The campaign has paused, but the worries go on

Related Topics
It was certainly right for the Government, as a mark of respect to the Princess of Wales, to call a temporary halt to the Scottish referendum campaign. What is more it may make a difference: the referendum is only nine days away; and the last two weeks were always seen as crucial. Apathy, and a consequently low turnout, perhaps 50 per cent or even less, has always been what ministers feared most deeply. And so far a series of distractions, over which Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has inevitably had little control, have made it much more difficult for the Yes campaigners to inspire real excitement among Scottish voters about how a parliament might improve their quality of life.

First, the light thrown on the putrid state of politics in Paisley sharply reminded everyone that the west of Scotland, at least, has rather more that its fair share of Labour politicians who should not be let loose on a parish council, let alone a parliament. Secondly, quite a lot of awkward questions, for example about the detailed operation of the Scottish parliament's tax powers have been asked - which either cannot be or have not been answered because it is a pre-legislative referendum. Thirdly, the broken-backed state of the Tories in Scotland has created the uncomfortable oddity that the greatest asset of the opposing No campaign has been Tam Dalyell, the one Labour backbencher with the courage or bloody-mindedness to challenge the proposals in public.

But there is something more deeply problematic about the campaign - something which quite a few London ministers in UK-wide departments have started to worry about in private. And that is the appearance of Scottish National Party politicians with Labour on joint platforms run by the "Scotland Forward" pro-devolution campaign. This uneasy alliance was bought at a price: Donald Dewar has not exactly gone out of his way to emphasise the argument, which used to be the devolutionists' stock-in-trade, that one of the central purposes of the measure was to preserve the Union. Instead, he has quite mildly said that while Scotland has always had the option of breaking away, it has never shown any desire to do so; and that if it has the power to call a referendum on independence it would be still be up to Westminster whether to grant it. This was enough for Salmond gleefully to claim last month as he stepped aboard the Yes campaign that the Government had now accepted that "the issue of independence will be determined by the people of Scotland".

Salmond's gloss is not, of course, what the White Paper, so masterfully unveiled in Parliament last month by Dewar, says at all: it makes it clear that because the British constitution will be an issue reserved to the UK parliament; independence is a matter, in the last resort, for Westminster and not Edinburgh. The source of anxiety is that because Labour and the SNP are supposed to be fighting the same campaign this canard cannot be nailed without the appearance of serious disarray. Indeed, when Jim Stevens, a Strathclyde University academic who sits on the Scottish Labour executive, said earlier this month that the the presence of the SNP was about as useful to the campaign as "an ashtray on a motorcycle", the speed with which the Scottish Labour hierarchy distanced itself from his remarks was wonderful to behold.

The reasons for Labour to worry about this are two-fold. Tactics first. There is a danger that some unionist Scots may be deterred from voting "Yes" let alone "Yes, Yes" when they are assured by Alex Salmond, not to mention Sean Connery, that the parliament is a stepping stone to independence. After all Salmond is an astute politician. If he says that a Scottish parliament is likely to hasten independence and only the barmier elements of the SNP say it is a sell-out and a government trick to shore up the Union, sensible electors may be more inclined to believe Salmond.

That was not, however, the calculation made by the Scottish Office. On the contrary, ministers decided that to be certain not only of a good majority but a good turnout as well, active steps had to be taken to ensure the presence of leading nationalists in a joint campaign. They were unpersuaded by the counter-argument that SNP supporters would have backed the parliament anyway. And they were prepared to take the risk that it might switch some voters off the idea of a Scottish parliament. They therefore rejected the alternative strategy: to confine their own campaign to the parties - Liberal Democrats and Labour - that made up the cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention and leave the SNP (which walked out if it) to do its own thing.

Whether the Government was right about this should be reasonably easy to see once the votes are counted and analysed after Thursday week. Much less tangible is the effect, if any, on the long-term prospects for an independent Scotland. Maybe the pulling of Labour punches against the SNP will not make the slightest difference one way or the other. But whether it does or not, there has been something intellectually slightly disreputable about the cross-party campaign. Dalyell is incontestably right about the central problem of the temporary marriage of convenience between Labour and the SNP: they cannot both be right. It cannot be true both that the Scottish parliament is the way to preserve the Union and hasten Scottish independence. And the danger of glossing over that difference is that the electors are being told, in effect: "Vote Yes, we don't mind why." And that is a confusing, not to mention less than inspiring, message.

To many Scottish politicians this will sound like a cavil too far. The Government was right to reject calls from Dalyell yesterday for postponement of the referendum itself. To do so would require the recall of the Commons and the answers Dalyell wants are not going to come, however the long the delay. But if the Government's campaign is finally to take off in its - rightly - truncated final stages then it needs to demonstrate more fully that a new tax-raising parliament will bring tangible benefits to Scottish citizens. It needs to remember that the parliament has never meant as much to the public at large as it has to politicians - not to mention that the victory of 1 May removed one of the deepest grievances among the Scottish people - that they kept voting Labour and kept getting Tory governments. The impact of the brief truce is uncertain: it should be used to find ways of genuinely exciting interest in the new parliament; and not merely as an excuse for the low turnout that is the Government's worst fear.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Science teachers needed in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...

Semi Senior Accountant - Music

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

English teachers required in Lowestoft

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A homeless person sleeps in the streets  

This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

Max J Freeman
Strikes were carried out by manned air force and navy aircraft (File photo)  

Syria air strikes: President Assad now has the enemy he always wanted – Islamist terrorism

Kim Sengupta
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits