Much of Britain breathed a sigh of relief yesterday morning as everyone woke up to the news that the 307-year-old union with Scotland remains intact. But despite the result the campaign has provoked questions about democracy – with some claiming politics will never be the same again. FINN SCOTT-DELANY reports.

A REFERENDUM on Scottish independence was settled yesterday morning.

All the trepidation over plummeting shares and currency was laid to rest as Scottish residents voted 55% in favour of maintaining the union.

But despite the Better Together campaign prevailing, a number of questions were thrown up over modern politics.

More than 90% of Scottish residents cast a ballot – compared to the 41% who voted in the Brighton and Hove City Council elections in 2011.

It was also clear that giving 16-year-olds the vote galvanised young people to engage in democracy.

And it was this thirst for a new kind of democracy that was hailed as the most significant lesson of the campaign.

The Local Government Association said “the devolution genie is out of the bottle” while Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to “empower our great cities”. Could this mean greater powers for Brighton and Hove?

MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas led calls yesterday for a new ‘people’s constitution’ to engage people in the political process.

She explained: “We awoke to a strong consensus that nothing will ever quite be the same again.

“Today’s result isn’t a full stop, but a new beginning. We’ve awoken to a fresh thirst for real democracy and a promise of change.

“This has been an inspiring and passionate campaign. There will need to be some time for healing, and dialogue. And the next steps must not happen without the full and proper consultation of all affected.

“Today we have a unique opportunity – to continue this conversation, to commit together to building a real democracy.

“A new kind of politics – accessible, fully representative and accountable. A political system that embodies the principle that power flows upwards from the people, not down from a centralised state.”

A petition calling for the People’s Constitutional Convention has already received more than 1,000 signatures.

An open letter urges the national party leaders to be “braver” and demonstrate a genuine commitment to democracy.

It calls for a fairer voting system, an elected House of Lords, job sharing for MPs, lowering the voting age, giving communities and local authorities more power, including local referenda and citizens’ initiatives and more regional government.

A senior Labour figure and former council leader agreed the political landscape had changed forever.

Lord Bassam of Brighton, who played an active role in Labour’s No campaign in Scotland, said: “I think the engagement and interest we saw has paved the way for lowering the voting age.

“It was really welcome to see young people on both sides so engaged and I’m sure it will be Labour party policy in the next campaign.

“One thing that really struck me was how keen people were to talk about politics and that’s something we need to see a return of.

“Campaigns have got to be inclusive, and in both sides of the argument in Scotland that was the case. There was no cynicism.”

Politicians cannot ignore desire for a new politics now the vote is over, Lord Bassam said.

He added: “This issue is now settled, but change is what we need.

“This referendum means a failure to change isn’t an option.

“Things will never be the same again.

“I think what we will most likely see in Brighton is a move towards more devolved decision-making to the city region, the local authority and more power to the community.

“I think it’s quite likely we will see more referenda in the city.

“We had high turnouts in the vote on the football stadium and elected mayors.

“People like to be asked their opinion. Direct democracy does have its virtues.”

Conservative councillor and Hove parliamentary candidate Graham Cox also backed devolved decision-making at city and regional level.

He echoed Tory MP calls for a resolution over the “absurd” West Lothian question, which allows Scottish MPs to vote on English issues which English MPs have no influence over in Scotland.

He said: “The turnout was really encouraging and it reinforces the finality of the decision for a generation.

“The sufficient margin of victory means the question of independence is settled.

“I don’t think there’s an appetite for South East regional assemblies. I don’t think additional tiers of government and the Balkanisation of England is what anyone wants to see.

“But I think there should be further devolution to English cities in particular.

“We certainly need to address the fact that MPs from Scotland can vote for taxes for the people of Brighton and Hove, but our MPs cannot vote on Scottish tax affairs. That’s an absurdity.

“As power is devolved it should be English MPs voting for English laws.”

He added: “With the next set of local elections on the same day as the general election the likely turnout will be doubled, so that’s encouraging “But the referendum was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime vote, and not directly comparable with the election cycle.

“It’s still interesting that the debate carried that kind of interest – but I don’t think we will ever see 90% turnouts.”

Academics agreed the unprecedented engagement in Scotland proved Westminster was not connecting voters.

Politics professor Paul Taggart, of the University of Sussex, said: “We know that election turnout increases when there is real competition and when the result does not seem pre-determined.

“To increase turnout different parties need to present very different agendas and there needs to be a realistic prospect of any of these parties winning.”

But Prof Taggart doubted whether there was a will for regional devolution.

He added: “There has been a marked reluctance about devolution in England as evidenced by the North East referendum.

“There will clearly be a debate about how to deal with ‘English’ matters without involving other parts of the UK but my sense is that this will be a Westminster solution rather than an English national assembly or regional assembly solution.”

Meanwhile Dr Paddy Maguire, University of Brighton head of humanities, predicted high turnouts for single issue votes such as on EU membership.

He said: “There is a difference between single-issue politics or referendums – EU membership for instance would have a significantly high turnout as opposed to general election participation rates, which have been falling.

“A single issue is often the key motivating force for a high turnout, rather than a general election and multi-issues.”

Dr Maguire suggested lowering the age could engage young people in politics as it has in Scotland, adding: “The demographic breakdown shows high participation rates among the over 50s and among 18-plus voters but lower rates among the 30- to 40-year-olds.

“People at either end of the age scale participate more and, therefore, 16-plus voters will likely turn out – and why shouldn’t they?”