Written by Staff Writer
19 Sep, 2014 | 10:59 am
Voters in Scotland rejected independence from Britain in a referendum that had threatened to break up a 307-year union, according to projections by the BBC and Sky early Friday.
The outcome was a deep disappointment to the vocal, enthusiastic pro-independence movement led by the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, who had seen an opportunity to turn a centuries-old nationalist dream into reality, and forced the three main British parties into panicked promises to grant substantial new power to the Scottish Parliament.
The decision spared Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain a shattering defeat that would have raised questions about his ability to continue in office and diminished his nation’s standing in the world.
But while the result preserved a union molded in 1707, it left Cameron facing a backlash among some of his Conservative Party lawmakers. They were angered by the promises of greater Scottish autonomy that he and other party leaders made just days before the vote, when it appeared that the independence campaign might win. Some lawmakers called for similar autonomy for England itself, and even the creation of a separate English Parliament.
The outcome headed off the huge economic, political and military imponderables that would have flowed from a vote for independence. But it also presaged a looser, more federal United Kingdom. And it was unlikely to deter Scottish nationalists from trying again.
The passion of the campaign also left Scots divided, and Salmond was expected to call later on Friday for reconciliation after a vibrant exercise in democracy that had episodes of harshness and even intimidation.
President Barack Obama had made little secret of his desire that the United Kingdom remain intact. Indeed, Britain had long prided itself on a so-called special relationship with the United States, and Britain’s allies had been concerned by, among other things, Salmond’s vow to evict Britain’s nuclear submarine bases from Scotland, threatening London’s role in Western defenses.
As the vote approached, the margin between the two camps narrowed to a few percentage points, and at one point, the “yes” campaign seemed to have the momentum.
That was enough to alarm Britain’s political leaders from the three main parties in the Westminster Parliament in London. In a rare show of unity, they promised to extend significant new powers of taxation to Scotland, while maintaining a formula for public spending that many English voters saw as favoring Scots with a higher per-capita contribution.
Voters remained divided to the very end.
“It’s much easier to say yes,” said Sandra Love, 52, an officer manager and member of the opposition Labour Party, outside a polling station in a bustling student neighborhood in Glasgow. “But sometimes you have to say no.”
Whatever the outcome, she added, “everyone needs to accept it and move forward.”
Duncan Sim, a university lecturer who said he had always been in favor of independence, was handing out yes fliers at the same polling station. He also worried about a country that would be split down the middle, no matter the result. “It will be a big challenge to hold people together,” he said. “Hopefully, we will still all get on after the vote.”
In Edinburgh, a steady stream of voters filed into polling stations from the moment they opened, at 7 a.m. under murky skies and fog that swathed the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle. On one of the city’s bridges, a yes voter, mimicking cartoon prophets of doom, held up a placard proclaiming, “The Beginning is Nigh.” In bars and along thoroughfares across this city and many others, the issue consumed conversations, reflecting a sense that, with the conclusion only hours away, many who participated were about to witness history in the making.
In Glasgow, Urszula Bolechowska, 34, a Scot of Polish origin, took her 7-year-old son William along with her as she voted in favor of independence. “I want him to remember this day,” she said.
Her friend Anna Pielin, 30, beaming, said, “This is history.”
Almost 4.3 million people – 97 percent of the electorate – had registered to vote, including 16- and 17-year-olds, enfranchised for the first time. Analysts had forecast a turnout in excess of 80 percent at about 2,600 polling places, stretching from urban centers to remote and sparsely populated islands and far-flung settlements in the Scottish Highlands. Only residents of Scotland were permitted to vote.
Brian Cox, a Dundee-born actor who lives in New York and could not vote in the referendum, returned to campaign for independence. He was impressed by the exercise of democracy here.
“This is democracy at work as you rarely see it,” Cox said. “No or yes, people are going out to vote for something they deeply believe in.” He stopped, then said, “It’s moving.”
The impetus for a referendum began when Salmond’s Scottish National Party – once on the political fringes and with little electoral clout – won a majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2011, leading to negotiations with Cameron in 2012.
Those talks set the date and terms of the referendum that took place on Thursday. Initially, the British leader seemed confident of victory, with opinion surveys showing Scots overwhelmingly in favor of remaining in the United Kingdom. But as the vote approached, the gap narrowed.
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