After a momentous night, a new day. In every street of every town and city in Scotland there is likely to be a mix of deeply conflicting emotions. Relief, anger, grief, disappointment, jubilation, maybe even despair as the reality of the referendum result sinks in. It will take time to recover a sense of balance after such a long, passionate and often divisive campaign. But hope has not died. Today, the day after Scotland’s historic decision, brings a dawning reality: we have woken in a different country. Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom but both are changed forever.
Yesterday Scotland showed the world an inspiring demonstration of democracy in action. Seasoned political commentators could not conceal their disbelief at the turnout, the highest for more than a century. Over 90% in some places, an average of 85% across the country, in fact we got so used to these high numbers that Glasgow’s 75% – a turnout unheard of in general or local elections for decades – seemed almost unnaturally low.
Politicians too were humbled by the response. In dignified speeches both Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling paid tribute to the people of Scotland.
“The process by which we have made our decision as a nation reflects enormous credit upon Scotland.” Alex Salmond told Yes campaigners in Edinburgh as he acknowledged that Scotland had not voted (‘at this stage’) for independence. “Turnout of 86% is one of highest in the democratic world for any referendum in any country in history.”
It was a triumph for the democratic process and participation in politics, said Salmond, which included all ages from 16 year olds to centenarians, with many thousands of people registering to vote for the first time.
“People who disengaged with politics have come out to vote in large numbers,” said Alistair Darling, greeting the majority for No in a voice hoarse with perhaps both weariness and emotion. There seemed no arrogance here. “Every political party must now listen to their cry for change which could be echoed in every part of our United Kingdom but found expression first in Scotland.”
It seems a very long week since WakeUpScotland posted our first blog raising concerns about the referendum debate. But today we have indeed woken in a different country. Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom but both are changed forever. Exactly what happens next depends on us as well as our leaders. We all have a role to play in helping to bring together people from both sides who share ambitions for a fairer and more equal society. Now we must work side by side to turn hopes and words into constructive action.
This is a hope well articulated by Sir Tom Hunter the Scottish entrepreneur who has played an energetic and interesting role in encouraging informed discussion through his website Scotland September 18. He also funded the publication of the impartial Scotland’s Decision: 16 Questions to Consider before the Referendum). This morning, refusing to tell BBC Today which way he had voted, he repeated the line that he had often used during the campaign.
“Change is too important to leave to politicians.” he says, adding, “It’s now for the people of Scotland to come back together, to show that we can respect each other’s differences and work together to let Scotland flourish.”
Perhaps we can take part in that too. Right now, it’s time to rest.
Fay Young is a writer and blogger with special interest in social and environmental affairs