We are in the final few minutes of the game, as a media commentator observed today, and there is no ‘time added on’ in this match.
On Thursday 18th September, 10 days hence, the people of Scotland will enter the polling booths to put an end to the United Kingdom, or to prolong its existence for at least another decade.
That is the decision they will be facing. Not “Should Scotland be an Independent Country”, but “Should you keep the United Kingdom together”?
Therein lies much of the dilemma that faces the voters of Scotland – who by the way number Germans, Latvians, Poles and Hungarians among them – while fellow Scots resident across the Border, from Berwick to Penzance, have no say.
When David Cameron agreed terms for the Referendum, he might have stated that the main question was “Should Scotland remain part of the UK?”, thus acquiring the valuable element of a positive ‘YES’ in the answer. Perhaps he could have brought the timing forward, to save this interminable ‘neverendum’, or even included a question on further autonomy. No matter, we are on course for the closest of things run, ever, on such a crucial and historic decision.
As of today, the latest YouGov findings give the YES camp a 2% lead – their first advantage in the whole proceedings. Can they sustain, or even increase it?
Mr Salmond must be rubbing his hands together with something of a confident air, rehearsing his victory speech, or speeches, planning the decor for his new residence, and generally feeling that his time has come. Throughout this campaign he has listened to a barrage of opinion that his figures are wrong, his policies non-existent, his promises made largely of straw and yet he remains on target.
Why is this?
Partly because he has maintained an air of unflappable belief that he will win; partly because the opposition have had the task of selling the unsellable ; partly because the main political parties have never quite managed to unite against him, in a solid, collaborative cabal that said, “The UK is opposed to any separation, and you will have to convince us otherwise.
But that has not happened. Too late, we have had senior political figures rumbling into action, rather like aging prop forwards sent on to substitute in the final minutes of a game, arriving out of breath, underprepared and out of condition, trying to pick up the threads of the plan.
Mr Salmond of course, has much to do as well. He has still to keep his lead in the polls, and has to be prepared too for the outcome. If he wins, then the ball is firmly and irretrievably in his court. No longer can he lean on his lectern, and wave his arms accusingly at Westminster. He will be the provider, the originator of all that befalls his country and his fellow citizens.
His promises will be called in, his policies will be under the microscope, and he too, will be revealed. Isolated in the glare of self publicity that he has created around his conviction that he is right. That independence is right for Scotland.
So what will we find?
If he is successful in the referendum vote, it will probably be due to a late swing of support from traditional Labour voters, disenchanted with prospects of continued Conservative government, and accordingly turning to the SNP to keep Toryism out. Mr Miliband, not a figure much beloved by dedicated Scottish Labour voters, is aware of this trend and is busily attacking the Conservatives as a spent and divided force.
Salmond may also benefit from a swing in the women’s vote, as the prospect of his many promises on child care, or NHS and welfare, gradually take on an air of reality. Again, many Scots are beyond believing claims from either side and just want to opt for independence because it will guarantee them freedom from Westminster politics. Even at a loss, this a price they will pay.
Of course, that still leaves Mr Salmond with two potential hurdles to navigate. The General Election in 2015, and the agreement over the terms of separation, by March 24th 2016.
Salmond will have plenty to occupy him from September 19th, and may wish to seek postponement of the General Election until he has gained independence. But the Parliament Act denies him that option. He will have the prospect of fighting an election which may only see his SNP representatives in situ for just under a year. Withdrawing Scottish seats from the election is also not a positive way forward.
There is no question that the delivery of a ‘Yes’ vote will cause political upheaval, and uncertainty in the rUK as well as Scotland, for months on end. Suddenly the date of March 24th 2016 will come around with no terms in place. That is one of the many undesirable side effects of Nationalism. It is a destructive force far more than it is a unifying one.
Salmond must also address the currency issue that he has so successfully ducked out of so far. He may chortle about having more Plans than Baldrick, cunning or otherwise, but he will need to unveil the master strategy come September 19th. The continued intransigence of the Chancellor, backed by the other main parties, over a currency union, suggests that negotiations in that direction – clearly Salmond’s favoured option, will take quite some time. “Sterlingisation”, a rogue use of the £ with no backing from a central bank, would be risk heavy. It would mean no control over monetary policy, the relocation of the main Scottish banks to England, and a need for extremely tight fiscal control, to avoid having to borrow at punitive interest rates. These issues are not trivial, and to have failed to outline them to the public, is a shocking act of political vandalism by Salmond.
But of course Salmond is a political vandal : laying waste, without ideology and bent on singular acquisition of authority at any cost. He is of the ‘whatever works ‘ school of political philosophy. In essence, he is a conservative – safe middle class background, educated within the hallowed confines of Scotland’s oldest university, white collar career, golf-playing and a race-goer.
These credentials do not sit comfortably with his appeal to the masses that he is one of them. Social Democrat? I don’t think so. Populist? Hardly, as his plans for the succession are largely uncosted and undeliverable without some years of austerity to pay as the price.
Apparently a favourite quote of Salmond’s is – ”He either fears his fate too much/Or his deserts are small/That dares not put it to the touch/ To gain or lose it all”
We may think we know him with his swagger and his promised land philosophy. We may believe him, and ‘dare to put it to the touch’. But are we prepared to ‘lose it all’?
He will lose a vote, a chance that he may have again.
We will not have that chance again. Think, and vote NO.