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Is this how Independence Day will look?

MICHAEL SETTLE looks ahead to September 19, 2014, and how a new dawn could break over  Scotland

RALLY CRY: Campaigners and MSPs marched to Calton Hill in September.
RALLY CRY: Campaigners and MSPs marched to Calton Hill in September.

By the narrowest of margins, voters have decided the nation's future lies in independence and, after 300 years, the Union with England is to be dissolved.

At 6am and after a night of high drama, the result of the 32 ballots, following a number of recounts and queries, is finally announced at the Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston by Mary Pitcaithly, Chief Counting Officer.

Within minutes, a beaming Alex Salmond is bouncing on to a windswept stage in front of the famous backdrop of Edinburgh Castle to announce to a sea of triumphant faces and flapping Saltires that a nation has been reborn.

The mood in Downing Street could not be more different.

David Cameron, who had initially taken a hands-off approach to the campaign, believing the anti-independence lead was unassailable, embarked on a desperate last-week tour of Scotland to shore up the No vote; but to no avail.

His victory flight to Edinburgh has been cancelled and instead he is at a microphone in front of No 10's famous black door, declaring his sadness at the result.

The Prime Minister knows that he will - despite whatever else he may have achieved, or will achieve, in his political life - be forever known as the man who lost the Union.

Within days, Mr Salmond and his team are walking through the same Downing Street door to begin the fraught process of negotiating the mother of all divorces.

Despite the fact that the SNP government has announced that Independence Day would be in the spring of 2016, no-one quite knows how long or arduous the negotiations will be; this will be a unique experience for everyone. For politicians as well as the public, it will have profound consequences for people north and south of the Border.

Within eight months, the electorate will be back at the polls to cast its vote in the May 2015 General Election. But it will not be the usual General Election.

In Scotland, the political landscape has been changed forever. The parties' pitch to voters will not be who is best able to run a government from Whitehall but who is best able to run the government of a newly independent nation from Edinburgh.

Amid recriminations in the No camp about why it was defeated and who was to blame, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have to think quickly to draw up their manifestos for a new Scotland. Talk is rife of a political realignment and new alliances.

The SNP, meantime, having produced its White Paper for independence, has its own blueprint already in place.

South of the Border, the kaleidoscope has also been shaken up. The blame-game among Labour and the LibDems takes off, while within the Tory ranks there is a determined push to make the intergovernmental negotiations as tough as possible.

Politically, at Westminster, the prospect is not a happy one.

The 2015 Parliament will be full of intrigue and uncertainty. The 59 Scottish MPs could play a crucial role in the make-up of the future UK Government if the election result is close.

Normally, the SNP wins only a handful of Commons seats, but the 2015 election could be different, given that the terms of trade have changed completely.

Scottish voters might think that, to ensure the intergovernmental talks produce as favourable an outcome as possible for an independent Scotland, they have to give Mr Salmond a very strong hand. So, instead of having just five or six of the Scottish contingent at Westminster, it might be that the Nationalists get a large tranche of MPs: 25 or 30, say.

Equally, in the run-up to the 2015 UK election the Scottish factor will loom large for voters in England and Wales.

Consideration will be given to which Westminster government would take the strongest line against Mr Salmond; this might be as much a factor as tax, health and education for some of the UK electorate.

Mr Cameron, having lost the referendum battle, will want to ensure that English voters believe it is the Conservatives who are best placed to get the strongest deal for the remainder of the United Kingdom.

The result of the 2015 poll then would be crucial to the intergovernmental negotiations. As things stand at present, a Yes vote would mean that, for the first eight months, the SNP government would be negotiating with a Lib-Con Coalition. But it could change after that.

If Labour were to lose a raft of Scottish seats to the SNP in a close contest, then this could ensure Mr Cameron leads a majority Tory government in 2015.

Alternatively, if Ed Miliband gets in as Prime Minister, it might be on the back of Scottish Labour MPs.

For Westminster, the 12 months to Holyrood elections for an independent Scotland in May 2016 have all the prospect of producing a political and legislative nightmare.

If Labour has a small majority, the Tories will seek to cause as much trouble as possible, complaining that Mr Miliband, in the two-government talks, is giving too much to the SNP administration in Edinburgh and that he is only in power by dint of a group of transitory MPs from Scotland.

Equally, if there is a small Tory majority, any enhanced Nationalist grouping may seek to cause as much political trouble as possible to pile pressure on Mr Cameron and prise more concessions out of him in negotiations.

Given that Scotland, after a Yes vote, would break free as of March 2016, any Miliband majority could suddenly disappear with the loss of his Scottish contingent. A second General Election would ensue and might put Mr Cameron, or his successor as Conservative leader, in Downing Street.

All of the uncertainty and potential for mischief-making, brinkmanship and back-biting could have a dramatic impact on the intergovernmental talks.

Having started negotiating with a Lib-Con Coalition, the First Minister and his team might then have to bargain with a Labour government under Mr Miliband in 2015. If there were a second UK General Election following the removal of Scottish MPs, then the FM might have to resume talks with Mr Cameron under a new Tory government. Agreements made with one might be torn up by another.

The 18-month self-imposed deadline could be regarded as a mite ambitious, given that things like the share of debt, Trident, a currency union, the armed forces, energy, transport and a host of other areas have to be negotiated. And this, of course, is not to mention the plethora of international agreements the SNP government would have to seal if Scots voted Yes.

And how those talks pan out will have a bearing on the subsequent 2016 Holyrood elections.

If they are going well and, indeed, if they have been successfully completed, then Mr Salmond and his party could get quite a bounce going into the first poll of an independent Scotland. Alternatively, if they are going badly, are not complete and promises are beginning to unravel, the new-look Scottish Labour Party might be the main beneficiary.

If a new dawn does break on September 19, 2014, it might be some time before the inhabitants of a newly independent Scotland know how the changed political landscape will look and, after all the soul-searching and the fraught divorce settlement, whether or not they made the right decision.

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