As Scotland Votes to Remain in the UK what’s next for the Union?

The stock market sighed in relief as Scotland voted to remain in the UK, but the challenge to the union is not yet over. 

It was a heated campaign, and one of high emotions. J.K. Rowling and Andy Murray were just two of the public faces who were caught in the fire. (Rowling was pro-Union, Murray a Yes man, if you’re interested). But at the final count, announced on 19th September, Scotland voted No by 55% to 45%, settling one of the UK’s longest-standing debates for another generation.  

The Stock Market Sighs in Relief

But the vote did not just effect emotions, it also held financial sway. As opinion polls in the final weeks showed margins growing ever closer – and a shock Sunday Times poll suggested the Yes camp would win – the stock market was destabilised, confidence was knocked, and the pound slumped to a 10-month low.

It was only as momentum turned towards No throughout the night that financial markets could sigh in relief. The pound soared to a two-year high. The FTSE 100 opened 44 points higher. And shares in companies such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, SSE, Weir, and Standard Life climbed.

But after relief comes reality, and as attention turned to the tensions the Union still must face, the pound fell back to €1.27 and $1.63.

Extensive New Powers for Scotland

Indeed, the UK still faces uncertainty. One debate might be over, but another has begun.

Last ditch concessions in the final days of the campaign saw all three British party leaders promise “extensive new powers” for Scotland, including greater revenue-raising powers. What is now being called “Project Panic” might well have swayed the vote, but it has left the rest of the United Kingdom reeling. Many believe that Prime Minister David Cameron should have fought a better campaign earlier, rather than leaving it to dramatic concessions in the closing hours.Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has called the decision “reckless”, David Davis labelled the pledge “disgraceful” and “panicky”, and Conservative party MPs are threatening revolt.

English Votes for English Laws

In response, within hours of the vote the lack of an English voice in Government became an issue, with outrage focused on a political anomaly which allows the 59 Scottish MPs to vote on England-only legislation. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), stoked the fires with a letter to the Scottish MPs inviting them to give up their right to debate or vote on devolved English issues. And so in damage-control mode, Cameron pledged “English votes for English laws”, saying: “We have heard the voice of Scotland and now the millions of voices of England must be heard”.

However, fearing that the party will suffer without the votes of Scottish Labour MPs, Labour leader Ed Miliband has signalled that he is not prepared to sign Cameron’s proposal. And Scottish nationalists, who now fear promises won’t be delivered, are wary. Alex Salmond, who has now stepped down as Scotland’s First Minister, accused Westminster of “tricking” Scottish voters.

The situation is certainly messy: Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, comments, “This referendum may have ended one debate in Scotland – for now. It has, however, lit the touchpaper on the explosive question of where power lies in the UK”.

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