Politicians always manage to take some crumbs of comfort from opinion polls but, if you are Alistair Darling, it would be difficult to find anything positive in the dramatic new poll published by Scotland on Sunday this morning.
According to the poll, by ICM, the No camp’s lead has shrunk to either three or four percentage points – depending on whether the ‘don’t knows’ are counted. Ladbrokes has responded by cutting its odds on Scottish independence to 9/4, the shortest in its history.
The overall ICM/SoS figures are No 42 per cent (down four points on last month), Yes 39 per cent (unchanged on last month) and ‘don’t knows’ 19 per cent, up four on last month.
If the ‘don’t knows’ are discounted, the figures are Yes 48 per cent and No 52 per cent.
Either way, it is now hard to deny that the ‘No’ camp has lost the seemingly impregnable lead it held at the end of last year.
Mr Darling and his allies in Better Together have to wake up to the fact that they have managed to blow a 20-point lead in a few months and the gap between the two sides looks like it is now within the margin of error for polling companies.
Not only does the Yes camp have the momentum, it has the foot soldiers on the ground in numbers the No camp can only dream about.
Every independence-supporting activist is out knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, staffing high street stalls and persuading wavering voters to come along to public meetings and they are doing this in all weathers.
Because it is hard – indeed almost impossible – to motivate activists to go out and campaign for the status quo, the No camp has nothing like this sort of ground campaign.
Here is just one little example of the gulf between the campaigns at a local level.
A senior unionist politician is due to hold a public meeting in rural Scotland later this week and a few hardy No supporters have had to send out urgent messages to friends and colleagues to get them to turn up.
That is because they are worried that, unless they can get some No supporters along, the meeting will be overrun by Yes supporters who will do their best to intimidate and overwhelm that unionist politician and turn what should be a pro-No meeting into a disaster.
It was always assumed that the No camp represented the silent majority in Scotland.
This may well be the case but the trouble with a silent majority is that they don’t get out and campaign.
At the moment they still seem to have a majority but the vocal minority of Yes supporters are closing the gap by persuading more and more of the undecided to back their cause.
There either comes a point when the silent majority stops being silent and starts to speak out and campaign, or it will stop being a majority at all.
PS From Fraser Nelson. All this before Gordon Brown’s planned intervention – he is expected to weigh in next week, lending his own good luck charm. Remember, the history of most referenda show the ‘no’ side gaining ground in the campaign. Only one broke this trend: Quebec’s referendum. That one ended up 49.8% ‘no’. The future of Britain could be decided on a margin just as tight.
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