The Yes campaign will experience a powerful backlash as voters take notice of the dangers of Scottish independence, writes Brian Monteith
If ever there was a need for supporters of Scotland’s enviable partnership with England, Wales and Northern Ireland to hold their nerve it is now. After the No campaign being ahead in the polls for so long, it is understandable that the first poll that puts the Yes campaign ahead with a two point lead might cause some to reach for the vapours.
As a mere spectator it may be easier for me to say but there are far more important things for Better Together and the unionist parties to do than panic and make bad judgment calls as a result.
It should be noted that YouGov was amongst the worst at predicting the alternative vote (AV) referendum, being some 15.8 points out, in comparison with ICM which was only 0.2 points of the result.
Then there is Yes Scotland’s own Panelbase poll that shows the No campaign remaining in a four point lead – a disappointment to the nationalists given that Panelbase has been the most optimistic towards Yes over the last year. Following on from all of this, two developments are now likely to influence the last ten days of the campaign.
The first is that the market reaction to a possible Yes victory will strengthen and become more apparent – shockwaves will begin to be felt as businesses suddenly realise they may have to put contingency plans into action in advance of the referendum to allay the fears of investors and employees. This will cause a sharp focusing of minds and give credibility to the economic warnings that the No campaign has made in the past.
Already there are reports from solicitors and estate agents that offers are being made on Scottish homes for sale with “subject only to a No vote” clauses. I know these are no exaggerations, for a good friend of mine who works in house sales received one such offer on Friday. A Yes vote will mean the withdrawal of such offers, causing a downward pressure on property prices.
The potential for the domestic housing market to suffer a fall in values in much of Scotland as financial companies look to relocate should not be discounted. This is not scaremongering, although I know some will seek to portray it as such; it is simply an attempt to explain how the market is already reacting to any possible changes in advance of them happening – as any market usually seeks to discount against risk in advance.
As in the property sector, so too in other markets where investors or depositors can move their funds or assets, we will no doubt see further changes that will, in their own way, send political signals that might yet make people reconsider how they should vote.
Chief amongst those will be the currency markets where a further fall in the pound is likely. Only last week sterling fell to a seven-year low against the dollar following news of an earlier YouGov poll showing Yes gaining ground, and the latest news can therefore be expected to have a similar effect.
Such movements might at last convince Scots that the currency issue is a real and present danger to the future of their employment and their standard of living. Higher interest rates, higher mortgages and higher inflation will all be signalled for both Scotland and the rest of Britain – irrespective of plan B, C or Z ever being adopted – unless Scots vote to stay with the United Kingdom.
The other development is undoubtedly the temptation for unionist politicians to offer more powers to try and win over the remaining undecided voters – or those toying with voting Yes who might yet consider separation to be to great a risk. Already we have seen the Conservative Chancellor George Osborne suggesting a deal between the three main unionist parties has now been struck. I urge caution on the No campaign to avoid any rush to bribe the electorate – for it will simply not be believed and look very much like a panic. And investors – and voters – do not trust the judgment of leaders who panic.
What has been lacking from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties is an explanation about how the delivery of more powers will work and how this will then sit with the reform of institutions in the rest of the United Kingdom. We need to hear a narrative that all the party leaders can sign up to that talks of a bright future for a country that has been great in the past – that through solidarity has succeeded against huge challenges – and by repeating this partnership will remain great. Every country has its faults: wealthy Norway has its food banks too and Ireland with its control of economic powers has unemployment nearly double that of Scotland’s. What people are looking for is some empathy from their politicians who see the challenges they face and can tell them honestly how they will be surmounted and our lives improved.
Showing that the Scottish people can get all of the gains the majority say they want without losing the benefits of being in the UK is the key. Simply upping the amount of powers is not credible – what is required is to make the delivery of what is already promised believable. This is where the unionist parties have thus far failed to be effective enough.
Already, through postal voting, as many as a fifth of those able to vote will have done so – I have no doubt that the No campaign will already be ahead with those votes. To build upon this, Better Together must now refocus on what it knows works on the doorstep and then concentrate on getting its vote out.
It can see now that the SNP Government will not answer the crucial questions on pensions, currency, European Union membership, university funding and so many other areas – so Better Together should move on from asking them and lay bare the truth of what the options now are and how staying in the United Kingdom in every case offers the best option. These will provide the positive reasons for voting for the country we have all built, rather than rewarding the fearmongering the nationalists are finishing their campaign on.