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Politics & press news – Embassy 54

Diplomats welcome No vote

The London diplomatic corps breathed a sigh of relief as Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom, as they predicted in a pre-referendum poll.

European diplomats welcomed the news, particularly those with their own independence movements, such as Spain and Belgium, where the referendum had stirred up separatist sentiment.

As soon as the final results were announced, the High Commissioner for Cyprus, whose island remains divided, tweeted: “The Scottish demos has spoken: the UK remains united! Strength in unity and in a united Europe. Stronger UK in stronger EU.”

Many EU diplomats feared a split would likely be followed by a Conservative majority in the 2015 general election, meaning a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2017 would be guaranteed and lead to a British exit from the EU.

Envoys were also impressed with the record-breaking turnout (86.5 per cent), one of the highest in the democratic world, and the engagement of the Scottish voters. In a tweet, Austrian Ambassador Emil Brix praised the UK as the “mother of democracy”.

Constitutional battles ahead
Although First Minister Alex Salmond’s Yes campaign did not succeed, diplomats pointed out that he had managed to pressure the Westminster establishment to hand over powers to Scotland.

As one Ambassador commented: “Salmond is already victorious, because the Westminster political class will offer an extension of more powers and autonomy, which initially was not on the political chessboard...Enhanced autonomy was always in [his] interests.”

Others are not so sure whether the party leaders’ pledge is deliverable: “Will this mean more devolution for the Welsh and Northern Ireland? How will the English MPs respond?” asked one head of mission.

Diplomats are bracing themselves for major constitutional debates as the other parts of the United Kingdom compile a shopping list of powers they would like to claw back from Westminster.

On the subject of repatriating powers, envoys said a united Britain would be in a stronger position to negotiate with Europe. However, internal constitutional wrangling be a distraction as the UK seeks to get powers back from Brussels.

Not the end of the story
With 71 per cent of 16-17 year-olds voting Yes, a senior British official warned that the issue of Scottish independence was likely to linger on the British political landscape long after the vote. “Those supporting independence are the youth and they are not going to give up. The independence question is not going to go away anytime soon.”

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