You cannot step into the same river twice

River Crossing
River Crossing, a photo by Tom Olliver on Flickr.

There was a rather downbeat article by Iain Macwhirter in The Herald today:

Scots voted for the SNP by a landslide, not because they wanted independence but because they were sick of Labour and wanted better devolution. [...] [P]artly as a result of that 2011 vote and the referendum it triggered the status quo may no longer be an option. As this column has argued before, the new arrangements for funding the Scottish Parliament under the 2012 Scotland Act will end the fixed formula era and turn every budget round into a struggle. Like the residents of Benefits Street, Scots are going to be forced to get by on less, one way or another.
[...]
But, if the Social Attitudes Survey is any guide, it is going to be a grumpy campaign with a disenchanted electorate facing a choice of unacceptable alternatives and wishing that the referendum would just go away. Unfortunately, it won't.

I don't agree with the tone here -- I think the referendum is a great opportunity for Scotland, and it's clear that the campaign is energising and inspiring lots of people who weren't engaged in politics before.

However, I do think Iain Macwhirter has a point. Many voters would probably just like to retain the status quo in spite of all its shortcomings.

What they need to understand is that the independence campaign is changing Scottish and UK politics forever. As Heraclitus said, "you cannot step into the same river twice". There will be no returning to the exact devolution settlement that existed before if Scotland votes No in September, even if the legislation doesn't get changed.

From a UK point of view, the Scottish lion will have been declawed, because the threat of independence will have gone for a while. Until now, there's always been a fear that the Scots would leave the Union if we got too bad a deal. After a No vote, there will be a unique opportunity to get rid of the Barnett formula and such things. I wouldn't be surprised if Westminster also acted to make it much harder to hold another independence referendum in the future.

From a Scottish point of view, many voters will now for the first time be aware that Scotland is subsidising England rather than the other way round. There will also be a lot of anger if Devo-Max never materialises (and I expect it won't because of the declawing of the lion, as discussed above).

I can sympathise with those voters who just wish the sleeping lion had never been woken up from its 300-year sleep. However, it's now awake again, and on 18 September it will either break out of its cage or pull back, whimpering with fear, waiting for the declawing to happen.

Everything flows, nothing will ever be the same again, and we need to decide on the lion's future. Brave or feart?

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