It’s five months today that Scotland goes to the polls on the question of the century, whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. Both the Yes and No campaigns have entered their full-time statuses, and neither are very far from the headlines of the news each day. Polls have been favouring the No option since the SNP’s election to the Scottish Government in 2011 that paved the way for this referendum to take place, but in the last month there has been a jump for the Yes campaign. Momentum is with the Yes side of the argument for now, but the question remains whether it can be sustained until September.
Recent polls from Panelbase have shown that the gap between the Yes and No campaigns, excluding undecided voters, could be as low as 6% now – which is far closer than it has been in the past. The bump in the polls for the Yes argument has come against the run of play, so to speak. George Osborne dealt what he thought would be a crippling blow to the independence argument in February when he announced that the official position of the UK government would be that an independent Scotland couldn’t share the pound sterling as its currency. This should have been a statement that won people over to the certainty of the No campaign. However, in an acutely Scottish fashion, it appears that Scottish voters have rejected his claim as a bluff – with 45% in a YouGov poll saying they don’t believe Osborne and only 40% saying they do. This political stunt has backfired, with more people now projected to vote Yes than ever before in September’s election.
No matter your current voting intentions, it’s hard to deny that the No campaign are on the back foot at the moment. From a winning position and an argument of certainty and security, one that should be easier to convince people of in an unsettled world, more people want Scotland to break away on its own. There needs to be an incentive to vote No, not a disincentive to vote Yes. If not, people will vote for change. And this is what is beginning to look like might happen.
The three main UK parties have all muttered about further devolution but all have provided plans that are either unworkable or unsatisfactory. The Conservatives have plans to make plans for Scotland to have more power, but nothing at all has been offered as of yet. Labour came out with their “Devolution Commission” plans for the Scottish Parliament – including the ability to vary income tax by up to 15p in the pound (up from the 3p they have at the moment and the 10p they will have from 2016 regardless of independence), the ability to change income tax brackets in Scotland and more control over matters such as housing benefits and the rail networks. The Lib Dems have perhaps gone the furthest with considering Scottish political power, with the aim of a federal UK where the Scottish parliament would essentially have independence apart from in areas of defence, currency, foreign relations and some taxation. Although the Lib Dems’ plans are perhaps the most likely to appease those who wish to rebel against the Union, they are also the least likely to be implemented after next year’s General Election, with a rout in the polls very much on the cards for Britain’s current third party. Labour’s proposals may get the light of day in legislation if they win the next election, but the shift of power has been deemed too light by nationalist politicians – who think that only being able to raise 40% of the Scottish Parliament’s income themselves is too little. The Conservatives are perhaps the least likely to produce an acceptable deal to those wanting to vote Yes, and at the moment they seem to have little appetite to.
The nationalist message, on the other hand, does seem to be getting to the population. People are starting to believe that Scotland can go it alone, that we are competent and will control our own destiny. The “bluff and bluster” line that Salmond and Sturgeon have done to death over the last few months has actually been crucial in perpetuating Scotland’s distrust of Westminster politicians and that’s why so many people are not willing to accept the UK Treasury’s official position on the pound – even from their top dog, the Chancellor. Last weekend’s SNP conference also showed the First Minister and his Deputy appeal to Labour voters to ditch their flustered party’s stance against independence – as it would be better for their political sensibilities in the long run. It was a ploy that is sure to win some people over that have never voted SNP in their lives. As the nationalist cause ascends in the polls their credibility does too and their job of convincing people that they would be better off in an independent Scotland becomes easier. The independence white paper was the Yes campaign’s policy moment, and the rest of their campaign is just a case of pushing it to people. After releasing it in November, they gave themselves ten months to refine, relate and repeat their message – with the certainty in the Yes campaign coming from sticking to their guns rather than sticking to the past. It’s a strategy that looks increasingly solid as the day of reckoning draws ever closer.
Although I’m probably still a No voter at the moment, I am being swayed slightly. A federal UK is the option that I would prefer most of any that have been explored, with the Lib Dem proposals giving Scotland and the UK the best of both worlds (and also giving England, Wales and Northern Ireland the same attention). But with that being unlikely to happen and the alternatives on the table in terms of giving Scotland more power being lacklustre, a Yes vote from me is more likely. I’m still unsure on some of the key issues of the campaign such as the pound and EU membership – mainly because neither issue has been definitively settled either way, and perhaps won’t be until after the referendum. There is nothing to show me, at the moment, that an independent Scotland would be a better place to live than as part of the UK, so that’s why I’m still a No voter.
However, as much as I’m lacking the proof from the Yes campaign, I’m lacking any encouragement from the No campaign. There are only prohibitive and negative claims coming from the unionists: no you can’t keep the pound, no you can’t join the EU, no you won’t do well economically. There’s nothing like: yes your people can succeed in one of the biggest economies in the world, yes you can play a part in controlling your resources, yes you can stick with your families in the rest of the UK. It doesn’t help matters when I, and many other Scots, simply don’t believe that their doom-mongering is based on what will happen but what they fear might happen.
I’d say my vote hinges on the No campaign recognising that Scots don’t simply want the status quo but for an improved set of powers and a true voice within the UK and the world. This can be achieved by independence, or by stronger powers within the union. Resting on their laurels and offering nothing but dark projections for Scotland’s future will not win the No campaign the referendum. If the No campaign can offer a true alternative to independence and the current relationship with the UK: then No is the clear choice for my vote in September. If this alternative isn’t there: choosing the exciting, new and more democratic option of independence might be more appealing.
Scotland is swaying when it comes to their vote in September, and I’m tilting with them.