With the wrangling over the U.K.’s political future back in London, Scots are left nursing their wounds after an independence referendum that divided the country and pitted neighbors and colleagues against each other.
“I’ve lost a friend over this,” said Beth Thomson, 51, an Edinburgh resident who voted “no” in the Sept. 18 vote and ended up on the winning side. “I’ve known her for years, babysat her children, but she says she can’t find it in her heart to be friends with anyone who didn’t vote for independence. I worry about where Scotland will go from now.”
The “yes” and “no, thanks” posters may have been taken down, but the campaigns have left a mark on hundreds of thousands of Scots never involved in politics before. After scuffles broke out in Glasgow following the vote to stay in the U.K., Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral held a special service of reunification in a bid to help foster common ground.
The need to forge unity has featured in key comments following the referendum, in which Glasgow and Dundee backed independence while Edinburgh and Aberdeen were opposed to it. The tightest vote was in Inverclyde, an area on the west coast where the split was 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent, with the unionists ahead by just 86 votes.
The day after the vote, Queen Elizabeth II urged Scots to unite behind an “enduring love of Scotland.” “Scots are able to express strongly-held opinions before coming together again in a spirit of mutual respect and support, to work constructively for the future of Scotland and indeed all parts of this country,” she said in a statement.
Key to the healing process in the country of 5.3 million are pledges by the main U.K. parties of more financial power for the government in Edinburgh, promises that observers said helped sway the result away from independence.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who delivered a timetable for more ceding of power to Scotland from the U.K. Parliament at Westminster during his campaigning this month, said on Sept. 20 Scotland should unite “against the odds.”
“The desire for change is there,” said Charlie Jeffery, a professor of politics at Edinburgh University. “The referendum forced a binary divide, but Scottish opinion was never that binary. The position of the median voter is beyond the status quo, but not one of independence.”
The referendum brought a record 85 percent turnout, and the pro-independence Scottish National Party said it signed up more than 17,000 new members in its aftermath, increasing the number to 42,000. Forty-five percent of people casting a ballot, or 1.6 million people, wanted to leave the U.K. after 307 years.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, the figurehead of the independence campaign, said in his Sept. 19 speech announcing his resignation that others will now “hold Westminster’s feet to the fire” over the pledges. He signed off by saying “the campaign continues and the dream will never die.”
The pledges to give Scotland new powers also raised the question of devolving more rights to England, causing division between the governing Conservatives, their Liberal Democrat coalition partner and the opposition Labour Party. The three united to fight against Scottish independence.
Prime Minister David Cameron proposed that, in parallel with giving more power to the Scottish Parliament, the government should address the inequity that allows Scottish lawmakers in Westminster a vote on policies applying only in England. The move was rejected by Labour as political maneuvering rather than constitutional reform.
Now’s the “time for our United Kingdom to come together and move forward,” Cameron said the day after the referendum. “A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement, fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”
In truth, some Scots had raised concerns over the divisive nature of the arguments over the U.K.’s future in the weeks before the ballots were cast.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, campaigning in Glasgow this month, said campaigners must be careful. “We don’t want the word going out from Scotland that this is causing seismic divisions in Scottish society.”
On an August evening in the Auld Kirk hall in the west coast town of Ayr, the Reverend David Gemmell struggled to calm tensions among his parishioners. Their minds were not on worship, but on politics.
The church was one of a number across Scotland that came together to call for a “respectful dialog” as the campaigns lurched into accusations of nationalist aggression and scaremongering by “no” supporters.
In the night of Sept. 19 in Glasgow, crowds waving the Union Flag clashed with youths draped in the Scottish saltire. In Edinburgh on Sept. 21, Labour lawmaker and anti-independence campaigner Douglas Alexander and the SNP’s John Swinney attended the reconciliation service in Edinburgh.
For Chiara Boni, a 24-year-old Glasgow student who supported the “yes” campaign, there’s no going back.
“Scotland has awoken,” she said. “It’s not going to go back to normal, because we’re fighting for what we want.”