Alex Salmond David Cameron Scottish Independence

The reputation referendum: From Salmond to Cameron, how will the key figures in the Scottish independence debate be viewed now?

By Jane Wilson

September 19, 2014 | 5 min read

On Thursday night when I arrived in Glasgow, there was nothing more to be done in the referendum campaign than to count the votes. And aside from George Square, where Saltires and patriotic chants filled the air, there was no sense that we were potentially on the eve of something epic for the city and the nation.

How will Alex Salmond and other key campaigners be viewed now?

This morning I woke up to a dreich, misty Glasgow and the result that the No campaign had prevailed. Personally, I’m glad that the United Kingdom remains intact; not because I don’t think Scotland could be a good independent country, but because there was so little certainty for me about what that country might have looked like. But today I don’t feel like a winner and I’m not sure who has come out of this campaign with an enhanced reputation.

For those in the Yes campaign they can say (because of the late pledges from Westminster) that the people who voted no were still voting for change. They can take heart that 45 per cent of the Scottish population backed them but they didn’t win. The SNP’s mandate to hold the referendum was its majority in Holyrood. It will be fascinating to see how it campaigns in the next Scottish elections without the focus of independence at the heart of what it stands for and how its credibility and reputation will be affected.

On the No side, until the cavalry rode into town in the unlikely shape of Gordon Brown, there appeared to be a lack of passion – based on the problem that they were selling a negative answer and that they were so broadly cross-party. They never really embodied a single passionate spirit – a strong and singular point of reputational difference. Staying the same is a difficult thing to sell so perhaps it was only when they promised something different, the devo max option that was originally off the table, that they had a key point to galvanise around.

For the prime minister, if the vote had gone the other way, he would have become a lightning rod for dissatisfaction in the rest of the UK as the man on whose watch the union broke up. His decision to allow the Yes/No vote could have been seen disastrous. In his speech this morning, David Cameron took the opportunity to hammer home the point that the referendum and the Yes/No choice were the smart thing to do.

He also took the opportunity to target those English backbenchers who are against any further devolution for Scotland with a nod towards a similar arrangement for England. This speech felt like personal reputation damage limitation and the seeds of an election campaign.

However, with allegations of bullying, lying, scaremongering and intimidation still flying this morning, I’m not sure either campaign has come through this as beacons of virtue. But politicians aside, it is the reputation of Scotland that I care most about. Scots have come out of this with a reputation for being more politically active and engaged than at any other time in recent history. They have engaged in shaping their own future.

Across the rest of the UK, many unionists have responded with relief and some gratitude to the Scots who voted No. Others are less charitable – particularly on social media and there may be some short term discomfort as everyone comes to terms with the implications of the result.

This remains difficult but important moment for Scotland and one which I believe can enhance its reputation at home and abroad. With the country split in two by the referendum, how Scots choose to behave towards each other in the coming months will be vital to our national reputation.

This is a time for unity, a time for finding some common ground on shared interests and a time for negotiations. It is not a time for recriminations. That’s not to say that those who believe passionately in a different path for Scotland must roll over, but good conduct and cooperation will make or break our immediate and longer lasting future. The moderator of the Church of Scotland today suggested finding someone from the 'other side' and taking a selfie with them!

What’s clear today though is that Britain’s well-earned reputation as a democratic role-model has been enhanced. It’s also certain that a new and different future is likely not just for Scotland but potentially for the whole of the UK.

Jane Wilson is a communication and reputation consultant. She is a former chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations

Alex Salmond David Cameron Scottish Independence

More from Alex Salmond

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +