As we enter into the final days of campaigning before the vote we look at how recent events have shaped the likely result.
For a couple of years the debate over Scottish independence was of little or no interest to the news media that both set and control the political agenda in the modern world, and as a result it languished in the political columns of the broadsheet newspapers like an unloved pet, with the vast majority of the UK dismissing it as the posturing of a self-important Alex Salmond who might have won power in Scotland but wasn’t going to win power for Scotland.
Political Classes In Chaos
• A two year campaign left till the last two weeks
• Darling and Brown attempt to counter heart with head
• Polarization after result a real possibility
That began to change with the two televised debates between Alex Salmond as head of the “Yes” campaign and First Minister of Scotland, and Alistair Darling former Labour chancellor of the exchequer and head of the “No” campaign. Neither one managed the knock-out blow that each chased at the time but they did draw the eye of the media (who love a good debate for the sound bites it always but always provides) and as Britain looked on something strange began to happen.
The “Yes” campaign which had often portrayed as an idealistic vision of little practicality that relied upon never actually having to put its promises into action was making not just inroads against the safe salient of the UK establishment, but driving a knife into its heart. The first poll that showed the “Yes” campaign’s within the margin of error for victory on September 18th sent ripples of shock through the political classes a nuclear weapon couldn’t have created.
The unthinkable was now a possible outcome and the instant migration from political sideshow to big top event caused the entire political circus to swirl around Scotland like flies on sh…something flies really like. It turned a quite good natured debate into a battle of misrepresentation, misdirection and mischief with the establishment pulling out all the stops in an effort to halt the march towards independence perhaps gambling news coverage in the last week or two would swing the vote.
Then Panic Set In
Suddenly the Westminster elite were sent into a frenzied panic of the unseemly sort that reminds us all politicians are a mercenary bunch at best. All three major party leaders headed north to campaign to save the 300 year old union with press and photo-ops galore, but this only seemed to make things worse. David Cameron as Conservative leader is about as popular in Scotland as haemorrhoids and Ed Milliband, whilst leading the most popular party in Scotland just looked foolish playing partner his political rival. Nick Clegg went to Scotland too but he’s an inconsequential twerp who sold his credibility and party down the river entering into coalition with the Tories.
Whilst all went to preserve the union there we very different agendas behind doing so. Certainly the retaining of oil, gas and water resources would be of importance to any of them, for the Conservatives it is about how desperately bad it will look if they lose Scotland when they come to renegotiate their role in Europe. For Labour the loss of some 40 constituencies would make it far harder for them to be elected into power and the Liberal Democrats betrayed everyone who voted for them, so what they think really doesn’t matter.
In a desperate attempt to reverse their fortunes Gordon Brown was brought out of the semi-retirement all former party leaders and prime ministers enter into so as not to conflict with the new leaders or prime ministers. Putting a Scot’s face and accent on their campaign, perhaps one a little more down to earth than the bank-manager-esque haughty tones of Alistair Darling, has had an effect but the “No” campaign hasn’t rested on this alone, nor even the real issues at hand. Finding it difficult to counter the freedom and democracy argument they just invented some issues to suit themselves.
The scare-mongering from the “No” campaign bordered on the hysterical with everything from economic collapse to a Russian invasion being put forward as possible outcomes of voting for independence. The NHS would be stripped away, the banks would shut up shop, the prices would all rise and everyone in an independent Scotland would wake up on Friday the 19th to find the pounds in their pocket would have melted away as if stolen by magic little Pictish elves. Anyone voting for independence was a fool on the internet betting in the UK for Scotland things would be different, and they wouldn’t.
Dirty Tricks From The Establishment And Its Friends
The “No” campaign had been boxing clever targeting very specific electoral areas, and indeed voter categories, within Scotland using the sort of surgically scientific methods more akin to members of the gestapo playing free french bingo in 1940s Paris than is perhaps seemly for modern political parties but some of the more threatening stunts backfired completely. The influence of the establishment reached out and tugged at the strings of some business leaders who are looking for a knighthood and statements of dire prediction were duly made.
There was a suspiciously timed run on the pound too, and the Treasury began briefing market-sensitive information ahead of the markets actually opening (something wholly illegal). Horror stories were created and propagated as if expert predictions, the “No” campaign then realized that these weren’t working and turned from bullying to bribery. In what is perhaps one of the most cynical political maneuvers ever all three big party leaders pledged more devolved powers to Scotland if there were a “No” vote.
The staggering hypocrisy of this move, in light of the fact they refused to put this “devo max” option on the ballot and in fact only let the referendum go ahead at all with it removed as an option, showed just how scared they had become of a win for Alex Salmond, the SNP and a “Yes” vote to independence. Both sides have rolled out celebrities to support their cause, but in essence the pro-independence movement has been playing to the aspirational and visionary, with the “No” campaign appealing to the scared and nervous.
The energy with which this campaign has been infused in this last week has been incredible, you could run a million volts through a Scottish poker room and not get such a reaction from people. No one thought it would be this close a race, least of all the British establishment that are still on the ropes now only 2% ahead in polls where the margin of error is far wider than that. In the end Scottish independence might have to wait a few more years, but there’s a greater chance than ever that the Scots will surprise everyone and vote for it on Thursday.