As we approach the apogee of the independence debate, I've looked at five mistakes I think the Better Together campaign has made.
As we approach the apogee of the independence debate, James Bloodworth looks at five mistakes the Better Together campaign has made
As we enter the final 10 days leading up to the Scottish independence referendum, the polls genuinely seem to indicate that the Yes and No campaigns are neck and neck.
In other words, the Sunday Times poll which appeared to show a lead for the Yes camp wasn’t simply an outlier – a new poll out today has both Yes and No camps absolutely neck and neck, demonstrating that the momentum in the lead up to the vote is clearly with the Yes camp, who as recently as a month ago were lagging almost 10 points behind.
Suddenly, Westminster finds itself on the verge of Scotland decisively breaking away from the rest of the UK.
Some will blame the second television debate in which Scottish first minister Alex Salmond appeared to get the better of leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling.
But while it does all have a whiff of ‘Cleggmania’ – the Liberal Democrats led in the polls for a short time on the back of a 2010 television debates – the No camp’s problems are more deep-rooted. As we approach the apogee of the independence debate, I’ve looked at five mistakes I think the Better Together campaign has made.
1) The Yes campaign looks radical while the No camp comes across as boring and status quo
And you might say that that’s because the No camp is boring and status quo. But why is nationalism suddenly considered bien pensant and radical? In almost every other instance nationalism is looked upon as backward-looking, angry and hostile to outsiders (and look at the treatment meted out to Jim Murphy); yet Scottish nationalism has been allowed to paint itself as progressive in opposition to a right-wing Westminster establishment.
That’s the same Scottish nationalism with a de facto leader in Alex Salmond who has previously said that Scotland “didn’t mind the economic side” of Thatcherism and who in power has slashed away at corporation tax rates. Oh, and gushes over Vladimir Putin for “restoring a substantial part of Russian pride”. Nationalism isn’t progressive; it’s nationalism.
2) The No campaign has left it far too late to set out plans for ‘devolution max’
The SNP are quite right when they say that the sudden unveiling of plans for ‘devolution max’ look as if they are panic-driven – they almost certainly are. Releasing details of ‘enhanced devolution’ after 200,000 people have already sent in their postal votes is also foolish – plenty of those people will now be votes lost which may not otherwise have been.
The fact that the plans unveiled by Gordon Brown are only seeing the light of day now indicates a fairly shocking level of complacency in the No camp – if they aren’t panic measures, why were they not revealed when they might actually have had an impact?
3) Where’s the British national story?
What happened to the brilliant showcasing of the British national story that was done so well at the 2012 London Olympics? Talking about the currency, about pensions and about NATO is important, but also important is a national story. The Yes camp has a story: in going it alone Scotland will fulfil its destiny as a Northern European social democracy in contrast to rule by a gilded Westminster elite. In voting Yes, Scots, who have their own unique national culture, will simply be taking the latest step in an inevitable historical march towards independence.
In contrast the Yes campaign, led predominantly by Labour politicians, has reverted to the lamentable left-wing instinct of shying away from talk about national identity, allowing the Yes camp to take ownership of the issue. Yet Britain has a culture as real and as unique as that of any other country. Talking about it doesn’t make you an ‘imperialist’ or a home counties Tory. Patriotism also needn’t be nationalism. As already mentioned, the national story was showcased brilliantly at the 2012 Games – why didn’t Better Together learn something from this?
4) Why wasn’t ‘devo-max’ allowed on the ballot paper?
If it had been included, it would almost certainly be the most popular proposal on offer – so why did David Cameron refuse to allow it? More devolution for Scotland has previously been promised in Westminster and has subsequently taken years to materialise.
You can, then, forgive Scottish voters for being sceptical about promises on devolution this time around. If the pledge had been included on the ballot paper in the first place there would be far less suspicion that it would be wriggled out of at a later date.
5) Emotions matter as well as logic
No one is completely rational, nor do they make every decision based on a cool cost-benefit analysis. The right understands this, which is why it so often appeals to the base instincts of the electorate. But the left can do it too – remember Barack Obama’s stirring yet euphemistic calls for ‘hope and change’? To paraphrase the historian Robert Conquest, a reliance on reason alone is itself irrational, for it ignores the instinctual elements and deep-set elements of real human beings. Waxing lyrical about currency unions and whether pensioners will be 5 pence in the pound poorer is fine, but as we should have learned from the immigration debate, if a person feels that something is true then firing bullets of logic at them will very often prove ineffective.
Yes that is unfortunate, but it also happens to be true, so surely it’s far better to confront the reality head on. People want to get on, but they also want politicians that inspire them. As George Orwell put it in a quite different context, “human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working hours, hygiene, birth control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty parades”. Put simply, people want politicians who inspire them emotionally as well as offering them lashings of policy pledges.
James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.