If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

Scots Vote Against Independence, but Controversy Continues in Britain

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Friday, September 26, 2014

Last week, the voters of Scotland, in a heavy turnout and from age 16 up, decided not to disunite what has been arguably one of the most successful and beneficial nations over the last 307 years, the necessarily clunkily named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It was a relatively close-run thing: 45 percent voted for an independent Scotland, just 383,000 fewer than voted for Scotland to remain part of the now-not-necessary-to-be-renamed UK.

Had Queen Elizabeth II not allowed herself to be overheard telling a churchside crowd that Scottish voters should "think very carefully" about the issue, the result might have been closer, as polling suggested it would be.

Actually, something like panic broke out when, days before, a single poll showed the independence side ahead. The leaders of the three UK parties -- Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour's Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg -- scampered north to Scotland and promised to devolve even more powers from the UK parliament in Westminster to the Scottish Parliament established by Tony Blair's Labour government in 1999.

When the Scottish Nationalist party won a majority in that parliament in 2011, First Minister Alex Salmond immediately pushed for the referendum. With rules that stacked the deck: 16-year-olds could vote, but Scots outside Scotland, including those in the British military, could not.

Scotland's grievance may have been based in nostalgia for Braveheart and the poetry of Bobby Burns. But it was also rooted in opposition to a central government that locals deemed hostile -- something like Texas in President Obama's America or New York in George W. Bush's.

Scotland's once world-dominating heavy industries -- shipbuilding, steel -- were shut down by the 1980s, and many blamed Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Once closely divided between the two major UK parties, Scotland elected exactly one Conservative MP to Parliament in 2010, versus 41 Labourites, 11 Lib Dems and six Scottish Nats.

Salmond painted an alluring picture of an independent Scotland, blessed with North Sea oil wealth and expanding its already large welfare state. But North Sea production is falling and, as Thatcher said, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.

Nonetheless, Scotland is not the only region that has been eyeing secession. In Spain's Catalonia, centered on Barcelona, the regional parliament is calling for a secession referendum -- which Madrid says is unconstitutional. Italy's Veneto region, like Catalonia and unlike Scotland, more prosperous than its country at large, has supported the secession-minded Northern League.

Americans have a hard time understanding the secessionist impulse. Our own experience with secession resulted in a war that took 600,000 lives in a nation of 38 million. The equivalent death toll today would be 5 million.

And our federal system allows Americans to vote with their feet for states with agreeable public policies. In 1970, my home state of Michigan had 9 million people. In 2010 it had 10 million. In 1970, Texas had 11 million people, and 25 million in 2010.

The United Kingdom has a harder time devolving power and decentralizing public policy because 85 percent of its people live in England. At 7 a.m. the morning after the Scottish referendum's paper ballots were counted, Cameron emerged from No. 10 Downing Street and promised, "Just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues."

That raised the issue dubbed "the West Lothian question," in 1977 by Tam Dalyell, a left-wing Scottish Labour MP: How is it fair to let Scottish MP's vote on policies affecting England when English MP's can't vote on the same policies affecting Scotland?

Barring Scottish MP's from voting on England-only issues might make it impossible for Labour to effectively govern the UK. In the current Parliament, Conservatives hold a solid majority of English seats, but they're a minority in the whole Parliament, forced to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Could a Scottish Labour MP ever again wield the power that Gordon Brown did as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister over a 13-year span?

Somehow I suspect the British will muddle through. But the lesson seems to be that, in a decentralizing age, it's hard to get the right balance between national unity and regional autonomy.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, (www.washingtonexaminer.com), where this article first appeared, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentaries by Michael Barone.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.