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Referendum Spin: Beware the Tory Bogeymen!

21 March 2013

6:50 PM

21 March 2013

6:50 PM

So we have our date with destiny. Scotland will march to the polls nine days after the 501st anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. September, 18th 2014. There are fewer than 600 days to go.

And already the spin is starting. Stephen Noon, that smart nationalist strategist, is first out the blocks with a post asking who would stand to benefit from a No vote? His answer should not surprise you. Noon thinks David Cameron’s own re-election campaign will be boosted if Scotland says no to independence:

Labour and Tories may share a platform and campaign together before the vote, but as soon as the votes are counted there would be only one person in the No victory spotlight. Peer into that future and what do you see? It’s David Cameron, UK PM, alone on the winner’s podium. Ed Miliband and Johann Lamont, thank you, your job is done.

I bet the Tories are rubbing their hands in anticipation at the fillip a Scottish No would give them as they enter their pre-election Conference. They would hail the PM as the man who saved their ‘nation’. Success breeds success. And no one does flag waving better than the Tories. If you thought John Major was saved by his soapbox campaign to save the Union in 1992, well you ain’t seen nothing yet.

And so today, while Scottish Labour loyalists congratulate themselves in advance of any victory, the rest of us can see the bigger picture. They will have spent 18 months as the foot soldiers of the No campaign, and every door they knock for No, every leaflet they deliver will help, in the event of a No victory, to deliver David Cameron the keys to Downing Street for a second term. You might call it ironic. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen.

This is cute. Wrong but very cute. Interesting use of quotation marks around ‘nation’ too. It vastly overstates the interest English folk have in this referendum. Do we really think Cameron’s attempts to hold Tory marginals in 2015 will be greatly assisted by victory in Scotland eight months previously? Will this make the difference in those Lib Dem-Tory battles in the south-west of England? Could this be the tipping point the Tories need to help them in London?

Come off it. Sure, Cameron will bask in the sunshine of Unionist victory. But it won’t really help him win the next general election.

So what is Noon really doing here? Well, he’s reminding us of a core part of the SNP strategy. The nationalists will spend the next 18 months arguing that a No vote is a vote for maintaining “Tory rule” in Scotland. Cameron will be portrayed as Margaret Thatcher’s bastard offspring, all the better to scare Scottish voters into voting Yes.

This may be a grubby approach but it is not necessarily a stupid one. I think there are grounds for thinking that the Yes campaign, paradoxically, needs the Tories to be polling well in England. The more likely a returned Tory government in London seems the more Scots will be persuaded to vote Yes. It is a wager on anti-Toryism being stronger than doubts about Scottish independence.

So, viewed dispassionately, it is in the SNP’s interests (at least this is their view) to exaggerate the probability that the Conservatives will win the next British election. Vote Yes or the Tory Bogeymen will get you!

Conversely, if a majority of Labour-supporting Scots are persuaded that Labour will win the next British election it seems probable that a good number of them will answer the question of how Scotland will avoid the alleged horrors of Conservatism with a pretty simple answer: elect a Labour government.

Which is why the SNP are anxious to persuade Scotland that David Cameron will still be Prime Minister in 2016.

Of course, Labour tried this in 2011 too. There campaign then was reduced to the slogan Now the Tories are back….vote Labour to protect Scotland. Biter bit and all that.

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