Where now? Alex Salmond’s face this morning showed the shock of the No verdict, his cheeks sagging and almost immobile, his words emerging at a third of their normal tumbling pace. His supporters were stunned and speechless; they had thought, as the sheer visibility of the Yes campaign’s posters and banners across Scotland had implied, that the momentum was decisively with them.
Yet even though Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, that country has changed overnight. The Scottish National Party has won a victory, even if not the one it wanted: it has secured a version of “Devo-max,” even if no one is quite sure what, and a promise by the leaders of the three main parties to maintain the funding that Scotland now enjoys. With failure like that, who needs victories?
The vote, and the promises made, have immediate implications for the way that the UK runs itself. When David Cameron stepped out into the grey of Downing Street this morning to announce his verdict, he offered a fistful of commitments to all sides. To those who dislike him, it may have seemed a bland, supercilious touching of the bases by a member of the ruling classes who understood none of the passion of the independence campaign, recognised its seriousness far too late, and tucked the outcome of the vote into his pocket with barely concealed complacency, while he calculated the tactical advantage that such reforms may give him over Labour, if he can shut Scottish Labour MPs out of key votes in Westminster. To those who like him—and crucially, to those who do not but may be persuaded to support the Conservatives in the General Election in May—it may have seemed an expression of fairness, decency and concern for all parts of the UK, coupled with a willingness to be radical which has not so far characterised his leadership.
The Conservatives’ success in May will turn partly on whether Cameron’s message rings true with voters; whether they see in him, even if late in the day, a willingness to confront the big questions facing Britain, acknowledge and even stimulate an appetite for change in British people,…