LISTEN to the views of the metropolitan informed and intelligent and you would be entitled to think that, with just over a year to go, the referendum is all but over.
The No campaign has won and it is only a matter of whether they can win well enough to extinguish all hope of advancing Scottish self-government further. Curious.
I am a firm believer in research and evidence in any campaign. No pound spent on it is wasted, in my view, if used wisely. But the idea that the current range of polls are giving us any sense of what the actual result will be is simply wrong.
In my estimation we remain in a relatively clear and stable position as things stand. Roughly half of the electorate feel they have all the information they need and have decided on their vote. They split pretty evenly between Yes and No. I think the lowest possible vote for No is around a third of the vote while the lowest possible for Yes is between the same and a quarter (I am an optimist who likes to err on the side of pessimism with analysis).
The remaining half of the electorate wants to understand more and wants to wait more before deciding. And fair play, we don’t even have the White Paper yet and a clear sense of the answers to all of the obvious questions. Nor should we. The civil service had to wait for the Edinburgh Agreement to get properly cracking (can you imagine the furore if they had spent resource on it without the agreement?) and they need good time to do good work.
So the result will be determined by the floating centre of the population for whom this is a question not for now. And they are correct. Few beyond the already committed are ready to commit for the move. But that does not mean their minds are closed.
So calling a result now is a mistake. If you haven’t watched the race, I commend the women’s 400 metres final from the August World Athletic Championships in Moscow. Watch it and think about the metaphor for politics and this campaign in particular. And imagine the political commentariat as you listen to the sporting one.
Christine Ohuruogu was behind for 49 seconds of the 49.41 second race. The commentary wrote her off until, with about 4 seconds to go, it was clear she had a game plan to catch Amantle Montsho, which she then did. The point is clear that winning is about winning, not front running. And as this column has rehearsed before, timing is everything. And race plans matter.
Opinion polls and commentators only call the race as they see it, not as it might unfurl. “They are losing, losing, losing. Goodness they have won.” Remember the last election. The pollsters are making similar brave calls in their adjustment from raw data that they did then.
So there is enough clear evidence to suggest this race remains open. But what needs to happen for Yes to win?
Many things, of course, but we can start by being sure this campaign will soon be gripped, well co-ordinated, integrated and resourced by some of the most committed and talented people in the business anywhere.
In terms of data gathering and person-to-person conversion the Yes side is exponentially more effective than No, who would appear to have a more sparse grassroots network. This matters increasingly in a world where information sources are growing in number and diminishing in power. Personal contact counts, the effort by committed individuals in every community is worth it. And it is not something commentators pick up easily.
But the message needs to be crystal clear and delivered consistently. Here is where Yes needs to find the discipline of the winning imperative. By all means the rainbow coalition can imagine different futures for future elections to decide. But the core case to be put will be that of the government in its White Paper, and all must get behind it as Scotland’s independent starting point: currency, monarchy, Nato and all.
When the Scotland we are being asked to empower is made clear, the belief, passion and hope can start to dominate the discourse.
Look through the detail of the polling and you find interesting majorities for progress in interesting places already. The people who think of their lives as “we” rather than “me” are far more likely to vote Yes. If our concern is for our family, our community, our neighbourhood, our long-term and legacy; we are more open to the story. If our worry is the short-term of me, myself and I, we are more cautious. Will we all vote with the next generations in mind? I hope so.
This is a small country of five million people. The words and deeds of individuals can make a huge and decisive difference. Every campaigner can matter, and it is time for them to ask “how”?
As Theodore Roosevelt said “believe you can and you’re halfway there”. With about one year to go, now is the hour for the campaigners behind Yes to truly believe they can, because they certainly can. They can, we can, we should, we will. «