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Negative pro-Union campaign causes Tory jitters about Scottish independence

Sun 29 December 2013, 4:21pm

Have you noticed that here in in the news desert of Christmas to New Year which relies so much on looking back and looking ahead, Northern Ireland and Scotland barely rate a mention compared to a flooded village in Kent?  Until now perhaps in the case of   Scotland, although you have to search for the odd  largely bewildering filler on the Haaas talks about “flags, parades and dealing with the past.”

As so often, Iain McWhirter in the Herald spotted a trend and put the arguments clearly.

The opinion polls have scarcely moved all year, with support for independence still stuck at around 30%. Yet, the UK cabinet, we are told, is increasingly anxious about the result of September’s referendum. Coalition ministers are apparently worried that support for the union remains brittle, and vulnerable to a late surge of support for nationalism.

Questions are being raised about whether Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor who chairs the Better Together campaign, is sufficiently combative against Alex Salmond. However, it’s hard to believe that a more belligerent politician could have done much better. Or does David Cameron know something that we don’t? Have focus groups detected an early change in the tide of opinion in Scotland?

Scots have really only started thinking of independence as a practical possibility in the last decade or so – since the creation of the Scottish parliament. It seems unlikely that this weight of history can be dispelled in the nine short months left until the referendum in September.

However, it is not impossible. After all, the Scottish voters have certainly shown that they are capable of voting in very large numbers for the party of independence, the SNP. In 2011, the Nationalists were trailing Labour by ten points in the polls at this stage in the Holyrood elections, and yet Alex Salmond went on to win by a landslide.

This is what is giving civil servants in Westminster sleepless nights.

Scots have really only started thinking of independence as a practical possibility in the last decade or so – since the creation of the Scottish parliament. It seems unlikely that this weight of history can be dispelled in the nine short months left until the referendum in September. However, it is not impossible. After all, the Scottish voters have certainly shown that they are capable of voting in very large numbers for the party of independence, the SNP. In 2011, the Nationalists were trailing Labour by ten points in the polls at this stage in the Holyrood elections, and yet Alex Salmond went on to win by a landslide.

Voters not only  seem unimpressed by attempts to frighten them off independence, they don’t believe them if a UK  wide poll ( albeit  commissioned  by the SNP) is any guide.

Respondents were asked: “Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are among each other’s largest trading partners. Putting aside your own views on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country, if independence does happen do you think that Scotland and the rest of the UK should continue using the pound in an agreed sterling area?”

Forty-six per cent said “yes, definitely” while 25% said “yes, I think so”. Sixteen per cent said they were unsure while seven per cent said “no, I don’t think so” and five per cent said “definitely not”.

Now comes a lead report in the Sunday Times (£) which warns of the need for a new strategy. Or is it just another filler on a slack news day?

Tories fear Scots will break away

Jason Allardyce, Isabel Oakeshott and Jack Grimston Published: 29 December 2013

Senior Tories fear the SNP’s Alex Salmond could pull of a shock referendum win (Andrew Milligan)

DAVID CAMERON has been warned that the future of the United Kingdom is in jeopardy as the campaign to save the union founders.

Senior Tories have spoken of their fear that Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister and nationalist leader, could defy the odds and pull off a shock victory in the forthcoming referendum on independence.

Among those who have voiced concerns about the state of the unionist campaign are Lynton Crosby, the prime minister’s election guru, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, and prominent Scottish Conservatives.

Lord Forsyth, a former Scottish secretary, accused the government of complacency about the September referendum but also criticised the Labour opposition at Westminster.

“Where is the government?” he said. “Where is the opposition making the case in the United Kingdom parliament for the United Kingdom?

“We had the ridiculous independence white paper published by Salmond last month and I waited for the government to announce a debate in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and nothing happened . . . The Commons has still not debated it. What on earth is going on?”

He added: “The fundamental problem is this has been regarded as just something for Scotland but it’s for the whole of the United Kingdom and the issues and what people say about it has implications for the whole of the United Kingdom.

“It’s time England woke up and that we, as partners in the United Kingdom, work out how we’re going to move forward and ensure that a reckless decision to break up the United Kingdom is not made in September.”

Alistair Carmichael, the present Scottish secretary, has warned Cameron and cabinet colleagues that the referendum could yet be lost. He is concerned that the polls may not be accurate because nationalists may find it easier to persuade their more motivated supporters to turn out and vote.

He also fears that many undecided voters who blame the Thatcher government for the decline of heavy industry in Scotland will vote yes.

Tory critics are increasingly alarmed by the cross-party anti-independence campaign led by Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor, saying it is too negative and lacks momentum.

Crosby is understood to have suggested that the campaign is so feeble that the future of the UK is in doubt.

In a surprising assessment, he is said to have warned that polls giving unionists a strong lead are wrong — and that victory for Salmond in September is not only possible but likely.

Publicly, Crosby emphatically denies that he fears for the future of the union. He said claims about his private views were “not true”.

A source familiar with his concerns insisted, however: “He thinks Salmond will pull it off. He is seriously worried. He really thinks the SNP will do it.”

Darling’s Better Together campaign has focused heavily on the economic risks an independent Scotland would face, including the possibility of not being allowed to keep the pound, a rise in the cost of living and being denied EU membership.

Johnson is among Tory critics who say this is alienating voters, particularly women. A source close to the mayor said: “Boris’s biggest concern is some of the negativity around the messaging.

“He believes that approach is wrong and potentially damaging. His worry is that shouting future of the union. He said claims about his private views were “not true”.

A source familiar with his concerns insisted, however: “He thinks Salmond will pull it off. He is seriously worried. He really thinks the SNP will do it.”

Darling’s Better Together campaign has focused heavily on the economic risks an independent Scotland would face, including the possibility of not being allowed to keep the pound, a rise in the cost of living and being denied EU membership.

Johnson is among Tory critics who say this is alienating voters, particularly women. A source close to the mayor said: “Boris’s biggest concern is some of the negativity around the messaging.

“He believes that approach is wrong and potentially damaging. His worry is that shouting about the negatives of break-up rather than accentuating the positives of union — of which there are many — will actually turn some who are undecided against that union.”

Forsyth, however, condemned “misplaced” briefings by senior Tory colleagues against Darling. The former Scottish secretary said: “Those people who say Alistair is not leading the charge … well, what are they doing?”

Darling’s approval rating of +3 (the proportion who are satisfied minus the proportion who are dissatisfied) trails behind Salmond (+7) and Nicola Sturgeon, the popular deputy first minister (+16). Cameron’s approval rating in Scotland, where the Conservatives have only one MP, is a dismal –28.

A poll this month suggested the yes campaign was closing the gap in the race for referendum votes, cutting the no lead from 19% to 14%, while a recent poll for The Sunday Times put the no lead at nine points. Unionists point out that the SNP came from being well behind Labour in the 2011 Scottish parliament election campaign to win a landslide.

Some political analysts predict that if Scotland chooses independence, voters south of the border might punish Cameron for presiding over the break-up of the union.

In the long term, the loss of 40 Scottish Labour MPs could improve Tory prospects of power at Westminster, but Scottish MPs would not be expected to quit the Commons until 2016 — too late to make a difference to the 2015 general election.

Darling declined to comment.

 

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Comments (12)

  1. Garve (profile) says:

    Your post brings up one of the most interesting points about the period between a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum and the actual day of independence in 2016.

    As you’ve pointed out, there will be a UK general election during this period. Although the SNP have called for the UK parliament to postpone it, that seems very unlikely. However, this raises some serious constitutional questions.

    During this period Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK) will be negotiating the terms of the split – it’s unthinkable that the UK government after the general election would include any Scottish based MPs as the two negotiating teams are clearly on two different sides of the table.

    It’s rarer than most people think, but it’s quite conceivable that the result of the 2015 GE will hinge on the number of Labour MPs representing seats in Scotland. This would bring up the possibility of a Labour government which could only hold power for less than a year, as it would lose a vote of confidence soon after Scottish independence day.

    That possibility would be hugely destabilising for rUK and would need to be addressed before the election.

    There are many options, for instance allowing Scottish MPs to serve out their terms in the HoC even though they no longer have constituencies. However, I’d think the most likely option is that all the main parties agree to split, for instance into rUK Labour and Scottish Labour etc. The new Scottish parties would then all agree to play no part in the rUK government.

    Under that scenario, David Cameron could indeed benefit from Scottish independence in 2015. Whether he would still be leader of the Conservative party following the breakup of the UK is doubtful of course.

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  2. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    I don’t think its reasonable to have jitters. The polls have not moved in SNP’s favour. The idea that Cameron should intervene more seems wrong: if you are ahead don’t take risks.

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  3. Barnshee (profile) says:

    “Yet, the UK cabinet, we are told, is increasingly anxious about the result of September’s referendum”

    The “loss” of Scotland will be a win win for the Tories– a drain on the taxpayer gone and a Tory dominated parliament for England for generations (if not forever)

    Yeah they sure are anxious—- anxious Scotland will not leave

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  4. delmail (profile) says:

    Counter-intuitive logic on display here; if the Tories were keen for Scotland to leave the “union”, then why bother with a “no” campaign? Simply agree to secession as was successfully done in Czechoslovakia in the ’90′s.

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  5. oneill (profile) says:

    Win/win for Cameron.

    Scotland separates then England remains Conservative forever. Within 5 years the harsh economic realities of separation will hit the Scottish electorate hard and mercilessly.

    The only scenario for Salmond is to win his referendum convincingly.

    A Scotland which is separated on a 20/30% (of the overall electorate) “yes” vote will turn on itself and primarily on the SNP>
    A Scotland which separates on a 50%+ vote will have nobody to blame but itself.

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  6. Scáth Shéamais (profile) says:

    It’s still a matter of some debate whether Scotland is a net contributor or withdrawer when it comes to UK revenues.

    Meanwhile, Scotland has had very little influence on the composition of the government at Westminster over the past 70 years, so the idea of permanent Tory rule over rUK doesn’t really stand up.

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  7. Red Lion (profile) says:

    I think introducing discussion of reforming UK governance generally might be a good idea, and included in this is how to give Scots as much power as possible without actually leaving the union.

    Time to discuss federation

    The current UK governance arrangements ARE dissatisfactory. Time to reform them, but no need to through the baby out with bath water, Scots.

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  8. Alias (profile) says:

    The Scottish, as with most nations, see the theory of independence as the means by which their own affairs can be determined by their own nation in its own national interest. The theory holds that their affairs will be better determined by themselves (in their own interests) than they will be determined by others (in the interests of those others). That, of course, is not always the case.

    The problem with nationalism is that there are too few nationalists to promote it. The nationalist holds the view that self-government is an inalienable right and is, therefore, not subject to pragmatic, expedient or self-serving considerations about whether or not the interests of the nation are actually best served by it. That’s also the international law’s formal position in that the right to self-determination cannot be denied to nations simply because it is likely to leave them in a less economically advantageous position.

    Self-government, self-determination, and independence (and sovereignty, autonomy, nations, nationalist, nationalism, etc) are all interconnected concepts and folks can declare support for one or more of them when they really support another. Indeed, they can declare support for one and not actually support it at all (e.g., they want an independent country whose monetary system is dependent upon the UK’s).

    Scotland doesn’t have enough nationalists to vote for independence – and it doesn’t even have enough nationalists to sponsor it. What they are really being asked to do is to show their support for more devolved powers. In other words, to endorse the current devolved parliament.

    The paradox of this form of ‘nationalism’ is that it is never a vote cast by a nation for the national interest but always a vote cast by an individual for his personal interest. Unless it can be shown to these people that independence (or the mock independence from the UK being offered to them) is in their personal interest then they will vote against it. Only an actual nationalist (a small minority) would do otherwise.

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  9. Barnshee (profile) says:

    “Meanwhile, Scotland has had very little influence on the composition of the government”

    40 odd Labour MPS- ensured the formation of Labour Governments for Wilson, Callaghan and Blair “very little influence”??

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  10. RG Cuan (profile) says:

    Alias

    That’s quite a convoluted argument against independence.

    National interest, in Scotland’s case and in others, cannot simply be measured on economic reasons alone. It’s much more than that. And that’s why we’ll see a bigger Yes vote in September than many in the mainstream media would like to report.

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  11. DougtheDug (profile) says:

    Barnshee:

    Scottish MP’s have had very little influence on the make-up of Governments in Westminster, even Labour Governments.

    Tony Blair didn’t need Scotland to form his majorities.

    http://wingsoverscotland.com/why-labour-doesnt-need-scotland/

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  12. A few days in Edinburgh: hogmanay — though I wasn’t personally invited to Alex Salmond’s 60th do — gales, driving rain, and poor wi-fi. Hence I’m just catching up on that most essential Slugger item — a Brian Walker thread. [By the way, last time I broke the Times paywall so blatantly, I was censored and chastised.]

    However, allow me to propose a few musings, really no more than snatching at straws in that wind:

    ¶ The “No” camp will win in Edinburgh (and probably across the Lothians). There are just too many careers dependent on the public services, banking and big business for not keeping close hold of nurse, for fear of meeting something worse.

    I sensed that #blogmanay (sorry about that) was not the sold-out sensation expected, despite a decent night. Moreover it was more “neutral” than one might have predicted. The last time I was up, three years back, Dick Gaughan was a featured act — this season Prince’s Street got the Pet Shop Boys. Is there a message in there?

    ¶ The Borders, though lightly populated, are not fertile territory for separatism.

    ¶ It’ll be more mixed northwards. Apart from Aberdeen and the North-East, the population is too scattered to make any great difference unless it’s a really tight thing. And Aberdeen is Salmond’s current stalking ground.

    ¶ So the real brawling must take place across Strathclyde, which, after all, is the most populous bit. That’s why all the main HQs (Yes, No, Scottish Labour) are in Glasgow. Here, let it be noted, the main opinion shift to “Yes” is among the least advantaged (who are also the least likely to vote).

    ¶ Whatever happens in September (and I’d still be betting on a “No” result), the political landscape will be changing. It might be worth noting, though, that pretty well all the opinion surveys are derived from basic 1,000-quota telephone surveys, so adjust the “margin-of-error” accordingly.

    Scottish Labour seems to be edging ahead for the next Holyrood elections (a real problem for parliament seems to be mice infestation — pest control for that iconic building currently costs over £4,000 a year — but officialdom resists the obvious cat). We have yet to see ScotLab’s full response to the White Paper, and they undoubtedly will offer a number of “goodies”, which (provided there remains a realistic proposition of a Westminster Labour government) could be a real poser for the SNP.

    What happens to the SNP if the IndyRef goes badly sour for them? There are as many factions and rifts in the SNP as in any of the other notoriously fractious parties — though, again, Scottish Labour seems to have papered over its cracks for the time being. Any split in the SNP — capitalist liberals hiving off from the dominant 79 Group survivors being the obvious one — must redound to the benefit of the bankrupt Tories.

    ¶ Then there us the bottom line. Any country so badly divided that an IndyRef of any kind is an option is not united, not settled, not wholly stable. Let us see if that rubs off on — for a single obvious example — inward investment across the UK/

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