Scottish Independence: Salmond has momentum – we may have a new PM

How could David Cameron look Her Majesty in the eye if he's just lost Scotland?


Momentum - "The Big Mo", as American pollsters call it - is the biggest single factor going into an election, and it looks as if those campaigning for a "Yes" vote in the Scottish independence referendum have the wind in their sails. For much of the campaign, the "No" vote has held a healthy lead, but the gap between the two sides has narrowed over recent weeks and the latest YouGov poll showed that, with less than two weeks to go before polling day, support for independence is now at 47 per cent, only 6 per cent behind the "No" vote.

Given that Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, has something of a record in turning defeat into victory - he came from a long way behind to win power in the Scottish elections - there is little surprise that this turn of events is causing some serious concern in Westminster and beyond.

I was speaking to a very eminent Scottish businessman the other day, someone whose heart is behind independence but whose head is less enthusiastic, and he posited a startling thought that I hadn't considered previously. "Of course, if Scotland votes yes," he said, "David Cameron will have to resign". It seemed like a dramatic proposition, but it was the fact that he saw this as a perfectly logical consequence which struck me most. "As the man who presided over the break-up of the United Kingdom, how could his position be tenable?" he added.

While we are accustomed to Cabinet members because of all sorts of scandal and dishonour, we only occasionally get one falling on his or her sword on a point of principle. But when you think about it, it's obvious. How could David Cameron look Her Majesty in the eye if he's just lost Scotland for her? This hasn't really been part of the debate while the "No" vote had a seemingly insuperable lead, but current events look like forcing it on the agenda.

Read more:
The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive
Scottish referendum: RMT declares itself in favour of independence  

So what has caused Big Alex to get the Big Mo? It's difficult to imagine that the head-to-head debates with Alistair Darling had moved the needle much (the two-match series ending as a score-draw), but Mr Salmond (who I've had the fortune of seeing perform at close quarters recently) is an extremely wily operator, who has a very easy way with people (think Boris Johnson without the Latin) and is adept at connecting with all kinds of audiences, from Edinburgh bankers to Glaswegian bus drivers.

He also has a good sense of humour. I was at a lunch recently in the City of London at which Mr Salmond was addressing a group of serious figures from the financial world. After the lunch, at which he confidently batted back all the doom-laden assertions about independence, he gave everyone a copy of his 649-page prospectus for independence, called "Scotland's Future". I asked him if could sign it for a friend of mine, who is one of the leading lights of the "Let's Stay Together" campaign. I thought it would be ironic. Quick as a flash, Mr Salmond got his pen out. "Thanks for all your help," he wrote. If the momentum keeps going his way, he may yet have the last laugh.   

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