More evidence that the Westminster village is waking up to the threat of Scottish independence

John McTernan is among the shrewdest of political strategists. As quoted by David McCann, he offers  “don’t panic” advice to fellow strategists. What’s missing here are reasons for Scots to vote No.

The McTernan view isn’t cutting  it with leading commentators on the centre left and right.

Martin Kettle in the Guardian

The psychological impact in England, Wales and Northern Ireland of Scotland’s rejection of the union, meanwhile, could be very unpredictable, and possibly nastily so.

I do not want any of these things to happen. But the possibility that some of them may happen has moved a bit closer with the shift in the Scottish polls this spring. We can no longer simply assume that Scots are certain to vote no and that the UK will survive. Once things change they can change very fast, and in ways for which few of us are in any way prepared.

Ben Brogan in the Telegraph

Tory indifference and Labour infighting have made heavy work of the pro-Union campaign

David Cameron will resign if he loses Scotland. A Prime Minister who allows the break-up of the United Kingdom cannot suffer such a statement of no confidence and continue in office.

That much is understood in Downing Street, where a gnawing doubt about the referendum gets worse by the day. The vote takes place in five months this Friday. Angst rather than panic describes the feeling apparent among those involved – but is it just a momentary loss of nerve, or a dawning realisation that something is seriously wrong?


John Curtice, the wise man of polling said yesterday:

The poll from TNS BMRB released today has been widely reported as further evidence that the No lead is narrowing. In truth, it would appear to be further evidence that the No lead has stabilized around the narrower level it has now been at for some weeks

Concentration will be fixed laser- like on the shifting don’t knows

In any event it is clearly a mistake to think of an undifferentiated group of undecided voters who are clearly set apart from their fellow citizens who have all made up their minds. Rather voters lie at various points on a spectrum of indecision. Just over half (52%) have definitely made up their minds. The rest lie somewhere between having no idea at all what they will do and having a fairly firm inclination but might just be willing to change their minds. What remains to be seen is whether either side can secure any further success in persuading them to do so.

This suggests  there’s all to play for and  a bigger risk for the status quo than change. As for the Westminster village,  they  seem incapable of translating their fears into anything like political action – even after registering that Cameron would resign in the unhappy event. Amazing.

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  • Mick Fealty


    I think there’s several things responsible for the lassitude of Westminster:

    One is (and I don’t mean this in any pre modern atavistic sense) they’re mostly English. If they dont care enough it’s because their constituency comes first.

    Two is they probably don’t see it as their job to advocate for Scotland’s future, which is more properly a job for passionate Scots. That by definition is a job for Labour rather than the Government.

    Three I think the watchword is don’t throw any more bodies overboard. I also think McTiernan’s piece gives the lie to that. We’ve seen political parties here in NI become nigh on extinct because they stopped talking, and more importantly stopped taking a coherent position on issues that matter to their own voters.

    Finally, perhaps we’ve all been looking for the wrong thing from the no side. The union is a contract not a state of mind. That was one of my takeaways from our research into the future of Unionism in NI. Coming from a Nationalist background, I expected to discover emotional attachments, most of which turned out to be surprisingly material.

    McTiernan focuses on that to great effect in my view. As for the polls, there’s no discernible trend that suggests we are headed for anything like a yes (though I will merrily eat my hat if that is the final result). And there’s a lot if time still for this lukewarm campaign to run.

    Essay series anyone?

  • JPJ2

    I am utterly amazed by your comment about a “lukewarm” campaign.

    Have you really not spotted that there are well attended “Yes” town hall meetings occurring all across Scotland? Attendances at political meetings on this scale have not taken place for decades and this is happening months before the vote.

    As for John McTernan, see my comment on his article of yesterday-the man would push his granny aff a bus 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes I have. I’m a keen follower/fan of Blair Jenkins. That could prove crucial if turnout is an issue, but it doesn’t speak to waiverers.

    I’m currently in the look out for someone from Yes to respond to McTernan…

  • Maybe you should hedge your bet, Mick, and buy an edible hat. (I suggested another bit of edible wearables previously and got a yellow card but I hope a hat is ok).

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I get the large element of contract in unionism and it packs less romantic punch for its adherents perhaps than Scottish or Irish nationalism – but if you’re saying it’s a cold, calculating thing, I wouldn’t agree. The British strand of identity exists deeply at the level of personal identity – part of who you are – for most NI unionists at any rate. But I agree that Britishness is also associated with level-headedness and rationality, when it’s compared with more intense local aspects of our identities, like Scottishness, Irishness or what you might call Ulster Protestant-ness.

    In the independence debate in Scotland, this might be its strongest “emotional” card – it’s an identity that embodies a quite desirably balanced state of mind, an emotional attachment to country that has a place for silly patriotic moments but keeps them in their (limited) place. I suspect that is how most people really think about appeals to patriotism these days. It’s OK but let’s not let it carry us away into dumb, “over-emotional” decisions. For me, this is really the Scottish unionist case: they are betting effectively on the level-headedness of the Scottish people over the passion of the Scottish people.

    But this brings with it communication problems. Political campaigns need some passion about them to get their message across. While it’s logically possible to have a passionate campaign for being level-headed, it’s a hard one to pull off.

    The biggest problem for the ‘No’ campaign is of course the Conservative-led government in Westminster. As predicted, every intervention from English Tories bringing dire warnings of economic disaster has tended to help the Scottish nationalists. They need to shut up. But even if they do, they are still sitting there in Westminster, living embodiments of why you might want to leave Britain. It would have been so much easier to make the unionist case under Labour.

    Labour is the real unionist party, in a way, because its unionism is grounded in the real ties between British people across the UK (and they should stand in NI). The Tories, representing an out-dated, nostalgic form of pan-British identity, undermine the union by being out-of-touch, underwhelming champions of it. This Scottish independence campaign show that up in particularly sharp relief.

    Real unionism is about real connections between people, cultural ties and commonly recognised sources of authority and institutions. But that’s not a snappy slogan for a referendum campaign.

  • DougtheDug

    As for the Westminster village, they seem incapable of translating their fears into anything like political action – even after registering that Cameron would resign in the unhappy event. Amazing.

    Not really. Go back through back-editions of any newspaper and the chances are that the SNP and especially Alex Salmond are treated as eccentrics and not representative of proper politics and certainly not to be treated with respect. Even the Guardian in a recent editorial described Alex Salmond as “sneery”.

    Britishness and Englishness have become so intertwined that the idea of Scotland leaving the UK is considered ridiculous because they regard Britain as a single nation and identity not a collection of nations in a Union. In other words a Greater England. Other parts of Greater England like Yorkshire will never leave so neither will Scotland.

    Scotland is far away from London, the Greater England mentality makes them incapable of understanding Scottish identity and nationality and the lack of any real Scottish presence in the UK’s media makes it invisible.

    Translating their fears into political action is difficult for them as they don’t understand what is happening in Scotland.

  • HelpMaBoab

    Yes Scotland is offering people hope and are realising that unionism has ultimately failed Scotland. scots do not have the same emotional attachment to GB as NI unionists in my view.

    The consistently negative campaigning of Better Together known commonly in Scotland as Bitter Together amplifies the colonial mindset of unionist cabal. Scottish Labour are complicit in this and the publication of their unclear devo nano proposals are a joke. The ref will be close,but there is now a realisation in Scotland that yes can win against the odds of the power of the Westminster establishment, Scottish mass media and the Often trumpeted tycoon types.

    George Robertson NATO intervention is the latest line in a serious of jokes from the No camp. I was an undecided before the campaign, now I am a convinced yes. Scotland will do well as an independent nation.

  • cynic2

    From a Tory perspective

    * Scotland is a fiscal drag on the UK – getting rid of it will save billions in the medium term despite some short term costs eg moving Faslane
    * There will be an unarguable case to not re-elect Scots MPs in the next election. That will lead to a built in Tory Majority at Westminster and oblivion for Labour
    * Scotland wont be in the EU so will lose out in key markets providing an economic boost for some UK industries

    Win win then

  • PaddyReilly

    Scotland is a fiscal drag on the UK

    Classic sour grapes.

    Without Scotland, there is no United Kingdom, merely the Kingdom of England (and Principality of Wales)

    A Scotland free England will reorganise politically Conservative v Liberal. There is no possibility of a one party state: someone will always lead a split.

    Of course Scotland will be in the EU. It is only the existence of the EU that makes an independent Scotland possible.

  • Dewi

    “Scotland is a fiscal drag on the UK”

    If that were true I’m certain the Tories really would not care.

    “Principality of Wales”….after all these years Paddy…leave it out.

  • DC

    If Scotland leaves the union, England should leave a larger Union, the European Union.

    The reason why break up is possible is that the British / English are making it seemingly risk free.

  • DC

    I think what David Cameron should say is if Scotland opts to leave the Union he will hold a referendum shortly after on leaving the EU and encourage the English to leave.

    Obviously the outworking is to leave the EU and restrict labour markets to Scottish etc.

    Whereas Scotland will not be able to do that as it is relying on the EU as a route out so we can all go and treat Scotland like a cash register instead while the English can look after their own for a change!

  • grandimarkey

    * Scotland is a fiscal drag on the UK

    Incorrect. Scotland is a NET contributor to the Union.

    * There will be an unarguable case to not re-elect Scots MPs in the next election. That will lead to a built in Tory Majority at Westminster and oblivion for Labour

    If you take a remarkably black and white view of English politics. Remove Scottish MPs from the Labour victories of 1997 and 2001 and you still get….. wait for it….. Labour victories!

    * Scotland wont be in the EU so will lose out in key markets providing an economic boost for some UK industries

    Scotland will be in the EU. Sure, she already is. Why would the EU reject a new, pro-Europe, oil-rich nation? They wouldn’t.

    Come on Cynic, you can trot out all the old Unionist myths but they’ve been debunked already. Maybe try some of the new ones? Like pensions will make the ground open-up and Scotland will disappear or China will invade after the sky has fallen in.

  • grandimarkey

    I think what David Cameron should say is if Scotland opts to leave the Union he will hold a referendum shortly after on leaving the EU and encourage the English to leave.

    He kind of already has said that, there is going to be a vote to leave the EU. Cameron isn’t advising anyone to leave it though, that’d be foolish.

    Obviously the outworking is to leave the EU and restrict labour markets to Scottish etc.

    Indeed! I shall vote No because the English say they love us, and that if we vote Yes, they will wreck our economy.

  • JR

    there is no faster route to a United Ireland than Scotland leaving the UK and England + remainder leaving the EU.

    Much as we are in the economic wilderness now if there was an EU border between Newry and Dundalk, a perminant tory government and The Scottish-UK connection broken the only way for us would be Dublin and the EU.

  • Greenflag

    MU ,

    Excellent post above BTW

    Mick’s comment i.e

    ‘ I expected to discover emotional attachments, most of which turned out to be surprisingly material.’

    Don’t know why it came as a surprise -I’m sure even Mick has heard the old taunt ‘ Loyal to the crown but more loyal to the half crown ‘

    As you say the Tories are in a bind . In fact for the rest of the campaign they might be better advised to follow that venerable Northern Ireland admonition to increasing one’s survival chances ‘

    “Whatever you say- say nuttin about you know what ‘

    Best leave it to the Scots themselves methinks .

  • PaddyReilly

    “Principality of Wales”….after all these years Paddy…leave it out.

    I am at a loss to understand what this is meant to mean. The United Kingdom came about when England was united with Scotland. Therefore when Scotland exits, there is no longer a U.K., even if Wales remains. However I anticipated that someone might mention Wales. But Wales is not a kingdom, only a principality. One Kingdom plus one principality does not a United Kingdom make.

    Incidentally, Cheshire was briefly a principality as well.

  • Barnshee

    “Incorrect. Scotland is a NET contributor to the Union.”

    Incorrect the figures used tax (include alcohol and hydrocarbon oil duties) collected in Scotland on goods consumed in England

  • Son of Strongbow

    Best of luck to the Scots. I hope the vote leaves them satisfied with the result.

    Given the enthusiasm for Scottish independence by some on the Irish nationalist team perhaps we’ll see the Scottish saltire flying on the Falls Road? With its ubiquitous presence on the loyalist side of the fence finally a flag to share across the ‘divide’.

    Should the ‘Yes’ side win I’ll be required by family ties to throw my lot in with the Independent Shetland Movement: freedom!!!