The ballot paper phrased the question with eloquent bluntness: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Beneath were two blank boxes for the only two viable answers: “Yes” or “No.” On September 18, some 85 percent of eligible Scots turned out to answer one way or the other—the largest showing for any election held in the United Kingdom since 1918. This referendum was, as many said later, a victory for democracy, and a measure of just how engaged and invested a modern electorate can be when asked a big enough question. But the end result did not exactly settle the matter.
In the preceding months and weeks, the Yes/No debate had seemed to grow and spread beyond party politics, and even beyond standard constitutional positions. Non-nationalists were moved to mobilize for independence and non-unionists to defend the 307-year partnership between Scotland and England.
Scots on both sides broadly agreed that their own semi-devolved parliament and government should have greater legal and fiscal authority over the country’s affairs. But the population seemed divided between the Yes campaign’s promises of an economically secure state and the No camp’s dire warnings over taxes, tariffs, currency issues, and cross-border pension schemes. In Edinburgh before the vote, the Scottish playwright David Greig advanced the view that his countrymen and women were...