Scottish independence campaign yet to ignite
With a referendum a year away, Scots await the start of the debate proper
Opinion polls suggest those opposed to independence outnumber those in favour by two to one. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Andy Gardiner, who sat quietly in a half-empty cafe in the University of Glasgow yesterday morning nursing a coffee, knows where he intends to be a year from today.
He will be in a polling station in the city, voting Yes in the referendum on Scottish independence of which nationalists have dreamt for 80 years, few believing it would happen.
“I am sick and tired of a British government that is focused on the southeast of England. Even the northeast of England gets a raw deal, though they don’t seem to recognise it,” he said.
Millions of Scots will be able to cast their ballots on the same day as Gardiner, though the seemingly endless debates about the referendum among politicians and press have already left many weary.
Opinion polls suggest those opposed to independence outnumber those in favour by two to one, though those currently undecided may decide the outcome.
“Our research tells us that undecideds are more inclined towards Yes than No by a ratio of two to one,” said Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes, Scotland, the official campaign to gain independence for Scotland.
The referendum campaign has been controversial, with some unpleasantness, leaving some to wonder about the wounds that will be left after the result has been declared.
“This is a polarised and divisive debate,” John Elvidge, the former top civil servant to the Scottish government, told the House of Lords.
“A Scotland in which everyone [is] defined by which side they were on a particular day . . . is not, I think, anyone’s definition of a healthy, modern society,” he added.
IThe pro-independence camp sees its opponents, who have warned repeatedly that Scots face disaster if they have the temerity to choose independence, as fearmongers.
Those campaigning for independence largely the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) – stand accused of denigrating as less than Scottish Scots who favour the union.
“The idea that if you disagree with [First Minister] Alex Salmond you’re anti-Scottish is not only arrogant, it’s totally unacceptable,” said former chancellor Alistair Darling.
Labour MP for Edinburgh, Darling is leading the Better Together campaign, which favours continuing the 300-year- old union with England.
Demanding a head-to-head debate with David Cameron in November, Salmond has said the prime minister is “running scared” of getting involved.
Cameron had argued, not entirely credibly, that the debate is a matter for Scots and should be left to them. In reality he knows a Conservative opinion is not wanted in Scotland.
Salmond, also not entirely credibly, has sought to soothe concerns about losing sterling, the crown and membership of the EU and Nato by insisting Scots can keep them yet still be independent.
London has mooted extra powers for the Scottish parliament in Holyrood – the option most Scots would seize if offered it – but only if the referendum is defeated.
The SNP, has pushed the idea that Scots have a different, less individualistic political consensus to that which pertains south of the border.
The political context is certainly different, dominated by the SNP, with Labour following behind, leaving the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives languishing.
The referendum outcome will be heavily influenced by Mammon, since support for a Yes vote is likely to rise if people believe they will be better off. In a poll of 10,000 Scots, however, which carries a health warning as a wealthy Conservative benefactor paid for it, six out of 10 forecast higher taxes in an independent Scotland.
The heart will play its part too, however, even though the issue of independence has not engaged the Scottish public in general.
Last year, an Edinburgh rally for independence attracted 5,000 people, according to police. A rally next Saturday will likely attract more but few expect a multiple of that number.
Even though he intends to vote Yes, Gardiner remains less than impressed by the pro-independence campaign: “They must have something up their sleeve because they are not doing much at the moment.
“Maybe they are waiting for the Tories to bore everybody to death, leaving them to take the high moral ground. They must have a strategy. If not, they are making it up as they go along.”