In a converted shop in Aberdeen—on Union Street, appropriately—telephone canvassers for the anti-independence campaign know their script. “Aye, they’ll give us more power even if we vote No,” Neil says down the line. His listener seems unconvinced. “But they will,” he counters, insistently. “After all, they don’t want another referendum in five years’ time.” “I think that persuaded her,” he says, replacing the receiver and annotating his list of voters. Since the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999, powers over education, health and policing have been transferred to it from London. More will follow in 2016, including further freedom to vary income-tax rates. But polls show that Scottish voters want still more devolution. As the nationalists surge, the unionist parties have scrambled to offer it. On September 8th Gordon Brown, a former prime minister, outlined the most drastic plan yet. He proposed that almost all remaining areas of domestic policy, including taxation, should be devolved if Scots vote No. Even if Scottish voters reject independence on September 18th, then, Britain will not continue as before. The state will become looser and more untidy—with particular consequences for the one country so far untouched by devolution.
English voters have long been startlingly relaxed about the growing power of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. According to the British Election Study, the proportion opposing Scottish devolution has averaged just 17% since 1997 and has never risen above 23%. Nor do the English seem to want any kind of devolution for themselves. In 2004 the north-east voted overwhelmingly against a regional assembly. In 2012 nine out of ten cities rejected elected mayors in referendums. Fully 17 years after a Labour government started handing power to the periphery of Britain and to London, provincial England is still overwhelmingly run from Westminster.
But the English are growing uneasy. In Berwick-upon-Tweed, a border town in the north-east whose residents speak with lilting Lowland accents, celebrate St Andrew’s Day and drink Irn Bru, residents feel increasingly separate from their neighbours three miles to the north. Jim Smith, a local councillor, says the referendum has intensified jealousy of Scots, who enjoy benefits such as free medical prescriptions and free university tuition. According to the Future of England Survey, a research project by Edinburgh and Cardiff universities, many English voters share his gripes. A poll in April found that, by a margin of four to one, they think Scotland should receive a smaller share of public spending if it remains in the union.