It is not surprising that the polls on Scottish independence are tightening…

26 March 2014

11:53 AM

26 March 2014

11:53 AM

There are some pollsters who believe nothing has changed since 2011. All the storm and blast, bluff and bluster about Scottish independence has had no impact at all. The settled will of the Scottish people remains settles: more power for Edinburgh but no to independence. Oddly YouGov’s Peter Kellner is one of these pollsters.

Oddly because, as the chart above shows, his own polling organisation’s reports show that the race is, as long expected, tightening. There is a small but definite drift to Yes. True, at its present rate it will not be enough to prevail come September. But it is quite possible that the drift towards a Yes vote will become stronger, not weaker, as the referendum day approaches.

You would expect it to say so. The Yes campaign enjoys many advantages, after all. It is united. It knows what it wishes to achieve. It can sell a vision for the future. It asks Scots to believe in themselves and most people would, all things being equal, quite like to believe in themselves.

Of course you can take another view: the Yes campaign can and will say anything to win your vote. Facts are for other people and unwelcome reality must not be allowed to penetrate the Yes cocoon. There is a Tartan Money Tree and a Magic Porridge Bowl.

Be that as it may, you can see why some folk in Downing Street are worried. Whatever its faults – and they are legion – the Yes campaign has an easier task projecting an idea of Scotland in 15 years time than does the No side. Unionist hymns to Britannia and identity are all very well and good but they do tend, perhaps unavoidably, to focus on the past rather more than the future. What have you done for me lately, pal?


The SNP’s long, slow rise – remember the party didn’t win an election until 2007 – has changed the nature of the Union. This is so even if Scotland – as still seems probable – votes No in September. It is no longer something to be taken for granted, no longer a constitutional reality beyond question. It is a transactional Union whose legitimacy will rest upon what it does not, as was long the case, upon its simple existence.  Again, what have you done for me lately?

This will, understandably, depress some people. But there you go. Too bad.

Again, a No vote remains the more probable outcome but the value bet may now lie with lumping on Yes.

And why not? Our old friend, the Overton Window is in play. This is a long, long, long campaign and the longer it lasts so the more ordinary and acceptable a Yes vote becomes. It ceases to be something of which to be terrified even if it might actually produce something terrifying. Call it the normalisation of independence. Do not ask why Scotland should be an independent country; ask why it should not. Once framed in that fashion the road to Yes is open.

From a practical, hard-nosed perspective you might think the No campaign has the easier task. What could be simpler than raising all the practical and procedural problems arising from independence? True enough.

But if you were one of the international set of freelance political consultants – guns for hire, if you like – which campaign would you rather work for? Which has the more persuasive sales pitch? I think Yes is the probable answer to that.

Politics is, in the end, about three things: tribalism, money and stories. The Yes side have a clear advantage in stories, a possible slight advantage in tribalism (that is, identity) and only trail on the money issue. If they can scrap a draw on the money front they may yet prevail in September.

Natural caution – Scotland being a conservative country, remember – may still be the Unionists’ not-so secret weapon and a No vote, as I say, remains the more probable outcome but as we have been saying for many months now the tide, albeit a gentle one, is with Yes Scotland.


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Show comments
  • dreve drever

    I really worry about Scotland. We are like an abused partner. Any confidence, pride and self-belief we once had has been beaten out of us by successive Tory governments. We are a socialist nation but the English media we are forced to consume is perverting/warping our collective consciousness. We will no doubt turn down this opportunity to have a voice we can be proud of through nothing more than fear.
    Democracy is the reason Scots should, and many do, want to vote YES. Some of the reasons include :

    Having a fairer welfare system.
    Building homes.
    Being free of nuclear weapons.
    Not inventing reasons to invade foreign countries at will.

    Having nothing to do with the royal family (we can dream)
    Making people with different skin colour feel welcome in our country (which we are clearly, currently much better at than England)

    Do it. Do it. Do it. Do. It.

    Do it.

  • will08smith

    The “Wha’s Like Us” campaign is as compelling as a souvenir tea towel. But the last I saw those towels were selling very well indeed.

  • john potts

    Cut to the chase:- For 307 years Scotland has been told what to do.
    No more No more !

  • Gwangi

    It seems to me that what Scotland wants to be is ‘pretend independent’ – what with its toy money with local pictures (not legal tender, even in Scotland, and never has been), and all the bluff about an independent legal system and school system (one staffed by nationalistic teachers who brainwash the neds with a braveheart version of history – anti-English and utterly fake).
    In that, Scotland reminds me of me when I was about 11-13 years old – acting tough, like kids do now with their silly gangsta rap poses, yet all the time still a boy, (let’s call me Scott) looked after, fed, clothed and paid for by my parent (called Mr England).
    No doubt the dissolute benefit-gobbling Tory-despising anti-English-racist lower classes in Scotland will vote YES, but no-one with any grasp of grown-up politics and economics would. So the educated middle classes will save Scotland from the myre.

    • flippit

      Scotland as a difficult teenager? Salmond and Sturgeon are Kevin and Perry? Yes, I see that. Yet its infuriating but we want the yes vote to win now, just so the teenager grows up and knows what it’s like in the real world.

    • ChuckieStane

      “Reminds me”? Are you sure you are not still 11-13 years old?

  • LarrySc

    I don’t know all of the economic and financial issues surrounding Scottish independence, but for a long time I have sensed the emotional issues surrounding the issue. The Act of Union was a sort of economic shotgun marriage, given the English had pretty much sacked (literally destroyed, that is) any political opposition amongst the Scots, and established economic hegemony to boot, for about five centuries previous to 1707. Sort of a colonialism by stealth, perhaps.

    It is this history, the myth, and the fierce independent spirit of most Scotsmen and women over the years, that feeds the present controversy more than anything else.

    Frankly, it appears to me to be madness for the Scots to now have their own independent country, because of the nature of the modern world economy. The Scottish have tourism, single-malt whiskey, some wool, and increasingly diminishing supply of North Sea oil – and what else? Everything else depends much upon the rest of Britain for its viability. Not even the EU is enthusiastic about the possibilities of Scottish independence, and it is not a given that Scotland will obtain EU membership automatically. But emotional, national, historical feelings can have a strong sway.

    • terregles2

      What resource does the remainder of the UK have that Scotland does not.?
      What resources does England have?
      Scotland has Whisky,textiles,hydro power, electronics, minerals,renewables, oil, fisheries, forestry, food exports,gas,tourism, paper,construction, agriculture etc. Why do you think Westminster governments are trying to keep hold of Scotland.? Have you read the McCrone report or the GERS figures.?
      The wish for independence however is nothing to do with economics or emotions. Almost every country in the world is independent and Scotland wishes to be the same.,We no longer wish to be the dumping ground for Trident and nuclear waste. We do not want our taxes spent on HS2 or renewing Trident and we no longer wish to support the incompetent Westminster and the anachronistic House of Lords.

    • John

      Larry. With all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about (as your disclaimer at the start of your post would suggest). Have a quick read at the following article

      and then browse through the rest of the Business for Scotland Website.

      This debate is about social justice, not only for our sake but also for the working class of the rest of the UK.

  • terence patrick hewett

    I am afraid that I regard the positions of all the partisans in this issue to be rather, well, partisan: I think that the situation is far more complex. There are different undercurrents in all the four nations arising from history. The forces of mutual security and burgeoning empirical wealth that forged the Union are no longer there and they look askance at the most powerful of the nations, that is England and see a lot that they do not like. They see an intellectually sclerotic Westminster political class who would boil their grandmothers down for soap; completely in hock to either corporate interests or the wet dreams of the radical left: the demos is a long way down the pecking order of interests. Although I am at heart a Unionist, I have much sympathy for Scottish Nationalism and if the English political parties and the British political system cannot reform itself or we cannot force them to reform then the Union will not deserve to survive: and that means profound reform: root, branch and tree not just a paint job.

  • Nishi Hundan

    I wish the Scottish people would give the finger to the British and tell them the Queen can suck it!

  • CraigStrachan

    I’m still going with a big 61/39 NAW on the night.

  • scotcanadien

    “True, at its present rate it will not be enough to prevail come

    That is the comfort blanket for you and the rest of the Muppets who support a NO vote. What short memories. At the 2011 Holyrood election the SNP were so far behind two weeks before the vote that Labour were already celebrating. This changed in TWO WEEKS to a resounding OVERALL majority on the day. YES is in a far stronger position now than then. And it has still to release its REAL campaign.

    The NO people thought they would have a nice run in with its sneer, fear, smear negative campaign and the BIG ideas of “No Currency Union”, Scotland “no go in Europe”. Unfortunately for BnpT Scots are totally unimpressed with those views: they don’t believe them and voting intentions are completely unnaffected. And the ridiculous ideas have been totally dissected and discredited by ALL informed commentators.

    C’mon NO up your game FFS. Although some would welcome a walkover I’d miss the fun in the meantime.

  • andagain

    Unionist hymns to Britannia and identity are all very well and good but
    they do tend, perhaps unavoidably, to focus on the past rather more than
    the future.

    It is not obvious to me that British nationalism is more naturally focussed on the past than Scottish nationalism. Where does a Scottish nationalism come from, ifnot the past?

    It seems to me that the SNPs real advantage is that Scotland has been around for longer than the United Kingdom.

  • Frank

    Right, a classic Dave cock-up. We had an excellent chance to get shot of all the labour MPs put into Westminster by Scotland and Dave bogs it.
    What is wrong with Scotland? You have been moaning for decades about your right and need to be independent, and now you appear to be about to vote to stay in Mummy’s petticoats.

    • Michael Rossi

      You’re still lift with lots of Labour MPs even without those representing Scottish constituencies

  • Jupiter

    The no campaign will win easily, Massie is talking rubbish as usual

  • asalord

    Yes campaign – positive.
    No campaign – negative.
    Project Fear has backfired on the British nationalists; they have no alternative strategy; that’s why they’re panicking.

    • HJ777

      Yes campaign – won’t admit to any negatives.

      It’s interesting that the “Yes” campaign is putting up posters appealing to people’s wallets, yet won’t admit to, of produce any estimate for, any transition costs of secession (which would depress Scottish GDP for many years, according to independent analysis).

      If they have nothing to hide, why won’t they produce their own estimate so Scots can examine how realistic it is?

      • scotcanadien

        “transition costs of secession”

        In the big wide world those costs would be peanuts. Go and read the recent FT Reports on the Scottish Economy. You will be astonished to find it claims Scotland will be 4th wealthiest nation in Europe after Independence.

        • HJ777

          If they are peanuts, why does the SNP produce no estimate that can be examined by the public? Let’s see if this “peanuts” really is peanuts.

          This suggests otherwise:

          Of course you can afford to be blase about them as you don’t live anywhere near either Scotland or the UK so you won’t be paying the costs.

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          So why does this country of almost unimaginable Midas like prosperity want to join a currency union with the UK? Indeed, Salmond is threatening to renege on the exUK’s share of the national debt if he cannot have a currency union. Why is that?

          • scotcanadien

            Tactics dear boy, tactics. AS has been running rings round the dopes at WM since 2011 and he will continue to do so.

            • Nicholas chuzzlewit

              Tactics to what underlying purpose and objective? Why would a country of, supposedly, such enviable prosperity want to restrict itself in a currency union with the UK? Why not launch its own currency from the start supported by the economic miracle of which the SNP is so proud? Why would Osborne et al emphatically refuse to enter a currency union only to risk humiliating themselves, so say, in the event of a yes vote? Answers dear boy not obfuscatory nonsense such as “Tactics”.

    • flippit

      No-one’s panicking. Accepting is more accurate description.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Where did all the Scottish Tory votes go to? they haven’t all died. They went to the SNP: and for the same reason many of their votes in England have gone to UKIP: that they are sick and tired of the “neck deep Westminster sewer.”

    • Pootles

      Yup! In the 1990s I lived in what was then the Perth & Kinross constituency, represented in Westminster by that fine old, tartan suited, unashamedly adulterous, castle-dwelling Tory, Nicholas Fairbairn – a Scots Tory if ever there was one, and just the ticket for the sort of Scottish constituency that had a rough similarity to the social and economic makeup of, say, the rural parts of North Yorkshire. Fairbairn died, and went to heaven, and … his place was taken by a rabidly republican SNP woman, who is still there.

      • Cymrugel

        That would be wee nicky who was so keen on reintroducing corporal punishment at schools that he became known as “Mr Whippy” at Westminster; the one who’s loveably rascally lifestyle ended with the suicide of a spurned girlfriend.
        Ah, what larks eh?

        • Pootles

          Aye, the same! 100% tartan-besuited (to his own design). I’m not sure his mistress killed herself though – wasn’t it a case of knickers left hanging from a lampost or something? At least, on the sexual morality front, he wasn’t a hypocrite – I remember an article by him in The Scotsman explaining the inevitability and necessity of adultery. He died of the grog I believe.

          • Cymrugel

            No. Sadly it was the whole woman not just her underwear

            • Pootles

              Sometimes it only makes sense if we see humankind through a Calvinist lense – that we are fallen and begotten in iniquity. Either that, or retire to the potting shed.

              • terence patrick hewett

                That is also the Catholic viewpoint: that humanity is a flawed vessel and we just have to do the best we can.

    • Jupiter

      A lot of the Scots Tory vote has died, and most of the rest of it has moved to England or emigrated. You don’t get many Labour or SNP voting chavs moving to England.

      • Cymrugel

        Goodness me.
        What a mean minded and snobbish little comment – even for a Spectator reader

        • Jupiter

          There’s nothing mean minded and snobbish about the truth.

  • Wessex Man

    Another long flowery article from dear old Alex that basically says nothing new, the whole episode is getting a bit boring now. I don’t wish my life away at my age, so I’m not going to say roll on the referendum.

    He is right about one thing though concerning the Yes Campaign “Facts are for other people and unwelcome reality must not be allowed to penetrate the Yes Cocoon.”

  • flippit

    Agree that even if no wins it won’t be settled. The devolution package will go on being bartered and the fact that nationalism can win over closer to a half than a third of Scots means the drive for independence will continue on.
    For us in England the best outcome now is that yes wins and we accept and move on from the union as a thing of the past. Most of us never thought about it much anyway. Not many of us are sentimental about it. It’s time is over. We have a burgeoning population down here, the future looks bright (er). It’ll be good not to have Scots moaning at us. it will be as it is with Ireland, that’s fine with me.

    • HJ777

      But most Scots donl’ moan – a vocal few make a lot of noise, that’s all.

      • flippit

        Apologies HJ777 if you’re a Scot. Those Scotsnats are such a pain, can’t help but feel will be glad to get shot of them.

        • HJ777

          I am part Scottish and I agree that the ScotNat fanatics are a pain – but most Scots don’t deserve them either.

        • terregles2

          There are five different political parties campaigning in Scotland for a Yes vote. It is a cross party issue. I think it is a shame that you need to make nasty remarks about Scottish people just because an increasing number wish to have self government.
          Many English people living in Scotland are campaigning for a YES vote. Most Scots have only goodwill towards England and English people. Many of us have friends and family in England. YES is a vote against Westminster government not against English people and most Scots will continue to wish England well after independence.

      • scotcanadien

        You can’t say that about the English. The biggest shower of whiners the planet has ever had the misfortune to listen to.

        • HJ777

          I am Anglo-Welsh-Scots in almost equal proportion and I currently live in England and I don’t hear people whining.

          What I do hear is racist abuse from idiots like you that don’t live within a thousand miles of the UK.

          • scotcanadien

            When did it become racist to make an honest observation about some people?

            • HJ777

              It’s a particularly stupid accusation, not an honest observation.

              How can you possibly know that the English are the “The biggest shower of whiners the planet has ever had the misfortune to listen to”? What, all of them? More than anyone else based on what evidence?

              It’s pure prejudiced racism.

              The vast majority of the people in the UK get on just fine. Please keep you prejudices where they belong – in your small mind thousands of miles away.

        • will08smith

          Yeah, well at least they didn’t force all the Scots children into special schools/death camps and make them speak with an English accent like you Canadians did the native people, eh?

  • mightymark

    “…… the Yes campaign has an easier task projecting an idea of Scotland in 15 years time than does the No side. Unionist hymns to Britannia and identity are all very well and good but they do tend, perhaps unavoidably, to focus on the past…”

    That is because the “No” campaign (now joined, so I understand, by George Galloway) offers a range of alternatives precisely because it is not politically united other than on this issue.

    As usual the “Yes” campaign seeks to have it both ways. If you criticise the SNP or its leaders as a reason for not voting “Yes” supporters of “Yes” will say they are not necessarily SNP and Scotland will develop its onw democratic party alternatives. Fair enough and no doubt true except that that it is the SNP agenda and not that of other parties etc on which people are being asked to vote – and imagine the kudos that will attach to Salmond and the SNP if the vote is “Yes” – enough to keep them in power for a good long time I should think!

  • Martin Adamson

    And the other thing that works in favour of the Yes camp is that contemporary Scots are unquestionably less well-educated, less used to exercising personal responsibility, less used to the notion of delayed gratification, less used to planning for the future and far more egotistical and arrogant than their parents and grandparents

    • Cymrugel

      Oh right.
      So we’re thick as well.
      As someone else has said we’re being threatened with everything except erectile dysfunction – but that will be on the agenda before long.
      Is there no limit to the contempt the English have for us? Apparently we’re poor; lazy; dependent; incompetent; mean; profligate; aggressive; ill informed; racist; bigoted; arrogant; craven; and now stupid to boot.
      I can only stand in awe at the deep humanity and generosity that makes them yet wiling to allow us to share in their success as a great nation.

    • Peter Arnott

      By which you mean less cowed, submissive and obedient, presumably…

    • ChuckieStane

      I know you’re only trolling, but the evidence that support for the union is stronger among the young than their parents tends to suggest that not only are you trolling but also wrong.
      Your list of faults attributed to the younger generation are in fact the cornerstone of the UK’s supposed recovery: consumer spending, inflated house prices and massive debt. It is this very model of “success” that Scots want to move away from.

    • terregles2

      Just think what a bright future lies ahead of what will be left of Britain once you get rid the Scots.
      The English, Welsh and Northern Irish can build an even greater Great Britain. Moving forward, giants on the world stage with your well educated, responsible, sober, chav free, modest, talented, industrious, peace loving, successful, fair minded nation. I expect that as the new Great Britain without the inferior Scots you will be even more revered and respected throughout the world.
      Not much longer for you to wait now. The rest of the world holds its breath in anticipation.

    • Brian

      Actually the Scots have always had a record of being the most educated in Europe. We were the first literate country in Europe. We were the first to offer free education well before the Union. And we are still at the top of the league for being educated. And our FREE University Education today ensures that well continue in the future.

  • Scott Hindle

    Scotland is anything but a conservative country

    • Pootles

      How would you characterise Scotland then? If we look solely at the question in political terms, and assume that SNP supporters are the least conservative, then that would only give 23% of the electorate (going by the Holyrood 2011 election) as not being conservative.

    • terregles2

      Scottish Conservatives always had quite a significant share of the vote before Margaret Thatcher became PM. It was ever since then that the Scottish Conservative vote declined.

  • Cymrugel

    Given the advantage’s that the NO campaign has – it represents the status quo; independence is a big leap of faith to expect people to take; the whole British establishment, from the government to business and the media, wants a NO vote; it has all the money and the resources – the relentless progress of the YES campaign is astonishing.
    If the NO side are having such a struggle with these sort of inbuilt advantages they are either useless or their argument is pretty unconvincing.

    and I don’t think your attempt to portray the attitude of the public as basically “what’s in it for me ” is going to help.
    I have had several conversations about independence with people of all sorts of views and their personal economic welfare is not the top priority. You sell the people of Scotland well short if you think it is.
    In fact the NO campaigns relentless drive to frighten voters that they will be impoverished and isolated is probably why they are losing ground.
    Basically the YES campaign is positive and optimistic and the NO campaign has nothing positive to say at all.

    • HJ777

      Then why is the “Yes” campaign putting up big posters saying that Scots will be better off financially after secession?

      They know that their core vote is only about 25% of the total so they are trying to buy the rest by whatever means they can. That’s why they won’t admit to any transition costs of secession (which would be considerable and would depress Scottish GDP for years according to independent analysis) – they simply ignore the question when it is asked. They published a huge white paper full of spending promises with not one mention of these costs.

      • Cymrugel

        Come now!
        The white paper is a clear manifesto for how they aim to run the country and its obviously going to include financial issues. I didn’t say finance isn’t important; just that it won’t be a deciding factor for most people.
        It is beyond belief that many British commentators will simply not allow for any sense of national feeling from anyone but themselves; and if they see any it must be steeped in bigotry and narrow mindedness – and all this from people, who think the voluntary association of the EU is an intolerable affront.
        The YES campaign have been running an upbeat campaign arguing that independence would be best for Scotland in every way, nit just financially. They highlight the ways in which Scottish wealth has been squandered basically to prop up a serve serving oligarchy in London – and why should they not?

        • HJ777

          Come now, indeed.

          The White Paper is supposed to be a document proposing independence. Yet it totally fails to offer any analysis of the transition costs of secession.

          Why? What is the SNP afraid of? If it claims economic advantages then how is this credible if it doesn’t examine both costs and supposed benefits? How can it justify such a claim? Would any company accept a plan which looked only at upsides and not at cost?

          They are simply not going to get away with shouting “scaremongers” whenever perfectly legitimate questions are asked. You can fool some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time but not all (or even most) of the people all of the time.

          And it is not meant to be a manifesto because the vote is not on which party would be in power in a seceded Scotland – yet it manages to make all sorts of (uncosted) policy promises.

          Now, of course you can rant on about poor policies from London – but that does not demonstrate that things would be more efficiently or better run from Holyrood. The track record of the SNP government is hardly inspiring. And does it really, for example, make sense to have separate defence policies on an island?

        • Wilma Mcewan

          to think if in 79 our democratic votes had been recognised ,we could have been prospering ,much like Norway ,but as you say ,anything going south has been squandered ,and yet ppl want to stay this way ,it is beyond belief,I am proud to say I am Scottish not Brotish ,but as you say again ,this is immediately shouted down as bigotry ,I cannot see how or why but it is ,we can and should be able to say who we are ,without being shouted down ,this to me is far more important than the legalities ,the politics etc of the Independence bid

      • Wilma Mcewan

        think you are trying to persuade yourself ,here ,it is not about money ,though ,we shall have enough to prosper,it is about many things not least identity ,do not underestimate ppls need to say they belong to their country of birth or adoption , and democracy plays a lerge part ,whilst we are stil under WM rule our votes count for nothing ,unless the south votes the same way .I voted in 79 ,yes,was not recognised by a Labour clause ,that 40% must turn out ,even the dead were counted toward no ,this is not forgotten ,and never before or since has this happened ,I could go on ,there are many many things we have to say yes for.All the talk on monetary unions etc ,which y the way is nonsenseical as Aus ,shared the currency SIXTY YEARS after their independence without detriment ,this is about WM seeing the gravy train ,rushing away from the station ,we can win , we will ,if we do not god help us ,we will become a shire ,you can be sure of that,you and your ilk may then be happy

    • LarrySc

      Trust me, Cym, as someone experienced in the way American elections work, negative campaigns are often very successful in the USA. So I will not be surprised if the tactic works in the Scottish referendum.

      What I am surprised about in this set of polls is how little relative movement there seems to be in the camps at this point. The “yes” ranges mostly from 32 – 37% and appears to be holding steady at 37% at this point. The “nos” have been steadily at or around 52 – 55% for at least six months now. What reason is there to believe there will be much more change in that by September 14, 2014?

  • sunnydayrider

    What great news. Can the English dare to dream of come September, being able to run without a stone in thier shoe?

    • asalord

      Bitter together,better apart.

      • Wessex Man

        Yes indeedy, go for it!

      • HJ777

        It’s only a small minority like you who are bitter about anything.

        Most people have more constructive emotions.

  • Shinsei1967

    Clearly the Yes campaign is easier to work for as they don’t seem to concern themselves with anything as complicated as facts.