Scotland Essay: Why the No side should be looking up in Scotland…

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By John McTernan

The most important three words in any campaign are not ‘Vote For Me’, but ‘Hold Your Nerve’. The independence campaign has reached what Sir Alex Ferguson used to call ‘squeaky-bum time’.

The polls are closing – we are told. The No campaign needs to be positive – opine commentators. Scotland is so different, so progressive – pant assorted lefties breathlessly. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Now is the time for the campaign against separation to hold its nerve. All successful campaigns are based on the right political strategy, that in turn requires a clear-sighted analysis of the fundamentals. On this basis the No campaign have reason to be confident.

First, there has never been a time when support for independence has been a majority proposition in Scotland. Ben Page of IpsosMORI has a fascinating chart showing opinion on the question across 30 years – the Yes and No lines flat-line. There has always been a solid 60/40 rejection of separation. The ‘momentum’ for independence is simply the turbulence of the margin of error in polling.

Second, Scotland is not politically different from the rest of the UK. Voters strongly support both a welfare cap and an immigration cap. Like the rest of the UK they reject unilateral disarmament. Scotland is not a Scandinavian style social democratic country. But then neither are Norway, Sweden or Finland – currently all with right wing parties in government.

For this reason, the third point to make is that the SNP have made a quixotic choice to try to win the referendum campaign from the left. They look at the undecided voters and see that they are D/E Labour voters. They reason the only way to win them over is to be more Labour than Scottish Labour can be. They conclude that the way to do that is to out-left Labour. Renationalise Royal Mail. Increase benefits. Bring in a million migrants. Bold policies – that is in the Sir Humphrey meaning of the word. There is no electorally successful space to the left of the Labour Party in Scottish or British politics. That is the abiding lesson of Bennism. Working class voters are no hankering for sentimental leftism.

Fourthly, there is a pretty good defence of Britishness out there in the referendum campaign. Ironically it’s being made by Alex Salmond. He wants an independent Scotland to keep the pound and the Bank of England. To preserve the monarchy, the BBC and the NHS. Even to keep the non-nuclear defence bases and contracts. Can anyone imagine Edinburgh’s own James Connolly making a similar case for an independent Ireland? Of course not. Salmond understand that the UK, its values and the institutions that encode those values, is incredibly popular in Scotland.

Finally, to paraphrase Clinton’s campaign chief James Carville, ‘It’s the No campaign, stupid’. Of course it’s going to be negative. Faced with an opponent who says six fantastic things before breakfast, what would you do. You have to beat an untruth to death. It’s not pretty, but it is effective in the long run. You have to trust the people – Scots are canny folk and they know that something that seems too good to be true is just that. Or as they say in Glasgow – our heads don’t button up the back.

In the end, it comes down to the fact that who we are, what Scotland is, comes from a shared history and a shared endeavour. In 1968 Her Majesty’s Historiographer of Scotland J.D. Mackie wrote:

underlying the whole situation are the facts of inter-marriage, the development of great common services, the amalgamation of business firms with the mutual exchange of populations and, above all, a long common experience in peace and war and imperial enterprise have integrated the two countries [Scotland and England] very closely.

He could have written that in 1868, and a version of that will be written in 2068.

John McTernan served as political secretary to Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and as Director of Communications to Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard

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  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    All the big guns are out….Media, Business, unionist politicians, ….basically the Establishment.
    As a nationalist, i obviously hope for a YES vote and the first dent in the United Kingdom.
    But it looks increasingly like a NO vote.
    And I am of the opinion that a narrow victory for the NO side is actually a better long-term prospect for Salmond and SNP.
    Basically it will be a bitter aftertaste and Nationalism needs resentment and a sense of grievance to fester.
    Resentment and a sense of grievance is something on which I have thrived.
    And The best possible result for SNP is not a 51-49 victory.
    Much better would be a 45-55 Defeat.

  • Barnshee

    Tory England (and not just Tory England) would be glad to see the back of NI and Scotland letting them assume a similar position to that of the ROI –A source of cheap labour with no associated cost to England.
    The added advantage being that England would be unlikely to see a Labour government for some time -if ever.

    The jocks should beware Perfidious Albion

  • dodrade

    From what I have been led to believe the Better Together campaign has discouraged the local unionist parties from getting involved for fear of alienating the traditionally labour supporting catholic working class vote.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Well I can certainly see Cameron, Milliband and Clegg on a platform together.
    Nigel Farage would be of more help to the YES camp than the NO camp.
    So would any UUP or DUP politician.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    I hope Dabid will also post a piece by someone on the pro-independence side.

  • vroomfrondel

    I am personally very grateful to the No camp for the way they have handled their campaign, especially in the last few months. But, the, I fully intend to vote Yes in September.

    If No Scotland continues the way they are going then, even with an über compliant mainstream media – including the BBC, they could be heading for a bigger defeat than even the most optimistic Yes campaigner would predict.

  • megatron

    “The ‘momentum’ for independence is simply the turbulence of the margin of error in polling.”

    This is opinion presented as fact. Any chance you could show some numbers to convince us or are we just supposed to accept your word on that?

    “Second, Scotland is not politically different from the rest of the UK.”

    A bit of a sweeping statement considering the majority party in England have one MP in scotland and the majority Scottish party have zero MPs in the rest of the UK.

    “There is no electorally successful space to the left of the Labour Party in Scottish or British politics.”

    Again this may be a fact in the UK but the scottish case is untested. Given the electoral success of parties to the right of the labour in scotland either the electorate is very tightly bunched on the left/right spectrum or there is space in scotland on the left. I am not sure why you would characterise the SNP choice as quixotic – it seems like the most sensible path to me (it may not end up being a winning path but I think it gives them the best chance.

    “Of course it’s going to be negative” – sorry but it doesn’t have to be.

    I sort of think that independence will fall short but this opinion piece is a terribly written and argued piece.

  • megatron

    PS the odds of yes have fallen so the bookmakers (who understand these things) know the polls have moved.

    The bookmakers make a yes vote roughly the same chance as chelsea winning the premier league.

  • roadnottaken

    There’s nothing in the above piece which is new at all. It’s just got a lovely dose of ‘those damned lefties’ thrown in! And frankly, playing that card is grand on Slugger, but it would play into Salmond’s hands if it was echoed in a Scottish sphere of thought.

    The No campaign is stuck in a rut, and this is the sort of drivel that will keep it stuck there. Long may it last!

  • Charles_Gould

    Did John write this piece it exclusively for Slugger? He seems an unlikely blogger for Slugger, being a former adviser to two prime ministers in two continents.

  • Alistair Gray

    “Scotland is not politically different from the rest of the UK.”

    Not true. Holyrood is not Westminster. Different electoral system. Completely different distribution of seats across parties. Significantly different policy decisions, under both Labour and SNP administrations. Different political agenda – e.g. immigration and EU membership are non-issues in Holyrood.

    “There is no electorally successful space to the left of the Labour Party in Scottish or British politics.”

    Wrong again. The SNP already occupy a space to the left of the Labour Party, and with continuing success. Witness policies on universal benefits, and on the protection of public provision in health and education – policies which saw the SNP re-elected with an increased vote.

    Extraordinarily, the Labour Party now argues for a benefits cap, means testing, tuition fees, market reforms in health, immigration controls, and nuclear weapons. Holyrood and the SNP have given the lie to the idea that there is no alternative to this agenda.

    And the referendum itself gives the lie to it. It is because Scotland dislikes and rejects the direction of Westminster policies over the past 35 years that we are having this referendum.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, he hasn’t completely missed the wall, if that’s what you mean Charles… The IPSOS Mori poll for STV has not substantially shifted in 18 months… And it’s in the region of that 60-40 split…

    I’d not picked up that detail about the undecideds, but I think the STV suggests the DEs are trending (very slightly) Yes…

    And of course he’s dead right about No campaigns being about No. In Ireland the government campaign generally tends to be about getting Yeses, whilst oppositions often (though by no means always) tend to coast and then enjoy the damage the defeat inflicts on the opponent, which is often less than they hope for even if they are not on the same side…

    Even where as in Nice and Lisbon they lose, those losses are generally over obtuse matters that the government of the day has ensured went to the wire still being obtuse…

    We also know that a successful Yes campaign has to assume a strong lead to negate a negative swing back towards NO… there has been no such lead in this referendum campaign, which leads me to believe the YES campaign won’t succeed…

    So I would like to ask John what the political ramifications (if any) he thinks might flow from a success for the No camp, and, perhaps much less likely, for the Yes?

  • Neil

    Bit unusual for the blog to appear under the wrong name. Is it written by Mr. McCann or is that a deliberate attempt to disguise the fact that the author has a dog in the fight?

    Also no space on the left of Labour? ROFLMAO. Labour is Tory lite. Better than full on Tory IMO but still. C’mon. Also David tweeting “big” response on Slugger to this article. May want to redefine Slugger’s definition of big for that. 13 responses in 7 hours. Wow. :)

  • Mick Fealty

    Another comedy clatter to the ankles there Neil..?

    It’s more usual for them to appear below the story, but I’d promised David editor powers, so I am hoping in future all guests he brings us will have their own byline…

    In the meantime, since you’ve taken the trouble to comment, why not actually deal with the points raised? (BTW, 56 tweets and counting, is an unusually high count for us)…

  • Dewi

    “There’s never been a time when support for independence has been a majority proposition in Scotland”
    Hmmm dunno about that…1314?…….and I reckon next week will be the second time….

  • http://www.wordpress.ianjamesparsley.com IJP

    But actually that’s the key point Dewi.

    For all the talk about “polls closing” etc, the number stating they will definitely vote yes has never exceeded 40%; and the number stating they will definitely vote no has never been below that figure.

    I actually watch the bookies more than the polls – the polls need to do all kind of extrapolation, but the bookies are people putting money on what they thing will happen (actually more reliable, as your bias is not towards the outcome you want as it is in polling, but towards the outcome you genuinely expect). The bookies have been consistent at 41%.

    And then there is always, except where the change proposition is miles ahead, a late 5-8% swing to “no” – there was in Australia (republic) in 1999, in the UK (AV) in 2011, in Ireland last year (Seanad).

  • zep

    “And I am of the opinion that a narrow victory for the NO side is actually a better long-term prospect for Salmond and SNP.
    Basically it will be a bitter aftertaste and Nationalism needs resentment and a sense of grievance to fester.
    Resentment and a sense of grievance is something on which I have thrived.
    And The best possible result for SNP is not a 51-49 victory.
    Much better would be a 45-55 Defeat.”

    Is this Irish Nationalism in a nutshell? Like a dog chasing a car. It takes a big leap to work out that the best possible result for the SNP (the party of Scottish independence, already in government) is a No vote.

    “Nationalism needs resentment and a sense of grievance to fester” – two points here…

    1) Where does the grievance come from if a majority vote against your proposal in a referendum?

    2) If there is nothing to resent at the minute, maybe your opinion needs to be reexamined!

  • http://www.wordpress.ianjamesparsley.com IJP

    All that said, I note I could now get 10/11 either side of 44% at Ladbroke’s.

    That’s a shift all right!

    (If I were a betting man I’d still place a bet on below 40% given my last para above.)

  • http://www.wordpress.ianjamesparsley.com IJP

    Mick

    I agree with zep, btw, re definition of success.

    44% yes would be all good for Salmond in practice.

  • Old Mortality

    Salmond’s shameless pandering to the Ds and Es market is utterly cynical . These groups are being led to believe they have nothing to lose and something to gain from a Yes victory.
    If their votes carry the day, there will be an exodus of talent from Scotland while the dependent classes drink the North Sea dry.

  • http://www.stratagem-ni.com Quintin Oliver

    I had almost forgotten my January 2012 piece on the Scottish Referendum, some 26 months ago in this looooong campaign:

    http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/01/31/time-for-a-closer-look-at-whats-under-the-bonnet-of-a-scottish-referendum/

    Interesting to note what came true…and what not!

  • JPJ2

    I would say that John McTernan is not a man from whom one should take advice
    Here is an extract from what he wrote in the Scotsman a week of so before the SNP’s landslide 2011 Holyrood victory:

    “Labour’s Iain Gray needs to attack the SNP’s weaknesses if he hopes to become our new First Minister

    ‘MUGGERS. Sex offenders. Burglars. Vote SNP.” That would be one side of my campaign leaflet if I was running Scottish Labour’s campaign. On the other would be a mock-up of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with the strapline: “The SNP want to free 8,000 prisoners.” Negative? Oh yes. A mighty row? Yep. Effective? Without a doubt”.”

    Oh, and as to his brazen lie that “First, there has never been a time when support for independence has been a majority proposition in Scotland. ….. There has always been a solid 60/40 rejection of separation. The ‘momentum’ for independence is simply the turbulence of the margin of error in polling.”

    I refer you to the UKpolling Report website which shows that McTernan is simply lying when he states the above, just as he so very often does.

  • JR Tomlin

    The ‘by John Ternon’ an absolutely rabid Unionist pretty much says it all. That is certainly my idea of unbiased. Glad to know that Slugger OToole is such a non-partisan source of DISinformation.

  • DougtheDug

    Ironically it’s being made by Alex Salmond. He wants an independent Scotland to keep the pound and the Bank of England. To preserve the monarchy, the BBC and the NHS. Even to keep the non-nuclear defence bases and contracts.

    If you’re going to write an article John you should be sure of your facts first.

    The SNP have not proposed to keep the BBC as Scotland’s state broadcaster

    The NHS in Scotland is separate and always has been. Three NHS’s were created in 1948, Scottish, Northern Irish and English & Welsh. There never has been a British NHS. Scotland proposes to continue with a Scottish NHS just as before.

    Current UK military bases will become Scottish Military bases and Scottish companies will compete in the integrated EU market for defence contracts just as every other European company does.

    It makes me laugh to see the word “lefties” used as a pejorative by a Labour activist but then again the Labour slogan in Scotland is “Better Tory than independent”.

  • tuatha

    JmcT – wasn’t he the piece of … ordure who helped bLIAR cruel Labour for a decade then went to OZ and trashed Gillard and Labor with the most divisive & ineffectual mendacities since the Toad was flung from office?
    Why is he even fed, let alone allowed to handle sharp implements like pens?

  • Reader

    tuatha: Why is he even fed, let alone allowed to handle sharp implements like pens?
    Well, judging from your potted biography, I expect he is kept because he is so effective.
    Maybe the ‘Yes’ campaign ought to buy him off?

  • grandimarkey

    Magic Stuff by McTernan. File under ‘self-serving’.

    DougtheDug has picked apart the mistruths rather well above, however I do take heart in McTernan’s focus on the negative, simply because it isn’t working.

    Yesterday’s poll in the Scotsman has put the gap at 48%-52% (once don’t knows are excluded), requiring a 2 point swing with 5 months to go. Not bad.

    There hasn’t been a massive boost to the Yes side apparently though, but a huge decrease in the support for a No vote and a jump in the amount of ‘Don’t know’s’. Which shows that the No campaign’s scare-tactics are ceasing to be as effective.

    Yes will continue to campaign tough and try and steal some of those Don’t knows. 5 months is a long time, and Don’t knows are largely believed to swing more towards a Yes vote anyway. It is very very close.

    Mick, I wouldn’t be as presumptuous as this, but maybe you should take a look at this page, you know, just in case :-)

  • http://gravatar.com/joeharron Mister_Joe

    If the “real” poll is a 48% – 52% split, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Emotions could play a big part; people might vote “Yes” thinking that the end result will nevertheless be “No”. I suspect that is part of what happened in the most recent Quebec referendum (1995 and a 49.5 % yes). Mind you, the question was long and easily misunderstood and there was documented evidence of some vote rigging.