The phoney war of the Scottish independene referendum may be about to end, and the real war begin, reports Ed Jacobs.
The campaign to maintain Scotland’s position in the Union is reported to be preparing a weekend blitz this Saturday and Sunday, with events across every constituency in Scotland.
According to the Sunday Herald the “Better Together” campaign is planning to capitalise on the sense of British pride established following the Olympics. The paper’s Scottish political editor, Tom Gordon, revealed last weekend that 100,000 leaflets will be distributed making the case for retaining the Union.
They will include the message “We love Scotland”, and cover the shared history of the British Isles, including the pound – while stressing the danger of going it alone in a turbulent world economy.
Gordon quotes the leaflet as being likely to say:
“We don’t need uncertainty, instability, and barriers for our businesses. The UK is better placed than a separate Scotland or England to help our businesses find and win new orders across the world.
“In an uncertain economy, the UK is a source of strength for Scotland.”
Announcing the initiative in an email to supporters, Blair McDougall, the campaign director for Better Together, said:
“We want to kick this grassroots campaign into gear by having events not just in one or two towns, we want to bring Better Together to every town in Scotland. It is so important that we speak to people face to face about Independence.”
The initiative comes as Alex Salmond faced more headaches in the polls
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• Salmond’s summer slump continues 1 Aug 2012
Just weeks after YouGov polling for the Fabian Society saw a substantial drop in support for independence, the trend has continued with YouGov polling for the Mail on Sunday revealing 60% of Scots now oppose independence, compared with only 27% who say they support the break up of the Union.
This is a huge fall from the 52% high watermark seen in 2006 and a 3-point fall since the Olympics started just three-and-a-half-weeks ago.
Similarly, ComRes polling for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror shows support for independence in Scotland at 31% compared with 49% against the idea.
Responding to the Mail on Sunday poll, chair of Better Together, Alistair Darling MP, said:
“This latest poll shows that our message is getting through. Being a part of the United Kingdom represents the best of both worlds for our country. We have key decision making powers devolved to Holyrood as well as having the benefits of being a part of a larger country.
“However, the poll also shows that the majority of Scots want a single, straightforward yes or no question in the referendum. This news should surely swing it for the First Minister and his apparently indecisive Cabinet colleagues. This should be enough for them to stop the dithering and get the terms of this referendum sorted out.
“The SNP believe in separation. They promised a single question referendum in their manifesto.”
With the prime minister reported to be preparing to meet Alex Salmond next month to thrash out the terms of a referendum, Scotland on Sunday has revealed Westminster is preparing to concede to SNP demands a referendum be open to 16- and 17-year-olds and agree to the Scottish government setting both the timing of the referendum and the wording of a single question, provided it is accepted as fair by the Electoral Commission.
The paper’s political editor, Eddie Barnes, wrote:
“David Cameron is preparing to concede terms to Alex Salmond on the format of the independence referendum on condition that he gives voters a straight choice on whether or not to break away from the United Kingdom.
“Sources close to the negotiations between the two governments, which have been on-going throughout the summer, say UK ministers are now preparing to accept the SNP’s demand that 16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to take part in the proposed 2014 vote.
“In other key concessions, UK ministers will also agree to the Scottish government setting both the timing of the referendum and the wording of a single question, provided it is accepted as fair by the Electoral Commission.
“Talks between Scottish constitutional minister Bruce Crawford and Scotland Office minister David Mundell took place last week.
“The ‘red-line’ for the prime minister is that the final question put to voters in 2014 is a simple ‘yes-no’ on whether or not they want to back independence and create a new sovereign Scottish state.
“But that issue is likely to remain a major sticking point to the prospect of a deal as senior SNP figures say Salmond is still weighing up whether a middle-way option – more powers – should also be included on the ballot paper.
“The pro-Union side will this week step up its call for a single ‘yes-no’ question, armed with a report commissioned by Scotland’s opposition parties. It is expected the paper, co-written by elections expert Professor Ron Gould, will set out the legal and constitutional complications of staging a referendum on independence while at the same time asking voters about more devolution.”
However, the question as to whether there should be a second referendum brings with it a warning from Iain MacWhirter, who told the Sunday Herald:
“It is impossible to say how many Scots will be minded to vote for independence out of frustration that they have been denied a vote on devolution max. But there will be some, to my certain knowledge – especially among Liberal Democrat voters, who are mystified at why their party, which has been committed to federalism for over 100 years, is so determined to ensure that the Scots have no chance to vote for it.
“Now, I’m not saying that Salmond has planned this all along. No-one, not even his closest supporters, fully understands the thinking of the first minister, who is a law unto himself. But the FM must have known that, by proposing the second question, he all but ensured that Labour Unionists would reject it, on the grounds that anything he proposes must be a Nat plot.
“Most Labour MPs believe that by forcing him to accept a single question they will shoot Salmond’s fox, destroy his morale, undermine his strength in the country. Give him a ‘bloody nose’ and kill nationalism stone dead. I wouldn’t bet on it.
“With a single question, the likelihood is that independence will lose, but not lose by a massive margin – perhaps 45% Yes to 55% No. That will be a setback for Salmond, of course, but it doesn’t mean that the SNP will be out of contention at Holyrood.
“He will go into the 2016 election calling on Scots to vote SNP to ensure that the Unionist parties adhere to those promises made by David Cameron and Alistair Darling of more power for Holyrood provided Scots vote No.
“The SNP was not elected in the first place because of its policy on independence, but in spite of it. And Salmond’s landslide victory in 2011 was a verdict on the performance of the minority administration and the feebleness of the Labour alternative. That hasn’t changed.
“And anyway, I wouldn’t write off the independence vote. Strange things can happen in a fast-moving campaign, and I wouldn’t rule out contrarian Scots voting Yes to independence to get a better devolution.”
As the debate on the precise format of the referendum rumbled on, however, finance secretary John Swinney also took to the papers, penning a piece in which he argued the Scottish economy would be greatly boosted if it were free from the shackles of Westminster.
Writing for Scotland on Sunday, he declared:
“Time and again, this government has argued for a stimulus to capital investment by the UK government to boost the construction sector and wider economy. Scottish GDP would have grown in the first quarter of the year if not for the problems that the sector faces, and that is why I have called on the chancellor to invest an extra £5bn in capital projects, including the ‘shovel-ready’ projects that we have identified in Scotland.
“There is no doubt that with the full fiscal powers of independence, the Scottish government could do even more to strengthen our economy. But in the meantime, there is simply no excuse for further delay from the UK government.
“Once again, I call on them to help, rather than hinder, the process of economic recovery.”
With the urgency of the debate now reaching a new level it is clear, as Scotland on Sunday has observed, “the phoney war may be about to end, and the real war begin”.