So, the Scots do not want to go Scot free, as the idiom goes. They have chosen to remain within the United Kingdom, allowing the Britons and the West in general, to heave a sigh of relief. And not only the West, governments across the world – among them the United States and in Europe – are also happy that a separatist move has been scotched by Scots themselves, and that too, through a democratic process. With a 40 per cent-plus vote in favour of independence, the Scot vote has underscored the identity issue for people, anywhere, while also emphasising its mature collective handling.
The historic referendum should make the Great Britain feel not so great. In fact, it felt humble and even ‘nervous’, as Prime Minister David Cameron admitted before the vote. All the same, that such an exercise was held, with all its implications good and bad, is itself a tribute to Britain’s millennium-old democracy. Having promised devolution of powers to the Scots, the Westminster must now deliver. The consensus in its favour from all the major parties on this score is something to appreciate, if not necessarily seek to emulate.
But there is a seamy side, too. Britain will never be the same again. It resolved the prolonged, and often violent, separatism in Ireland, but got very close to losing Scotland. The holding of this referendum itself shows its power and prestige is on the wane, and its reliability as a partner has been undermined. A YES vote would have left it politically and economically weak and militarily vulnerable.
The “NO” vote preventing its break-up in strategic terms, is Pyrrhic. It loses some of its sheen as the world’s sixth largest economy, leader of the Commonwealth and inheritor of the heritage, good and bad, of once the world’s biggest colonial power. In more sense than one, Britain, as also Europe, are declining powers, despite the permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. It is a matter of time before this exclusive club is opened to the likes of India, Brazil and South Africa.
What does it mean for the Scots? Though the nationalists won in their biggest city, Glasgow, they failed to meet expectations in a clutch of other constituencies. The campaign had galvanized this country of 5.3 million but also divided friends and families. Hopefully, the winners will not behave like victors the losers will not resort to violence or undemocratic means.
We do not know which way “James Bond” Sean Connery, the world’s most famous Scot voted, if he did. We do not know if he would have opened a bottle of the famed Scotch whiskey to celebrate the outcome last evening. We also do not know if the NO is final and whether it could revive sometime in future. For now, without taking sides and making any grim predictions, we can say ‘çheers’ to the undivided Britain, forgetting for a while that some six decades back, it had divided India.