For those seeking a ‘no’ vote in this autumn’s referendum on Scottish independence, it is now – in the words of one famous Scottish figure – ‘squeaky bum time’. Ever since the referendum was announced, the ‘no’ side has enjoyed the support of a clear majority of voters. It seemed UK prime minister David Cameron’s gamble to allow a vote in order to put an end to the issue was going to pay off. However, the gap has been narrowing recently. The latest poll for Scotland on Sunday, when excluding those who are undecided, shows 52 per cent planning to vote against independence with 48 per cent voting in favour.
The problem is that the campaign in favour, led by the Scottish National Party (SNP), has seemed wildly idealistic and romantic in comparison to the miserable negative campaigning of the cross-party Better Together campaign, led by Labour’s former chancellor of the exchequer, Alistair Darling. While Alex Salmond and Co. can talk about Scots finally being able to control their own destiny, appealing to a sense of nationhood, Better Together has been keen to stress how Scotland would struggle to cope on its own.
The latest example of this was a speech by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown yesterday. No doubt aware of the criticisms made of the Better Together campaign to date – a campaign he has studiously avoided working with until now – Brown tried to present ‘five big positives’ for why Scotland should remain in the UK: the National Health Service, the ability to pay pensions, jobs from UK trade, low interest rates, and the ‘cultural ties’ with the rest of the the UK.
But even these so-called positives are really negatives. The message is ‘vote for independence and you’ll end up living a sickly, poverty-stricken life – and you won’t even have access to the BBC!’. No wonder Scots are increasingly open to the idea of going it alone. As one commentator noted of the Better Together campaign: ‘With every week that passes, the No campaign’s once lavish and seemingly impregnable lead evaporates. And as it dwindles, its scare stories continue to deluge the debate in the curious belief a) that Scotland, a proud and bellicose nation, is a wee, timorous beastie; and b) that if you double down on a tactic of transparently counterproductive idiocy for long enough, it will metamorphose into one of purest genius.’
Not that the SNP has eschewed negativity in its own campaign. Those demanding a ‘Yes’ vote have been keen to refer constantly to the ‘No’ campaign as run by Tory public-schoolboys (which is patently untrue) in order to appeal to the entrenched distrust of the Conservatives north of the border. And the ‘Yes’ campaign is thoroughly conservative in its own way: independence will be ‘within Europe’ (ie, still ultimately accountable to Eurocrats, not Scottish voters), the currency will still be the British pound, and the head of state will still be a hereditary monarch. For all the misty-eyed talk of the Scottish nation, it’s a revolutionary moment that will leave things pretty much as they are now. The best thing to be said about the SNP’s campaign is that it isn’t Better Together.