Since my earlier post Trench Warfare 2014appeared, two main lines of argument have emerged. The first of these is the charge of being in denial (i.e., that the polls are narrowing alarmingly) and the second is charge of complacency, or at least the risk of it.
The first of these counts – the evidence of the polls – can be most easily addressed through the use of the excellent new tool installed on the What Scotland Thinks website courtesy of (who else but) Professor John Curtice. This allows unencumbered viewing of the polls on a company by company basis, we can thereby compare like with like and see a series of nearly parallel lines.
Even in the single recent poll which showed a slight narrowing (by ICM on 20th April) “Yes” is stalled on 39%, with the apparent shift being accounted for by movement from “No” to “Don’t Know.” Time will tell whether this is sustained.
Otherwise, the difference between polls is that some of them show Yes perpetually a long way behind, and others show Yes perpetually less far behind.
Nor can the second charge – of complacency or its risk – be allowed to stand. Indeed for many “No complacency” is now written through our bones like Blackpool on a stick of rock.
And for some of us, there is a still greater spur: to be frank, we have been spooked by the level of support for such a deeply flawed and even dangerous proposal as that for Scottish independence. As recently as 2010, the SNP (on 20%) polled barely more than the Tories (on 17%) and it was not unreasonable to interpret that 1-in-5 as the core vote for independence.
Therefore anywhere above 25% to 30% in favour of Yes seems much too high, and it must be the task of the No campaign not only to maintain the current ceiling on Yes support, but to drive it down as far as possible before 18th September. We can do so in several ways.
First, part of this experience of being spooked has been that of the left in Scotland having been fractured by the referendum question. In particular, it has emerged that there are a good number of people on the wider left who see a vote for independence as an opportunity to register their opposition to the coalition government or indeed to the UK state as a whole (ex-far left people from CPGB to SWP fall into the latter category.) These have been given succour by a few old Labour people and individuals like Professor Bob Holman and Billy Bragg who have their own axes to grind.
So there is a need to pursue a left politics in Scotland which is based on – and where necessary even reclaim – the fundamental beliefs of the Labour movement.
We must make it clear that for most of us, as Labour members in the No camp, we start from the position best summed up by the advice a young John Hume received from his father that “you can’t eat a flag.” In other words, the starting point for our politics is economics and class, not nation.
So the findings of the Devolution Commission, with its pragmatic and balanced distribution of powers and taxation based on sharing risks and responsibilities, are an important foundation for No in the coming months. Likewise, the increasing interventions of veteran Labour heavyweights like Gordon Brown and John Reid, plus the specialist inputs of the likes of Brian Wilson (the ex-Labour Energy minister who knows more about Highland politics than anyone in the SNP) are welcome as they gather pace.
Labour’s Holyrood team is weighing in with a strengthened and more cohesive opposition message fronted by the redoubtable and feisty Johann Lamont. Scottish Labour is employing new 12 Referendum Campaign Assistants to get the message out, centred on the almost Obama-esqueTogether We Can initiative. Trade unions are choosing overwhelmingly either to back No or to stay neutral: those opting for Yes are notably thin on the ground.
In the meantime, there are two big contributions which Labour nationally can continue to make.
First of all, and very simply, we must continue to beat the Tories: by doing well in the Euro elections, staying ahead in the UK opinion polls and by winning the Council elections.
As the SNP and its Yes confederates see the opinion polls failing to move as they wish, it is certain that they will attempt to scare the Scottish electorate with the prospect of a Tory government after 2015.
This will clearly become less and less credible, and will be an empty threat on 18th September, if Labour is odds-on to win 6 months after.
Secondly, Ed Miliband and his Shadow Cabinet must continue to outflank the SNP in real life policy issues which affect everyday lives.
Three excellent examples of this are the commitment to ditch the Bedroom Tax immediately on taking power in 2015 (a year before a putative independence date for Scotland in the unlikely event of a Yes vote); Labour’s new policy on Zero Hours Contracts; and our proposed controls on private landlords and rents.
So again, we can use (for the last time, I promise) the analogy of the trenches to frame this report from the referendum campaign. The defences are in good order, the troops are in good heart with established and new political supply lines now fully open.
And above all, there is NO COMPLACENCY, although a convincing victory remains in sight.