Dramatic polls are more gripping than undramatic ones, so it is ICM that is seizing attention during this Easter Bank Holiday weekend. The Times today (£) picks up on its weekend poll about Scottish independence, which gave YES 39 per cent and NO 42 per cent – or 48 per cent and 52 per cent respectively when the don’t knows were excluded. As Anthony Wells notes over at UK Polling Report, “leaving aside the SNP commissioned poll with leading questions last year, this is the highest level of YES support recorded so far.”
The Times also reports that Gordon Brown “will help spearhead a new bout of Better Together activity with a major speech in Glasgow tomorrow where he will unveil new research showing the financial benefits for families in staying in the United Kingdom”. The former Prime Minister will thus reiterate the head-rather-than-heart appeal that is the basis of the NO campaign, and of which the warning from George Osborne, Nick Clegg Ed Balls and (sotto voce) Mark Carney that Scotland will not be able to keep the pound if it goes independent was an integral part.
In a brilliant recent post on his blog, John Redwood compared the Union to a marriage, writing that a husband and wife “pay the bills to support the rest of the family out of love and as part of that feeling of togetherness. If [one of them] persists in wanting to split it all up, both are then driven to argue over who owns and deserves which of the assets, and who is to be liable for which of the liabilities. Once you are arguing over that, often with lawyers involved, the last vestiges of love and togetherness are squeezed out by the process of seeking to end the union.”
The Wokingham MP’s point was that Salmond and the SNP are bent on driving love for the Union out of Scotland, and that there will be a consequent backlash in the other partner to the marriage (England, in effect) in the event of divorce. In other words, independence would set off an uncivil row over money and assets. None of this will happen if sufficient affection for the Union persists north of the border, and the NO campaign will thus be asked why it isn’t trying to appeal more to it – why its campaign doesn’t involve a little more heart as well as head.
The answer of NO campaign strategists would be that it is pushing the case that polling and research show is most likely to appeal to Scotland’s voters – particularly Labour-voting swing ones, especially women, in the Glasgow-dominated central belt. Brian Monteith argued recently on this site that the best course that the campaign can take is to hold its nerve, and it is certainly the case that any briefing against Alistair Darling, or a bout of infighting between the coalition that makes up NO can only help YES.
As I said, startling polls are more exciting than non-startling ones, and a poll on the same issue from Survation over the weekend was less thrilling. Its headline figures were YES 38 per cent and NO 46 per cent. As Wells said, “this is a slight move towards YES since Survation’s previous poll a week and a half ago, but looking more widely it’s more of a “no change” poll. Survation also showed YES on 45 per cent in March and February”. Earlier this month, he wrote of two Scottish independence polls that “one [shows] a slight but insignificant drop for YES, one [shows] things static”.
The figures were YES 37 per cent, No 47 per cent (Survation), and YES 40 per cent, NO 45 per cent (Panelbase). At the start of April, Wells said that different firms are showing different leads for NO, but that “the general trend…seems to have been a slow drift towards YES”. This raises the question of the consequences if there is a narrow majority for either YES or NO in September. The polls suggest that Scotland is deeply divided over independence, that a No vote is unlikely to be decisive, and that a Yes one would stir anger, a backlash and division – as its consequences began to settle in.
Furthermore, future permutations of government on either side of the border bear a good deal of thinking about. For example, what will happen if Scotland votes Yes only narrowly – but negotiations over independence take place between a Labour Government in London and one in Scotland after a new government is elected there in 2016? Could they break down altogether, since both parties to talks would want Scotland to stay in the United Kingdom? The more one thinks about it, the less decisive the autumn’s referendum looks likely to be.