Yesterday Scotland voted and has decided to keep the Union together. Thank goodness for common sense prevailing. It was by no means a foregone conclusion and the consequences of collective hearts over heads decision (dreaming of an idyllic home rule amongst the heather?) would have been extremely serious. Our shared history of 300 years will now continue, and the markets should regain some confidence.
It does however mean that there is now a brief window of opportunity to create a tenable, long-term situation acceptable to both countries. The Scots voted ‘No’ on the backs of promises from all three party leaders that there would be further devolution and far greater power for Scotland as a nation. If these promises are broken, Alex Salmond (or his replacement) will be able to call another referendum in five or so years and probably win. The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in Scotland will lose everything if they renege on such important promises, so further devolution is going to happen. Federalism will probably be the result with an adjusted structure for The Houses of Commons and Lords, a much stronger Scottish Parliament, but ideally most currency powers remaining with Westminster.
The good news is that taxes in Scotland may not go up in the way they would have done under independence. Scotland has an ageing population that is, on average, less healthy than the rest of the UK and less productive. If independent, taxes would have gone up and many people would have moved to England to protect their earnings.
There will be no need for a shake-up in Scotland’s employment law. This would have remained largely the same if the vote had gone the other way. But businesses (in both England and Scotland) will have to keep a careful eye on their politically-minded employees. The likely areas for employment issues post-referendum will be disputes between nationalists and unionists which could lead to big divisions, a real drain on productivity, and the risk of discrimination claims over political belief and identity. Businesses have a duty to protect their workers from such discrimination, but in doing so must also be careful not to unduly suppress political belief and end up treating people less favourably because of it.
Beyond economics is the question of how Scottish nationalism will now affect this united but shaky nation. Mr Salmond whipped up nationalist forces for his own purposes (I trust he now has the decency to resign),and a slender majority voting for the UK will not be enough to abate them; the threats made against unionists will not be forgotten by either side. Businesses will have to keep a careful eye on their politically-minded employees. Disputes between nationalists and Unionists could lead to big divisions, a real drain on productivity, and the risk of discrimination claims over political belief and identity. Businesses have a duty to protect their workers from such discrimination, but in doing so must also be careful not to unduly suppress political belief and end up treating people less favourably because of it.
Whilst we are not expecting a prolonged violent struggle as happened in Northern Ireland, we know that it can take a long time for nationalist fervor to die down – even when compromise plans are bringing prosperity. A key factor will be encouraging unionists not to gloat at the result. They should be encouraged to spend a brief period rejoicing in the relief of our Union staying together, and to then get on and prove that it was the right decision with financial results and a ‘uniting’ attitude rather than a divisive one. Businesses that prosper from a United Kingdom and the Armed Forces can play a particularly decisive role in this. Everyone must work together to show that disagreeing with nationalism does not equal a lack of patriotism for the Scottish identity.
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