Scotland’s independence referendum ended in a resounding victory for the side advocating Scotland remaining within the UK as the “No” side received 55 percent of the vote against the “Yes” side’s 45. The result notwithstanding, the referendum itself has been lauded as a great victory for democracy and something that Scotland and the UK should be proud of.
In the past, governments treated independence movements as secessionists betraying their nation and they often ended in bloody suppression.
However, the UK showed tolerance and followed democratic ideals in giving Scots the freedom to decide their own future, with the queen encouraging Scots to “think very carefully about the future,” while British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Scottish independence would “break [his] heart.”
Although the “Yes” side lost, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who led the pro-independence effort, accepted the loss and said he would resign from his post in November. Although he lost this battle, he gained a place in history and has probably also managed to improve Scotland’s situation within the UK. After the result was announced, Scotland remained mostly calm and both sides have displayed the demeanor one would expect in a long-standing democracy.
The need to trust in the public was one important lesson to be learned from this referendum. Government leaders did not try to block it by saying that there was no need for a referendum at this time, and instead let Scots decide their own future. The government did not treat the referendum as a bloodthirsty monster or play around with referendum legislation and set irrational restrictions to create a “birdcage” referendum law which would make passing a referendum, although nominally possible, very difficult or even impossible in practice.
Instead, all that was required to win the referendum was a simple majority: half of all votes plus one. UK and Scottish politicians did not have the idiotic idea that the future of Scotland should be decided by all UK citizens, in the way that some people feel that Taiwan’s future should be decided by all Chinese.
Although the UK government was fully opposed to Scottish independence, it did not treat the prospect of it as a rebellion or imprison pro-independence leaders. Nor did it hold military exercises or fire missiles or say that “no one who promotes independence will meet with a happy ending,” as former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) once said.
The Scottish independence movement issued a detailed white paper detailing what the nation would look like following independence to give the public a clear blueprint when considering their future. In the end, the Scots considered their own future based on their national identity, and in addition to national defense and foreign affairs, they considered taxes, healthcare, how the North Sea oil resources should be distributed and which solution would be more beneficial to themselves, Scotland and the UK as a whole.
Although the whole world was waiting to find out how Scottish independence would affect the UK, the EU and the rest of the world, the result was a soft landing, as the Scots decided to remain within the UK and observers breathed a sigh of relief. Someone has said that referendums are populist, but the people of Scotland displayed their intelligence and wisdom throughout the entire process.
A referendum is of course a major gamble for all parties. Prior to voting day, the situation is fluid and everyone is concerned, and if this concern and anxiety are not handled correctly, they can lead to disorder. However, a referendum lets everyone express their opinion and make their own decision. For the foreseeable future, Scotland and the UK will enjoy political stability.
Trust in the public is indeed the way to long-term political stability.
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