I suspect I might be one of the Scottish journalists Iain Martin considers keen to make a melodrama from the independence referendum. Ten weeks ago I warned in this magazine that Alex Salmond could well lead Scotland to independence. Stuff and nonsense some folk said then. Well, perhaps. But nothing that has happened since has persuaded me I was wrong.
Sure, the polls still show the No side leading but the general picture is clear: the Yes side are closing the gap. Of course there’s no law demanding that current trends continue indefinitely but, nevertheless, these are nervous times for the Unionist cause.
And for good reason. Consider the poster at the top of this post. It’s by far the best advertisement released by either side. Clear, simple, powerful.
Also, of course, mildly misleading since sensible Unionists do not dispute the notion Scotland could – after an awkward period of adjustment – make a pretty decent fist of life after independence. Can’t isn’t the real question. Should Scotland be independent is a different matter. Equally, does Scotland need to be independent? Self-evidently not since, by Salmond’s own estimation, it is a happy, successful, attractive place already. Could be better, perhaps, and might even be so after independence but scarcely intolerable now.
Too often, however, Unionist politicians and the Better Together campaign have given the impression that independence is, ipso facto, a daft notion only nincompoops and dreamers could possibly favour. Perhaps. The country suffers no shortage of nincompoops and is amply stocked with dreamers too.
Some negativity is to be expected. It is the No campaign after all. Nevertheless you can have too much of a good thing and the Unionist campaign has become imprisoned by its own negativity. It risks becoming dreary. I say this not because I’d like it to be more exciting because that’s the sort of thing political journalists like but because there is a real risk that voters will simply cease listening to new warnings of disaster around the corner. There they go again…
Perhaps I spend too much time talking to and reading nationalist voters and this distorts my view of the referendum. Be that as it may, it is not difficult to find Yes voters. There are a lot of them out there and they’re not going anywhere.
There is a school of thought arguing that Better Together should have saved their biggest artillery for the final few weeks of the campaign. Offer a positive, uplifting, vision of the the Union’s future and then, in the final stages, nuke the Nats with negativity. See all these good things we enjoy already and by the way you might want to consider some of the costs and drawbacks that are an inevitable price of independence. They have, generally speaking, chosen the opposite approach.
It isn’t working brilliantly.
Sure, the balance of probabilities still favour a No vote but the days when Unionists dreamed of a 70-30 victory have long gone and will not return. 60-40 is the limit of their hopes these days and privately many concede they won’t reach that mark either. 55-45 will now be reckoned a decent result but it’s not an outcome that will settle the matter. Not even for a generation.