The result remains too close to call but, whatever the outcome of today’s referendum, the relationship between the constituent parts of the British Isles is changed forever.
The most immediate legacy of this long campaign will be a divided Scotland and — by extension — a divided and unsettled Britain. If the referendum has revealed anything it is this: the United Kingdom is anything but united.
As the British Labour Party leader, Ed Milliband, put it: “This referendum has changed Scotland. But it has not just changed Scotland; it will change Britain, because the thirst for democratic and economic change that has been heard from the people of Scotland will lead to change throughout Britain.
”If Scots vote to remain within the UK, the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood will gain more powers, including the right to set income tax levels, as all three Westminster parties have promised more devolved powers. This is an option known as devolution max or “devo max”.
If the Yes camp wins, London will likely face new independence campaigns in Northern Ireland and Wales. Either way, the vote has galvanised support for more regional devolution. Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Democrat leader, believes that “the momentum of this referendum offers us a golden opportunity to drive through the changes that Wales needs.
” In other words, more power for the Welsh Assembly. Her view was echoed by Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales. “Regardless of the result, it is important for us to consider our future constitutional arrangements in Wales,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
Politicians in Northern Ireland are also watching the vote closely. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness believes the North would benefit economically and politically from Scottish independence. Even if Scotland remains in the UK, the promise of more devolved powers would spur NI politicians to demand the same.
“If Scotland gets, in the context of there being a No vote, power over social welfare and the ability to decide their own social welfare payment rates then that has big implications for us and I would hope that we can benefit from the outcome of that.” said Mr McGuinness.
The closeness of the vote has also spurred separatists in Catalonia in Spain, although their Basque counterparts have remained strangely quiet. Around 55% of Catalans support independence and the Scottish referendum has fuelled protests throughout Barcelona.
Catalonia’s regional parliament is set to vote on a resolution next week that could pave the way for a November referendum on independence from Spain. However, if Catalonia’s parliament does pass a law allowing a “consultation vote”, Spain’s constitutional court is widely expected to declare it illegal.
Nevertheless, the Scottish vote has emboldened Catalans as well as Flemish separatists in Belgium and the Northern League in Italy. Closer to home, the vote will have far-reaching consequences for us in the Republic.
Whatever the result, it is beyond doubt that the Scots will either assert or be given increased powers to set their own taxes, including corporation tax. This could lead to direct competition between Scotland and Ireland for multinational investment.