Time to respect the result and seek common ground

KEITH MACKENZIE writes

The result is in and, speaking only from a personal point of view, I’m pleased. I think when it came to this historic crossroads, the Scots have again proved ourselves a wise, canny, thrawn and — in a spirit of comradeship, rather than deference — a loyal people.

It might not feel like it to some who placed enormous faith in the alternative outcome, but regardless of how you view the result there should be lots to be positive about. Political engagement has gripped the nation. Folk with no previous interest in politics have become involved. More importantly they have felt that involvement mattered, and made a difference. There can be no doubt it did. The turnout was unprecedented, and a triumph for our democracy.

The campaign was, by and large, carried out peacefully and with civility. With the eyes of the world watching, the Scottish people have been a credit to themselves and the country, and can be justifiably proud.

Locally, as nationally, the referendum seemed to be all people spoke about in the weeks which preceded it. For me the Free Press debate organised in Dornie was a highlight of the campaign in Skye and Lochalsh. A packed hall, impassioned opinion, but laced with humour and, for the most part, mutual respect.

In the hall that night were people who might have disagreed on the fundamental issue of independence, but it would be nice to think the issue should not define their lives going into the future. These are folk who live in the same communities, who went to the same schools, worship in the same churches, drink in the same pubs and support the same shinty teams. There is much more to unite them than divide.

In the aftermath of the referendum bridges will need to be built, but in the Highlands there will be many political issues on which those on opposing sides of the independence debate can find common ground.

In the end, though, last Thursday’s result was a conclusive one. The democratic will of the Scottish people is to remain a partner country within the United Kingdom. That fact ought to put the question of independence to bed for a generation at least.

At the same time, a No vote is not a mandate for a status quo. New powers have been promised, and must be delivered. I hope further devolution doesn’t stop at Edinburgh but continues to the peripheries. The referendum has also sparked a wider movement which demands a sea change in the way British politics is conducted, how the country is governed, and indeed who it is governed for.

The two million-plus who voted No last Thursday did not do so gripped by fear or a lack of pride. A desire to live in better, fairer and more prosperous times is surely shared by all.

Ultimately, it was those who felt a sense that their hopes, fears and aspirations need not hinge on the constitution, or where their country’s border lies, which won the day.

On the same theme, it’s worth remembering that throughout the campaign, advocates of a Yes vote pleaded time and again that their cause was about much more than the vision of Alex Salmond or the SNP. Perhaps only now, when the dust is settled, it will be time to put that theory to the test.

The resignation of Alex Salmond, the dominant figure in Scottish politics for the past decade, will leave a void. Yet in the immediate aftermath of the referendum the SNP has enjoyed a bounce from the grassroots-led Yes campaign, and membership levels have surged.

The country is, to an extent, now polarised. But the poll still issued a clear verdict. Nationalism has been rejected; separation cast aside. And instead a historic bond has been renewed.

So those who voted Yes, in the desire to build a fairer, more socially-just Scotland, should now accept that we will remain united within the UK. The result needn’t disappoint them, though, if they redirect that vision, and the energy underpinning it, elsewhere. If they looked closely they might be surprised they share common concerns with folk in Cardiff and Cornwall, as much as in Cowdenbeath.

Westminster, too, simply must become more accountable. As well as solving the problems posed by the understandable demand for more powers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,  the so-called ‘mother of all parliaments’ must make it a priority to draw more influence from outwith the narrow confines of an Oxbridge-educated elite.

The Perthshire farmer is now as out of step with Cameron and Osborne, as the Lanarkshire shop worker is with Miliband and Balls.

So the major UK parties — especially Labour  — have a duty to take the business of the Scottish Parliament more seriously. To that end might it be a good start to see the likes of Jim Murphy, Gordon Brown or indeed Charles Kennedy — all of whom helped, belatedly, to lend credibility to a flagging ‘No Thanks’ campaign — stand for election to Holyrood in the coming years? These are just three examples of political figures shaped by Scotland, whose careers have taken them to seek influence in Westminster, rather than the other way around.

And perhaps therein lies a lesson from the entire referendum saga. To say that the Union allows Scots to punch above their weight in the wider world might no longer be good enough. We will have to punch above our weight at home too.