Ask any election strategist and they’ll tell you that momentum is everything.
For the past 18 months, the No campaign has had all the momentum in the referendum debate. The Yes camp were becalmed, the No side had everything going for it and (let’s be honest) there was more than a hint of complacency on the unionist side.
Well that there was should have been blown out of the water by what has happened over the last couple of weeks. Subtly, almost imperceptibly, the ground has shifted in the independence debate. The Yes camp has not bounced into a lead or anything like that, but it has started to make progress.
A poll this week by Survation for the Scottish Daily Mail in the wake of George Osborne’s ‘You can’t share the pound’ speech showed that the gap between the two sides had come down to nine points.
According to the poll, the Yes camp is on 38 per cent and the No side on 47 per cent with 16 per cent undecided.
The Chancellor’s aim was clearly to frighten a decent share of the undecided into backing the Union. He may succeed in that aim, in the long term. But, in the short term, it now appears as if his tactic has merely angered the ‘don’t knows’ so much that some of them have jumped over into support for Yes.
Then we had David Bowie. The music legend’s bizarre and surprising intervention in the independence debate, delivered by supermodel Kate Moss at the Brits this week – ‘Scotland – stay with us’ – was first thought to be good for the No camp. The so-called cybernats certainly thought so. Bowie was roundly abused, in a vicious and unpleasant manner, by these nationalist trolls, after he had come out for the Union. Now, normally, that would play into the hands of the Union. Someone like Bowie, who is generally lauded for all that he has achieved over his lifetime, would get sympathy after being attacked in this way. But it now appears as if the general mood in Scotland is to either ignore what Bowie said or to react against it by objecting to an intervention by a multi-millionaire superstar who has little connection with Scotland.
There may be some Nats who will now go through their old vinyl collections and, feeling spurned, smash every Ziggy Stardust record they once lovingly cherished, but many more Scots will simply show a slight irritation at what he said, with some shifting towards Yes as a result.
But there is more. Tomorrow the PCS Union will hold a special conference in Glasgow to discuss its approach to independence. Officially, the union is still neutral but sources inside the union have suggested that the conference will lead to the union officially coming out in support of independence.
The PCS is not the biggest union in Scotland and other unions – the GMB, ASLEF, Community and Usdaw – have already backed a No vote. But one of the country’s major unions backing a Yes vote would be a significant move nonetheless.
Now, these three developments do not, in themselves, point towards a Yes victory. After all, the Yes camp is still trailing in the polls. But they should cause serious head-scratching in the No camp because the Yes side, for the first time since the campaign started, is starting, just starting, to build up a little momentum.
There is a long way to go yet and that momentum could easily shift back again before too long. But to use a curling analogy – which I’m sure everyone south of the border is now well acquainted with – there are still several ends to go but the Nats have the hammer and no-one gives that up without a fight.