A discarded Yes sticker lies on cobble stones along the Royal Mile after the people of Scotland voted no to independence on September 19, 2014 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After Scotland, something fundamental has to change - and will change

Our present constitutional settlement is not merely unacceptable; it is broken.

In the days after 5 September, when a poll put Yes Scotland ahead for the first time in the referendum campaign, we witnessed something remarkable, even unprecedented, in recent decades – the British political elite scrambling in panic as they belatedly understood that the ground beneath them was moving and drastic action was required. In response they began making policy on the run, hastily promising further powers to Scotland and mobilizing whatever forces they could, especially big business, to help pull the Union back from the brink.

Had Scotland voted Yes, David Cameron would surely have been forced to resign as the prime minister who lost Scotland and presided over the break up of Great Britain. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, might well have been forced to stand down as well in what would have been an ensuing constitutional crisis.

In the event, Scotland narrowly voted No and now an opportunity exists to reconfigure the multinational United Kingdom to the benefit of all of us living in these islands. Clearly the status quo is unacceptable, not only to the large number of people in Scotland who voted for independence. Our present constitutional settlement is not merely unacceptable; it is broken, as David Cameron acknowledged when he spoke outside Downing Street once the final result was known. Whether the UK is reconfigured as a fully federal or quasi-federal state, something fundamental has to change and will change. We are entering a period of profound constitutional upheaval.

It will not be enough to offer more devolution to Scotland as the three main party leaders did in the final, desperate days of the campaign, however inchoate. The question of devolution in England has to be addressed as well. Cameron spoke of the need to address the West Lothian question  – English votes on English laws -  but should we have an English parliament or perhaps the introduction of regional assemblies under a new federal structure? Cameron did not mention this but the House of Lords needs to become a fully elected second chamber or be abolished altogether. What too of further powers for Wales and Northern Ireland? These are momentous times.

One of the most startling interventions during the final days of the campaign was made of course by Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, who returned dramatically to frontline politics as the cross-party Better Together campaign floundered. In a series of speeches, consciously echoing Gladstone, he promised “home rule for Scotland”, even if there was no consensus on what was actually being offered and how it would affect the other nations in these islands, not least England.  

At times it seemed as if the former Labour prime minister was dictating policy to his successor, who, because of the decisive defeat of the Conservatives in Scotland, was rendered virtually mute during the long campaign and was left at the end pleading plaintively with Scots “not to go”. It was desperate stuff and one expects Cameron’s party to punish his weakness in the months ahead.  

What we witnessed in Scotland during the campaign, especially in those final weeks, was an extraordinary democratic awakening. An ancient nation was asking fundamental questions about identity, purpose and sovereignty, and people were as animated as they were well informed. The SNP operates a formidable and disciplined campaigning machine but Yes Scotland amounted to much more than Alex Salmond and his happy band of followers; it was a broad, vibrant coalition of pro-independence groupings.

What the referendum campaign demonstrated was that, in the right circumstances and when people believe that something truly significant is at stake and that their vote matters, they care passionately. At a time when fewer and fewer of us are members of political parties, nearly 4.3 million registered to vote, 97 per cent of those eligible. Overall turnout was 86 per cent, testament to a nation’s engagement and a direct challenge to a broken political system.

But how now to capture and harness the energies that were unleashed during a referendum campaign in Scotland that shook the foundations of the British state, stunned a complacent elite and came so close to shattering the 307-year-old Union?

And this much I know: unless there is far-reaching constitutional reform, there will be a second Scottish independence referendum before too long. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.