Scotland Essays: Proud declaration of lack of vision is the hallmark of a failing No campaign

Just a week after John McTernan tried mightily to sound upbeat about about the No campaign’s relentless negativity and it’s almost universal condemnation by campaign analysts and the Scotsman writes:

Alex Salmond is on the brink of securing a historic victory in the referendum, according to an exclusive poll suggesting Yes Scotland needs a swing of just over 2 per cent to win independence.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. In fact none of this was supposed to happen, not the SNP victory in 2007 or 2011, not votes for under 16s, not the referendum itself.

McTernan is locked into a Blairite orthodoxy, and a cultural cul de sac marked by the essential, immutable laws of this world:

  • opinion polls don’t change in Scotland (ever);
  • there is no support for progressive politics in Scotland (or anywhere);
  • and there is no difference between Scotland and England (at all).

John is what we might call ‘evidence resistant’. His commitment to campaign miserabilism is admirable: ‘You have to beat an untruth to death. It’s not pretty, but it is effective in the long run’ may already be collapsing before him.

The reality is that the trajectory of the opinion polls is clear and momentum is with the Yes campaign. Despite McTernan’s assertions to the opposite, there’s substantial support for re-nationalisation of the Post Office and the railways and massive support for the moves the SNP government have taken to defend the NHS.

There’s evidence too that the real problem with Ed Miliband’s leadership lies with his inability to break cleanly with the Blairite past and create an alternative narrative beyond the discredited New Labour project.

Support for public ownership is higher than anywhere else in the UK. 87% of people polled support public ownership of the NHS, 75% of the Post Office, 69% of the railways and a huge 71% of energy (Source YouGov Nov 2013).

McTernan’s blithe optimism (if we can call it that) is supported by his fellow traveller Brian Wilson who has written “Vision is a word beloved of those with nothing much to say.” This proud declaration of lack of vision is a hallmark of the failing No campaign, which can be reduced neatly to a four letter evocation: ‘UK:OK’. In other word’s: ‘Everything’s fine’.

It’s a shrink’s fantasy, a paean to denialism and a manifesto for inertia. Such deep-seated conservatism can win elections if it can be backed up by a reassuring patrician voice, a dream of a better tomorrow or a shrill scare story to put the fear of god into people.

Several problems emerge for those backing this approach.

First, this isn’t an election. Turnout is likely to be in the high 80% low 90%. It’s not the self-satisfied No campaign that’s out in Easterhouse registering voters.

Secondly, all of the fear factor tactics have been tried, and failed. If anything they now make the No campaign just look ridiculous, undermining legitimate issues they might want to present.

Thirdly, the No campaign lacks leadership and seems incapable of articulating a story about a future Britain. If Wilson is to be believed even to attempt to do so is somehow a bad thing in itself.

As the policy merger between the three main parties at Westminster becomes complete under a hand-stitched banner that could read plainly ‘Austerity Unionism’ there is a real difficulty for the Better Together’s cheerleaders infused with hubris, dead certainty and a grand sense of self-entitlement.

In the absence of any real alternative or prospects from Labour, a progressive movement is emerging across Scotland to create a better future. People are realising that we have a parliament, now we need a democracy.