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Can Alex Salmond regain his lost momentum after Britain’s summer of fun?

31 August 2012

5:57 PM

31 August 2012

5:57 PM

Alex Salmond has gone rather quiet this summer. Before Britain’s season of fun, the SNP leader appeared unstoppable in his quest for Scottish independence, but the Diamond Jubilee and Olympics have halted Salmond’s momentum. The Mayor of London crystallised this feeling yesterday during one of his #askboris sessions on Twitter:

‘The Scots are never going to vote for independence…these games have done for Salmond…vote Hoy’

The SNP retaliated today, with Kenneth Gibson MSP lambasting one ‘Boris Johnston’:

Commenting on Boris Johnston’s claims that the Olympics will have an
effect on how Scotland votes at the referendum for independence, SNP
MSP Kenneth Gibson, said:

“The more Boris speaks out against independence, the better it will be
for the Yes campaign. And the more the anti-independence campaign is
seen to be led by the Tories, the more support for an independent
Scotland will grow.

“This cack-handed attempt by Boris to politicise the Games is a
serious error of judgement – the anti-independence campaign is
grasping at straws, and people will react against it.

“With the gap between support for an independent Scotland and the
Union now down to needing a swing of just 4.5 per cent, we are very
confident indeed of achieving a Yes vote for independence in autumn

Having heard a lot from ‘Johnston’ this summer, does the electorate agree with Gibson? Jonathan reported at the beginning of this month — right in the middle of the Olympics — that just 30 per cent now support Scottish independence, as opposed to over half who are apparent Unionists. This is down nine points from where Salmond was in October 2011, showing just how far they have come.

As well as turning the tide of public opinion, the summer festivities appear to distorted the SNP’s purpose, as Alex Massie examined in the Scotsman. An example was Salmond’s promise to create a new public service broadcaster, to replace the Beeb, if they win the independence referendum. Harriet Harman quickly shot down the plans as ‘unrealistic’, thanks to Scotland’s measly £340 million broadcasting budget. The row then descended into Salmond promising not to axe Eastenders.

Reports suggest Westminster and Holyrood are now close to agreeing terms for a referendum, with the SNP likely to win a 2014 vote, in return for the making it a yes-or-no question. Agreeing to a third “devo max” option almost makes the referendum a foregone conclusion. The government’s strategy will be to sweeten the referendum by saying that, if Scots vote ‘no’ then Holyrood can have more power as a reward. This will probably mean power over a greater proportion of taxes raised in Scotland. So after taking “devo max” off the ballot paper, Cameron would end up offering his own form of “devo max” anyway.

As Iain Martin argued in a recent cover story, sporting events do impact the independence debate because it’s all national loyalty and identity, about which side you cheer. They SNP seem to fear the idea of the independence referendum being seen as a question of identity. Even the SNP’s Pete Wishart seems to have had a Damascene conversion, suddenly declaring that he does feel British after all. The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will not have the same impact as the Olympics, but they will involve more Saltires than Union Flags. Even Boris would not write Salmond off yet. It’s been a bad summer for him but with a long way to go before independence (voting)  day, the SNP have every chance to bounce back from their summer slump.

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