To add to Brian’s sense that the Unionist side of the debate is beginning to awaken (where you might expect to find it) in London. Martin Kettle has some very pertainent points to make:
Keep in mind two things about the nationalists’ current run of success that are too easily ignored. One is that the steady upward trend in electoral support for the SNP – marked by the milestone Holyrood victories in 2007 and 2011 – has not been matched by an equivalent rise in the support for independence. Scottish voters have opted for Salmond as first minister, but they prefer him fighting Scotland’s corner in the United Kingdom not severing ties altogether.
The second point is a variation on the first. The SNP won an overall majority at Holyrood last year: 69 seats out of 129. Yet more Scots – 55% compared with 45% – voted against the SNP than voted for the party. It was a formidable win; there is no argument about that. But even facing three discredited opponents, the SNP did not win a popular majority. And the independence referendum will be all about winning such a popular majority.
And he notes something that’s also a problem for anti union politicians on the Irish side of the water too: “all polls show that Scotland is not pro-independence. The SNP’s popularity in Scottish elections does not translate into support for separation.” And he goes further:
The UK government did some foolish things when it challenged Salmond this week. But Salmond’s predictable sneering at David Cameron as Margaret Thatcher reborn should not distract from Cameron’s achievement. The large change this week is that the UK government, and the other political parties, have broken out from the corner into which Salmond had pinned them.
They have asserted their right to a say in the argument about process and, more importantly, over the substantive issue of independence versus devolution and the union. Before this week they were all on the back foot, in a corner. Now they are on the front foot, and this is turning into a contest of movement, not of position.