The (Glasgow) Herald’s top news today is that Alex Salmond is ‘odds-on’ favourite to ‘win’ tonight’s Salmond-Darling chat, which ‘hundreds of thousands’ (oooh!) of people are expected to watch. I couldn’t be bothered to read on to find out how those odds have been calculated or what the criteria for a victory are – you, might want to, er, pay for an online view and see for yourself if the piece makes any sense at all. Or maybe you won’t, because the whole notion is simply silly: a ‘win’ would depend entirely on individual opinion. It’s no sillier, mind you, than some of the devices understandably used by editors and commentators in Scotland to squeeze the last few miles out of a referendum the result of which is a foregone conclusion.
Support for Scottish independence hasn’t really altered all that much over the years. Maybe it was in the low 20s thirty years ago and my sense is that it’s in the high 20s to low 30s now (in real life, I mean, not in polls with tiny samples), but that’s about it. And after the 1974-79 blip at Westminster, SNP strength there has been limited to just a handful of MPs. If you’d asked me 10 or even 20 years ago how many folk would vote for Scottish independence I’d have said that with a decent SNP campaign it might be as high as 30% of turnout – now, after an undeniably good SNP campaign I’d say it might be closer to 40%. But by most standards – a 20%, 15%, 10% margin? – the No vote will win by a landslide.
What’s more interesting to me, but clearly much less interesting to everyone outside Scotland, is what will follow – because given that the referendum result is indeed a foregone conclusion, the follow-on will potentially affect people’s lives far more.
Scots have decided collectively, and correctly I think, that we can have our cake and eat it (or having consumed it, if you will). Alex Salmond has already cannily said, or implied, that under his vision of independence our major institutions would not disappear, Britishness would remain a matter of personal choice and our economy would remain largely underpinned by the UK Treasury. This might help move the Yes vote a few points closer to 40%. The deeper impact this line of argument will have, though, is that after a No vote settles the institutional stuff most of us agree on, Scots will have a taste for having cake we’ve already eaten (I’m over-stretching the analogy there, I know, but I’ll perservere) and demand more ‘Scottish’ micro-economic policies which somehow ‘substantiates’ our sense of difference from the rest of the UK. At the moment, this looks to me like it will produce a second landslide in 2016, except this time it will favour the SNP largely because it isn’t a UK party but also because the Unionist parties have run a dire campaign rooted in reminding everyone how crap Scotland is.
But what is it Scots want that is different? More devolution, we’re being told, but of what? Scotland hasn’t used it’s present tax-raising powers to date and it seems unlikely to want to increase, say, social security spending above the ‘English’ norm if given the chance. Indeed, one of the more hilarious aspects of the media coverage has been semi-retired and still well-known journalists coming out for independence but claiming that doesn’t mean they’re nationalists – it’s the policies, you see – even though they can’t begin to say which policies would they’d like to see. Excepted from this, of course, is a strong view amongst such commentators that spending public cash helping the rich and middle-classes with higher education costs and providing them with free-prescriptions, rather than directing that cash to the least well-off, is somehow left-of-centre and indicative of a middle-class with a social conscience – rather than just the usual kind of middle-class special pleading (which I don’t especially deprecate).
In any case, it’s the holidays now and the nicely successful Commonwealth Games are over. The ‘foregone conclusion referendum’ is looking duller by the day to everyone but (some) Scots. Maybe that’s for the best? Could it be possible that once the daftness is over there’ll be a serious debate within Scotland about the future?
Blimey, there’s a thought.