The official campaign on Scottish independence opens this week, 3½ months ahead of the vote on September 18th. It is an artificial transition given the widespread debate already under way since last year. Polling indicates a convergence between the Yes and No sides, but there is still a 10-15 per cent average lead for the No side.
The Yes campaign believes its superior organisation on the ground will tell in the end. It also expects to benefit from the tendency of the No side to threaten Scotland with dire economic and budgetary consequences if it dares break with London. Several examples of this last week produced an unseemly argument about whether Scots would be net losers if they voted for independence or benefit from a boost in income.
The treasury’s case against independence was not helped when one of the researchers whose work it drew on said the costs of setting up a new state had been grossly distorted and exaggerated. This pattern of threats has been a recurrent feature of the campaign. Many Scots resent it as bullying which can impel them to switch towards the independence side.
The Yes side has to grapple with figures showing that because of its reliance on multinational investment and ownership of its resources Scotland – like Ireland – has a misleadingly high level of national income. Voters are influenced by these arguments and the debate has concentrated so far mainly on material evidence for and against independence rather than on the politics of identity.
Assuming the voting will divide in the range of 55-45 either way, a fierce competition will seek to convince about 200,000 potential swing voters. Women are less in favour of independence than men because they want to know how it will affect their families. Working -class voters who disproportionately favour an independent state are equally in need of favourable evidence. The expected high turnout will make these arguments particularly salient in the final stages.