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Last updated: September 19, 2014 2:22 pm

Pull of union proves stronger than Scottish nationalist passion

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In the end, it was the Union Flag brandished by Better Together that proved a stronger pull than the passionate nationalism of the Yes campaign.

Alex Salmond invoked folk memories of the Scottish victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, which had its 700th anniversary this summer, describing it as “the birthplace of our nation”. He sought to summon the spirit of Robert the Bruce by promising a “declaration of opportunity”, echoing the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, a confirmation of Scotland’s independence.

And he came close to victory, which is still an achievement of sorts for him and his Scottish National party given that garnering 45 per cent of the referendum vote for independence was almost unimaginable to many south of the border until the closing weeks of the campaign.

But Mr Salmond will now have to face the reality that Scotland will not be an independent country – at least for the next two decades, having ruled out another referendum for a generation.

Both sides used history to win over Scottish hearts and minds. Those rooting for independence dug up English attempts to take Scotland by force – William of Normandy in 1072, Edward 1 in 1296, Henry VIII in 1512, for example. For their part, supporters of the union, often accused of campaigning on a platform of apocalyptic economics, also sought to evoke the passions of the shared history of the four corners of the UK.

David Cameron stirred memories of Scots, English, Welsh and Irish fighting side by side in both world wars. “It’s about Lord Lovat on the beach on D-Day, the bagpipes playing as his brigade landed ashore. It’s about HMS Sheffield, HMS Glasgow, HMS Antrim, HMS Glamorgan – grey ships ploughing through grey seas for 8,000 miles to the Falkland Islands,” he said in a speech in February. “And for what? For freedom. Because this is a country that has never been cowed by bullies and dictators. This is a country that stands for something.”

Gordon Brown entered the debate in its final stages with a fervent call to arms in support of Britishness, a concept the former Labour prime minister has thought deeply about for years.

Today’s result spells the continuation of an alliance that began in 1603 on the death of the childless Elizabeth I, when James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne, becoming king of both countries. But it does not mean that the contentious moments of history will now be buried and forgotten.

The Scottish and English parliaments were merged with the Act of Union of 1707 as trade links were getting ever tighter. Scotland had lost a tenth of its population through a famine in the 1690s. Then its economy was further damaged by the ill-fated attempt to establish an overseas trading colony on the Isthmus of Panama, otherwise known as the Darien scheme.


Scottish referendum results

The Saltire, the flag of Scotland flies above the Union flag at the site of the Auld Acquaintance cairn which is being constructed at a site on the banks of the River Sark in Gretna in Scotland, which is thought to be the historic border between Scotland and England, taken on August 17, 2014. A month to the day until Scotland votes on whether to split from Britain, opinion polls Monday showed the pro-independence camp gaining ground as First Minister Alex Salmond insisted his side had a "spring in their step". But the polls still showed a strong lead for the 'No' camp ahead of the vote on September 18, suggesting voters are on course to reject independence. Debate in the campaign has so far focused on Scotland's economy, particularly on the currency post-independence. AFP PHOTO/ANDY BUCHANAN (Photo credit should read Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

After two years of campaigning, Scots have voted on whether to end their 307-year union with England and Wales and break up the country. Results and turnout figures appear live in the charts as they are declared overnight.

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Large numbers of Scots invested in the project – soaking up a fifth of Scotland’s liquid assets – but of the 3,000 who set off for Panama in 1698, only a third returned alive two years later.

The English, at war with France at the time, were keen on a union to prevent a simultaneous invasion from the north in support of James Francis Edward Stuart, the Catholic pretender to the throne. The merger gave greater security to Queen Anne, then the monarch.

Ever since, many Scottish nationalists have believed their parliament was bullied and bribed into the union – “bought and sold for English gold”, in the words of the poet Robert Burns. In return for sharing England’s debt, Scotland was promised an “equivalent” of £398,085 and 10 shillings, partly to compensate Darien shareholders.

While the two were now a single kingdom, which would not be joined by Ireland for a century, not all of their institutions were merged. The Scots kept their own legal and education systems and their own church, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Likewise, the Scots have had their own sporting teams ever since 1872, when England and Scotland played the world’s first international football contest in Glasgow: the result was 0-0.

But in other ways the two nations have acted in concert over the centuries, a point hammered home repeatedly by the Better Together campaign, which warned that a Yes victory would have meant the end of a common BBC, a common National Health Service, a common currency, common armed forces.

The referendum’s result is a blow to the SNP. Yet its activists will never forget how close they came to the prize of independence they have pursued for so long.

The SNP, founded in 1934, initially had a low profile with most Scots still voting either Labour or Conservative. A referendum on devolution in 1979 even failed to reach the 40 per cent threshold.

Nationalism began to gain traction during the 1980s amid the closure of lossmaking steel and mining industries, blamed largely on the Tory government in London. When Tony Blair’s Labour administration staged a second referendum, in 1997, Scotland got its parliament back.

In recent days, there were times when it seemed that the SNP’s resounding victory in the 2011 Scottish elections really was the launch pad to full independence. Now, some will wonder if Friday’s referendum result was the high water mark for Scotland’s nationalists or a staging post on a journey to separate statehood.


Letters in response to this article:

The No verdict is excellent news for all our livelihoods / From Mr John Barstow

Annual football match to let off steam/ From Mr John Davies

The James’ are turning in their common grave/ From Mr Monish Dutt

The union is saved, yet Scotland divided/ From Mr Mark Peaker

It was a peculiarly British referendum/ From Mr Mark O’Hare

Correct proportion of Scotland ‘Yes’ voters / From Mr James Norman

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