some thoughts on the country’s future direction.
“Much of the debate of the past two years has been focused on self-interest. We would now like the focus to shift to the needs of others,” said James Fraser, chairman of the Free Church’s board of trustees and former Principal of the University of the Highlands.
“Many of our communities are scarred by the effects of unemployment, substance and sexual abuse, and relationship breakdown; the care provision for our old people is often inadequate, and too many of our children fail to attain basic literacy and numeracy skills.
“We call on MSPs to work tirelessly to create a more just and caring society, to support the family as the bedrock of society, to fight poverty, economic and social exclusion and the scourges of poverty and unemployment.”
In the Highlands, over 5,000 16- and 17-year-olds were voting for the first time. Shaun Finlayson, the area’s Youth Convener, said the referendum had been a huge step forward in encouraging political engagement among the young. He called for the voting age to be lowered for all UK elections.
He said: “In my opinion, the true victory in this referendum was for young people. Never before has there been such involvement, both in the Highlands and the rest of Scotland, with 16- and 17-year-olds gaining the vote and I hope it can be considered for future elections.”
George Lyon, the chairman of “Rural Better Together” suggested the farming interest would welcome a No vote.
He said: “The vast majority of farmers across Scotland backed staying in the UK as the best way to secure a prosperous and secure future for their industry and I am sure they will be delighted that the majority of Scots have said No to independence.
“Scottish farmers will now expect Scottish Government Ministers to make sorting out their problems their number one priority, not independence.
“They will also expect them to work constructively with the rest of the UK in finding solutions to the many outstanding issues facing farmers, such as the implementation of CAP reform, which have been on the back burner for far to long.”
AMANDA FRAZER, who is chair of the Federation of Small Businesses for the Highlands and Islands, acknowledged that views were divided among the small business community.
“We know that many of our members will be relieved, while others will be bitterly disappointed,” she said. “With the campaign now behind us, however, we must focus on the future and on how we can come together to make this wonderful region an even better place to live, work and do business.
“With the Scottish Parliament set to become a more powerful actor in our economy, the touchstones of the new devolution settlement must be boosting business and growth.”
The chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Bertie Armstrong, added: “Whilst the decision has been made for the constitutional status quo, as far as fishing is concerned there will most definitely need to be change in how we work together as an EU member state.
“For the last 18 months, the Scottish Government has lived in two parallel universes: engaging in normal business such as international negotiations, but pursuing at every opportunity the argument for separation. The Scottish Government had a mandate for this and it was absolutely right and necessary for the referendum process to run its course.
“But now that the referendum is over, the Scottish and UK governments need to work together as closely as possible. There are many challenges facing fishing, most notably the forthcoming discards ban, which has the potential to devastate our fishing fleets.”