A poll shows the pro-independence campaign edging into a small lead over the Westminster establishment as the race enters the last 10 days.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the Scots has entered the final phase as the vote on independence looms large, but a week away now, and the YES campaign shows a small lead in the polls that has sent those trying to keep the union together into the sort of political panic and straw clutching of which career ending errors are made. Not that the NO campaign can be blamed for being a tad surprised, two weeks ago you couldn’t get better than 8/1 on independence at any of the online gambling sites in the UK, this morning that’s down to 2/1 and thus the contest has entered a last desperate scramble for every single undecided ballot paper.
Campaign Against Independence Gets Serious
• Offers devolution of more fiscal powers
• Alex stays mobile gambling on close victory
• Alistair sticks to financial script and truth
Perhaps it was just a bizarre coincidence of timing that but a day after that YouGov poll put the nationalists ahead George Osbourne the English Chancellor of the Exchequer suddenly announced proposals for “much greater” fiscal autonomy and tax-raising abilities for a Scotland that remained part of the union. This was instantly, and somewhat easily, dismissed by the Scottish Nationalist Party as being a last minute “bribe” and their leader, first minister Alex Salmond, described it as a “panicky measure” in response to the independence campaign he’s leading being on “winning ground”.
With the 2% lead shown in Sunday’s poll still being within the margin of error it might appear a tad desperate to suddenly roll out what amounts to a pleading almost begging attempt to promise a half-way house to those in Scotland not entirely sure about leaving the UK, but then the parties in Westminster have a vested interest in retaining the union, and they’re willing to become temporary allies in order to do so. As the YES campaign draws level, if not ahead, the NO campaign is going into overdrive.
The reasons for this political ardency are not, alas, historical. Whilst they might make a bit of a song and dance about the 300 years the two nations have been unified, the NO campaigns actual motivations are far more basic and self-interested. The current Conservative government, led by David Cameron, dreads Scots independence for what it says about them. The staunch defenders of the traditions of Britain will look a tad silly if a good chunk of the country decides to go and be another country on your watch, and it tends to indicate they weren’t all that happy with your performance as a government, something your political foes will make easy meals of in times to come.
Will Westminster’s Wiles Win?
Meanwhile the Labour party is equally aghast at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union. The Scots’ dislike of the Conservative party has meant that Labour wins nearly all the Scottish parliamentary seats in nearly every election, so to suddenly have those 40 or so seats not be part of the total come election day is a disaster for their future electoral prospects. Alongside them the Liberal Democrats have all sorts of views on the matter, none of which actually matter, because they’re the Liberal Democrats whose alliance with the Conservatives relegated them to a political joke and keeps them there.
“We are on the verge of trashing our global name and brand in an act of self-mutilation that will leave our international rivals, stunned, gleeful and discreetly scornful.” said leading Tory mop-top Boris Johnson, reflecting the views of many, especially those trying to get elected leader of the Tory party next time round, of which he is one. Perhaps it’s this that motivated that offer from George Osbourne, a last ditch attempt to portray devolution strategies, on offer from all three Westminster parties, as an alternative to full independence, but it rang hollow given the timing.
“We’re expected to believe,” scathed Alex Salmond, “that secretly, behind the scenes, after hundreds of thousands of people have already voted, there is a radical new deal on the constitution that is agreed by the Westminster parties. Well, there is a radical new deal on the constitution – it’s called independence.” and certainly the credibility of the offer, a political promise at best, is a little dubious but that didn’t stop Osbourne expanding on it. “You will see in the next few days a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland. More tax powers, more spending powers, more plans for powers over the welfare state.”
“That will be put into effect – the timetable for delivering that will be put into effect the moment there is a no vote in the referendum. The clock will be ticking for delivering those powers, and then Scotland will have the best of both worlds.” He continued, “They will both avoid the risks of separation but have more control over their own destiny, which is where I think many Scots want to be.” Which is true, many do, but it would appear the majority might be swinging away from having their fate decided in what a great many of them feel to be a completely different country, and toward independence.
Uncertain Political Weather Closes In
In the mad dash to garner support before the September 18th referendum it would appear to be the Westminster establishment that are on the back foot and the leader of the pro-union “better together” campaign, former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, had to clarify that Osbourne’s offer was merely one of process and timetable for some sort of devolution, not sudden vesting of new powers in Scotland per se. Which makes the last ditch bribe now look awfully flaccid, a fact that is unlikely to do anything but bolster support for an independence vote.
As their opposition reel in disarray from unexpectedly finding themselves at the rear of the race, the Scottish Nationalist Party are pressing home their advantage hitting the right notes on key issues, gambling news of the Westminster panic will play off well against their message that independence is the only way to retain the NHS, and that the oil fields of the North Sea shouldn’t be filling coffers in England when it is self-evidently Scottish oil. This momentum going into the final week of the campaign could make all the difference, and Alex Salmond knows it, being careful to play to Scots’ hearts first and minds second.
To add to the fears of Westminster the Pound fell as trading opened in Asia Monday morning sliding down nearly 1% to a 10 month low at barely $1.6165 due to uncertainty about the result of the referendum, and some analysts have even gone so far as to predict as much as a 10% shift in coming days as that uncertainty grows. With the currency markets already being much more akin to internet betting in the UK than they’d like already, it is perhaps this more than anything else that has galvanized the Treasury to offer some loosening of its grip on Scots finances.
Now far too close to call, the campaign for and against Scottish independence is one of the most intriguing political battles of this new century, what seemed a comfortably foregone conclusion a few days ago has developed into one of the tightest and most hard fought fights the hustings has ever seen in the UK or beyond. Whilst the future of Scotland hangs most obviously in the balance, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the knock on effects of a YES vote up north could have ramifications for Westminster not least of which would be Wales.