Yesterday Scotland voted and today we woke up to knowing what Scotland had decided. Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom 55% to 45%. While the world had been following over the last few weeks and months, this has been a process which has gone on in Scotland for at least the last 7 years; certainly in earnest over the past 2 years. The Country has talked, it has debated and it has argued and it culminated in yesterday’s “no” vote to independence.
The referendum campaign has engaged people who have long been disillusioned with politics. Yesterday people turned out to the polling stations around the country in a remarkable number: a turnout of 86% with 97% of the population being registered to vote. Many of those who turned out to vote yesterday were doing so for the first time: whether they be young people who had never been entitled to vote before or older people who had never decided to vote before. The engagement that has come from the Referendum campaign is fantastic to see and should be celebrated by everyone, regardless of which side of the debate you were on. One of the important things that must be done in Scotland now is to ensure that this engagement does not subside. People have shown that they are interested and engaged and that is fantastic to see.
The campaign has been a largely friendly and pleasurable experience. There have been elements from both sides of the campaign which have not shown themselves in a great light. Whether that be ‘no’ campaigners abusing Andy Murray horrendously over his decision to vote yes or ‘yes’ campaigner engaging in bullying and harassment, it has shown some individuals up to be immature and incapable of engaging sensibly in an adult discussion; however, it certainly shouldn’t be the thing that defines the campaign.
We also awoke today of allegations of electoral fraud in Glasgow. It would be entirely wrong to suggest that it was a supporter or supporters from a particular side of the campaign. If someone (or some people) committed electoral fraue yesterday they could have come from either side of the campaign, or indeed from both sides of the campaign. It’s right and proper that the affected ballots are identified and that the police investigate the matter thoroughly. It’s unacceptable in a democracy for people to engage in conduct like that; however, it is by far a very small (almost unnoticeable) minority.
What the referendum campaign has shown is that in Scotland, and indeed in other parts of the UK, there is a real appetite for change. It’s far from the case that yesterday’s vote has put an end to discussions about constitutional change. What it should hopefully mean is that the discussions are not confined to a few ‘political geeks or nerds’ inhabiting certain corners of the internet. Hopefully, it will mean that people from right across the UK engage in a real discussion about how to change the political system in this country.
There will be people across the UK who are exteremely disappointed with the result of the referendum. Part of living in a democracy is about dusting yourself down and moving onto the next fight when one ends – irrespective of what side you were on in that fight. Our attention should now be focussed on changing the UK, not just constitutionally, to make it better, fairer and more equal for everyone. It is more than possible.