“It’s lovely to be back on my Irn-Bru crates,” cries Jim Murphy, leaping onto the plastic containers he is using as his soapbox as the cheering crowd gathered around him holding their No Thanks placards aloft. “Welcome back,” someone shouts.
Despite poll findings showing that supporters of independence are closer to realising their dream than ever before, the Labour MP resumed his speaking tour of 100 streets across Scotland yesterday to a rapturous reception from hundreds of Better Together supporters in central Edinburgh.
The 47-year-old was forced to suspend his journey last week after being egged as he addressed a crowd in the Fife town of Kirkcaldy, claiming that the Yes Campaign was orchestrating a “mob atmosphere” and intimidating undecided voters.
Embarrassingly, on the way to his soapbox, Mr Murphy had to dodge a tabloid journalist wearing a chicken costume. “I’m not a fearty, I’m not a coward – it was a matter of public safety,” he protested when asked why he had stopped his tour.
But there was little chance of a repeat of the hectoring in the genteel surroundings of Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Academy, where only a handful of Yes supporters were in evidence. One heckler who shouted “You are being deceived” during Mr Murphy’s speech was immediately cowed into silence by a quiet word from a police officer and the involvement of an elderly woman nearby, who told him viciously to “shut up”.
Mr Murphy suggested afterwards that the lack of Yes supporters was further evidence of dark forces at work. “Whoever turned on that noisy tap of aggressive behaviour has quietly turned it off again. I congratulate them,” he told reporters with a wink.
But David Coutts, one of the few Yes voters present, said there was a more obvious reason for the friendly crowd. “The people here today don’t reflect the views of the normal people of Scotland,” said the former Citizen’s Advice worker. “This is like a meeting of the CBI. I recognise three bank managers, a former Lord Provost, two Conservative councillors and three members of the House of Lords.”
Behind Mr Murphy’s energy and the jubilant atmosphere lay a definite undercurrent of concern. A YouGov poll published today showed that support for independence has increased by eight points in the last month, reducing the No lead to just six points. The results were immediately hailed as a “breakthrough” by Yes campaigners.
Mr Murphy’s attempts to brush off the suggestion that momentum was now with supporters of independence did not sound convincing. “I am confident we can win. Polls come and go. We’ve got a long way to go, there are a lot of arguments still to be had,” he said. “The No campaign is in the lead and if you ask me which campaign I’d rather be with… then I’d rather be with the leading campaign.”
Among the crowd of nervous No voters was office worker Alison Walker. “I’m worried about the whole thing, to be quite honest. The unfortunate thing is that there’s a lot of people who still haven’t made up their minds, and that’s going to sway it one way or another. It’s very difficult to predict at this stage.”
She was also critical of Better Together’s tactics, saying it had focused heavily on “glamorous campaigns” rather than appealing directly to voters like Mr Murphy. “He’s the only one who’s had the bottle and the guts to come out and do it, and that’s unfortunate,” she said.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, said the poll results were “very encouraging”, adding: “I have always thought we would win.”
But Downing Street insisted that there would be no change in tactics from the Government. “We have always said from the outset that there is never room for complacency, but of course the only poll that counts is the referendum itself,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
Another thing worrying No voters is the idea that their voices has been drowned out of the debate by the more vocal, aggressive Yes side. David Lilburn, 32, a doctor and medical researcher, said he knew people who had registered for postal ballots because they were worried about potential hostility outside polling stations.
“I do feel that the Yes campaign has been quite in your face at times,” he said. “I’ve got quite a few friends who are Yes voters who’ve labelled me as a ‘shitebag’ because I don’t want to vote for independence. It does make me hesitant to even put a post on Facebook, which is a real shame.”