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Coffee House

Today’s poll shows Alex Salmond running out of time

13 July 2014

11:07 AM

13 July 2014

11:07 AM

There really isn’t much time left. From today, there are just nine and a half weeks until we go to the polls in the independence referendum.

Also today, we have the latest ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday. The main figures are: Yes 34 per cent (down two points), No 45 per cent (up two) and don’t know 21 per cent (unchanged).

If the don’t knows are excluded, the figures are Yes 43 per cent (down two), No 57 per cent (up two).

Suddenly, that nine-and-a-half week window looks pretty small for the Yes camp.

It means that Alex Salmond and his colleagues have just 66 days to overturn what has become a stubbornly immoveable lead for Better Together.

And there are two important points that stem from today’s poll that will make them a little more anxious than ever.

First, the ICM poll marks yet another week when Yes Scotland has failed to make any significant headway.

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But secondly, and most importantly, this poll represents the continuation of the most salient fact of all in this referendum campaign – the Yes side has never, ever held a poll lead of any sort in this contest.

It is one of those immutable pieces of political logic that if the nationalists are going to win, at some point they are going to have to establish a lead over their unionist rivals.

And the longer we go on without that happening, the less likely it is that the Yes camp will ever edge into the lead.

Yes Scotland strategists talk a very good game about their plans to build up to 18 September. They insist they don’t want to peak too early, they are desperate to maximise the Yes vote exactly at the right point – on polling day.

That may be true; but if Yes Scotland never establishes a lead at all, ever in the entire campaign, it makes it very unlikely that it will just creep ahead on the crucial day itself.

But there is another problem for the nationalists too at the moment.

This campaign has been going on for so long that there is evidence of a lull. This is not a burn out as such, but more of a temporary switching off by the electorate.

It is undoubtedly true that the Scottish electorate has been engaged in this campaign like no other one, ever.

It is also certain that we shall see something akin to a record turnout, with most observers expecting something around 80 per cent, or even more.

But it is also clear that, just for a few weeks over the summer, many Scots just want to take a break from the campaigning.

The World Cup has helped take minds away from the referendum. The Edinburgh Festival will do the same, as will the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

There are also family holidays to think about, barbeques, sunshine and everything else.

What this means for the campaign groups is that we are unlikely to see much of a shift in the polls over the course of the summer.

The No side may consolidate its lead a bit, as we see in the Scotland on Sunday poll today, but there is unlikely to be a major shift in favour of Yes – even though this is what Yes Scotland so desperately needs if it is to stand any chance of winning.

So what is likely to happen is that Scotland will re-engage with the referendum debate in mid-August, when the schools go back.

And, when this happens, the polls will probably be pretty much where they are now (55-45 or so).

But the difference then will be that, by that point, there will be just four and a half weeks left until polling day.

And, if Yes Scotland enters that final month trailing by 10 to 15 points, as seems likely, then it really will look like too big a mountain to climb in what will then be a very short time indeed.

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