To hear the conventional wisdom here in Great Britain, you’d think that the campaign for Scottish independence had just suffered a complete and permanent defeat.
You could’ve fooled me.
There is plenty in the referendum result to give Scottish nationalists grounds for hope. And the unionists, plenty to worry about.
We may look back on this some day as a turning point – and wonder how the conventional wisdom got it so wrong.
Scottish independence may not have been defeated on Thursday. It may only have been delayed for a generation.
1. Forty-five percent of the Scottish people still voted to leave the union.
That is an astonishingly high figure. This union is more than 300 years’ old.
Politics is all about managing expectations. Many were fooled by one rogue poll two weeks ago into thinking that this week’s referendum was going to be too close to call. So the actual result, a victory for the unionists by a ten percentage-point margin, seemed big by comparison.
In reality, even six months ago absolutely nobody expected Scottish nationalists to get 45% of the vote, or anything like it. Not long ago people thought they’d be lucky to get 25%. Thursday’s result was a remarkable achievement. If five voters in a hundred had voted the other way, the independence campaign would have won.
2. The Scots had already been offered much more devolution, even if they voted against independence.
Politicians in Westminster, panicked by the threat of a vote for independence, promised before the referendum that they would devolve more powers oto Scotland if it stayed in the union. In other words, even if the Scots voted ‘no’ they would still get most of the benefits of autonomy.
Against the State: An ... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details) Yet even despite that, 45% of the voters still wanted to go further and leave completely.
3. The Scots were offered a fat bribe to vote ‘no’ as well.
As part of the same Westminster panic, British politicians promised that if Scotland voted ‘no’ to independence the country would get substantial and continued subsidies from the rest of Great Britain.
It was a sweetheart deal. Yet nearly the voters in Scotland still rejected it.(Incidentally, that deal has now, understandably, caused resentment and a backlash in England. Politicians in Westminster may even renege on the pledge.)
4. The referendum had a very high turnout.
As a general rule in elections and referenda, a lower turnout favors the activists and the passionate. In this instance, a lower turnout would have favored the nationalists.
In the event, a staggering 85% of eligible voters cast a ballot. That should have swamped the vote with unionists. Yet they only won by ten percentage points.