Unionists be warned. Negative campaigning against Scottish independence is not enough

A warning shot against unionist complacency in Scotland…

Backing for independence among voters aged 18 to 24 stood at 58 per cent, according to the latest Ipsos MORI survey on voting intentions for the 2014 referendum…There were 34 per cent who supported Scotland leaving the UK, the poll of more than 1,000 people interviewed between

4 and 9 February showed. Support for Scotland staying in the Union fell slightly, going from 58 per cent to 55 per cent over the same period

This is hardly a sea change. But an even bigger, far more fundamental warning  about negative campaigning comes from  Iain McWhirter, against over- stressing all those difficulties about joining the EU or sticking with sterling that came out last week.

Why do the Unionists persevere with these attacks? Perhaps because they get a ready response in the press in Scotland. Prof Crawford’s warnings about the legal difficulties of becoming independent, contained in a UK Government position paper, received front page treatment on Monday, but his admission on Tuesday that he agreed with Alex Salmond did not. Measured on column inches, therefore, Better Together is streets ahead. But the real debate is only just beginning. Not only do a lot of Scots not believe these scares, the under-25s don’t even read about them, because they are turning away from the conventional media.

There are far better reasons for opposing independence than the timetable for EU membership anyway. I could think of a dozen positive arguments for remaining in the UK. As neighbours on this small island, Scotland and England are always going to have to collaborate on a whole range of issues, from the national grid and the roads network to defence and foreign aid. If Scots are affected by decisions taken in Westminster, in the new improved UK, why should Scotland not want to be represented there, just as it is represented in the European Parliament?

To be fair, the cabinet paper that made the UK government’s case contained lots of positive reasons, But in political hands,  the negative often drowns out the positive. Given too that Alex Salmond still seems the unassailable Leader, what will the unionist camp come up with next?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London