Scotch broth becomes more savoury as Yes campaign grows

The power of positivity is its most potent weapon. Alex Salmond paints a picture of a bright future

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In that doom-laden way he does best, Vince Cable warned on Friday that the loud calls from Ukip and Eurosceptic Conservatives to leave the EU was helping the case for Scottish independence. "How on earth do you expect to persuade the Scots to ignore the siren voices of nationalism and separatism when you indulge in British nationalism and Euro-separatism?" said the Business Secretary.

On this point, I think he is right. But there is something else: he is also suggesting that the Yes campaign can win. On this, I think he is also right. I find it amazing that so many in Westminster believe the outcome of the 18 September referendum is a foregone conclusion – that the polls will stay as they are, with victory for the union and an end to the nationalist dream of Alex Salmond. Not only is this belief complacent, but it also misunderstands the psychology of the referendum battle. I am not saying the Yes campaign definitely will win, but I am saying it can. It is not just me who thinks this; Lynton Crosby is said to have warned David Cameron the same. And here is why:

1 The unity paradox. Despite its name, the Better Together campaign seems disparate. This is, perhaps, an inevitable consequence of having Westminster's three main political parties fighting on the same side. But there are differences even inside those parties: the ongoing rift between Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling remains so serious they cannot join battle together. Darling is head of the cross-party Better Together, yet when Brown campaigns in earnest for a No vote this week, he will do it under the flag of United with Labour. This side has many names – Better Together, the No campaign, United with Labour, and so on. It seems fractured. If voters do not support political parties that are split, then it follows they won't back disunited causes either. By contrast, those fighting for Scottish independence are united under a single, simple word and message: Yes.

2 The power of a figurehead. Last week, in a New Statesman lecture, Salmond gave an evocative speech setting out the two futures that lie before four million Scots (more later on the content). There are other figures in the Yes campaign, but truly it lives and dies with Salmond. In many ways, he is like Nigel Farage – a singular, charismatic figure on whose shoulders a controversial project rests. For both men, they are passionately and single-mindedly in pursuit of a goal, which carries appeal to some voters, no matter how much it irks Westminster politicians. It is their life's work. In their opponents, they have several men (and it is mainly men) juggling with a lot of different issues at once – Cameron, George Osborne, Brown, Darling – and with that comes diffusion of responsibility … a sort of too many cooks spoil the Scotch broth.

3 The sleeping giant of unregistered voters. It is estimated that there are as many as one million resident Scots who are either not registered or who do not vote. Many of these individuals are working class, a group which is demographically more likely to vote Yes. Not surprisingly, independence campaigners are fighting to get them on the electoral roll – and have until the last minute to do so. The message is powerful – turn your own democratic deficit into a democratic dividend overnight, and have a direct influence over the future of your country.

4 "Northern lights" vs the "dark star". In his speech last week, Salmond spoke of the "dark star" of London that was sucking the life out of the rest of the country. An independent Scotland, together with the north of England, could be the "northern lights" to balance the entire UK. This argument is attractive because many in Scotland, and everywhere else outside London and the South-east, recognise how unbalanced our nation is. There are stark figures showing how much money is spent on London compared with the north of England – particularly on such things as transport and other infrastructure – while Scotland can't control its own tax and spending.

5 The SNP as a formidable electoral machine. The polls for the referendum are, on average and excluding don't knows, about 60 per cent against independence vs 40 per cent in favour. Four months before the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP was 15 points behind Labour in the polls. On polling day, it won by a landslide. Why would anyone underestimate such a machine? What's more, Salmond does not have the support, yet, of any in the media, but in a way he doesn't need to: he and his team are holding town hall meetings across the country to put their case at grass-roots level.

6 The power of positivity. Ultimately, this is the Yes campaign's most potent weapon. It is easy to get bogged down in the (albeit serious) debate about what happens to Scotland's currency, or whether whatever article of whatever EU treaty applies. And, indeed, the Better Together campaign has. From Cable, Cameron, Osborne, Brown and others, it has been about all the negative things that will happen to Scotland under independence – you'll lose your pensions, the BBC, your notes and coins. Warnings, fear and scare stories are not vote-winners.

From Salmond, a picture is painted of a bright and prosperous future. For women, particularly, is the offer of universal childcare from age one. A fairer, more equal society. More money in your pocket. Salmond's opponents would dispute how this Scandi-idyllic future will be paid for, but it does make Scottish independence sound seductive. As the (Dundee-born) writer Danny Wallace discovered for his book on an entirely different subject, Yes Man, saying Yes to things leads to life-affirming changes. After all, if everyone in favour of independence persuaded just one other person to vote Yes, the referendum is won. Arguing for no change is not persuasive. As political slogans go, "What do we want? The status quo. When do we want it? Well, we'd rather you weren't asking us the question in the first place" doesn't have quite the same ring. Better Together needs to get more positive, and become Brighter Together.

As I have said before, I don't want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. Our family gravestone lies above the River Tay in Aberfeldy, and to me this is a part of my country as much as Liverpool where I was born and London where I live. But, in the end, it is in the hands of Scottish voters. This is, as Salmond says, Scotland's Hour.

Hollywood in the House

There will be some traditionalist MPs and peers who are horrified at the news that, for the first time, the Houses of Parliament will be used to film scenes from a Hollywood movie. Cameras will be allowed in for Suffragette starring Meryl Streep. To me it makes complete sense: the chambers are empty most of the time, and four years into this Parliament, when first-term governments normally go to the polls, the coalition has run out of things to do. Perhaps it should let the cameras in every week – a spin-off of EastEnders, maybe?

twitter.com/@janemerrick23

Comments