OUR opinion poll today might look like bad news for the Yes campaign in the referendum, with a fall of five percentage points in support for Scottish independence.
After all, last month our ICM numbers showed the Yes cause needing a swing of just two percentage points to take a historic lead.
The fact that this month’s poll has not produced a famous breakthrough, and has instead provided a set-back, will come as a bitter disappointment to the army of Yes activists campaigning with enthusiasm across the country. And yet wise heads in the Yes camp, including experienced campaigners in the SNP, will not necessarily share in the disappointment. For some time Yes strategists have been admitting privately that the last thing they want is to take the lead with four months still to go. In fact, such an eventuality fills them with dread. They would far rather a slower build-up, with a breakthrough moment happening immediately before the 18 September vote. Better this, they say, than a summer when independence looks like it is in the bag, allowing voters time to ponder that prospect and perhaps have second thoughts. In the wider scheme, therefore, today’s poll may be a strategic blessing for the independence cause.
That is not to say there is nothing for Yes strategists to worry about here. On the contrary. Two trends in particular should be causes for concern in Yes Scotland’s Hope St headquarters this week. The first, as Professor John Curtice points out in his analysis for us, is that they are losing ground on the economy, with the percentage saying independence would be good for the economy falling from 37 per cent last month to 32 per cent now. The second is that support among women has slipped badly, from 35 per cent to 27 per cent. Anecdotal evidence suggests that while men are more likely to be inspired by the ideals surrounding the independence cause, women are more hard-headed in their insistence on knowing the practical consequences for themselves and their families. On the evidence of our poll, women’s confidence about the benefits of independence is on the slide.
What has brought about these changes in Scottish opinion? Yes campaigners are quick to dismiss the “scaremongering” about which currency an independent Scotland would use. They question the motives of senior industrialists warning about the consequences of independence. And they disparage Labour figures such as former PM Gordon Brown when he issues warnings about pensions. But the compound of all these factors appears to be having an effect. There are also signs the pro-UK camp is adopting a more positive tone in its arguments for staying in the United Kingdom, emphasising common purpose and shared endeavour within these islands. After two years in which Better Together’s campaign has been one of unrelenting negativity, this more upbeat tone at least has the virtue of novelty.
The danger now for the pro-UK parties is that this poll result encourages a new sense of complacency about the referendum outcome. This would be foolish. One in five Scots has still to make up their mind. And what makes this referendum so fascinating is that the likely high turnout – there is talk of 80 per cent – brings into play the kind of people who do not usually vote in normal elections.
One Yes strategist is fond of saying independence will be won by the 49-year-old man who is voting for the first time. What kind of political message appeals to people who don’t like politics, and who have ignored most political entreaties to vote in the past? And once they are engaged, which side will they vote for? These imponderables, and others, mean that it ain’t over till it’s over. No-one can be sure of where this country will find itself on polling day. But we will find out four months today.
Glasgow has suffered major upheaval, now organisers must deliver success
THE Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games are a tremendous moment in the history of a great city, one that will be remembered for generations. But you do not stage such a global event without making changes that some people will bitterly oppose. That is inevitable.
If cities only acted on plans that enjoyed 100 per cent unanimous support, then nothing at all would get done. And it is in the full knowledge of that fact that we should consider the TV documentary being screened this week on how the residents of the east end of Glasgow coped – or in some cases failed to cope – with the massive upheaval required to stage the Games.
To be able to deal with change requires resilience. And it is much easier to muster resilience if you live a comfortable life of health and stability. When people are already living in difficult circumstances – as many residents of the east end of Glasgow undoubtedly are, in terms of health, wellbeing and financial security – mustering the strength to deal with wholesale change is a very tall order indeed. Change is great is you choose to change. Having it imposed, when it is the last thing you need, is another matter entirely.
So it is easy to sympathise with many of the people who appear in this documentary expressing their unhappiness at how the Games project tore up their neighbourhood and rebuilt it in accordance with the needs of an international sporting event as the primary concern.
No doubt some mistakes were made by the authorities. No doubt some aspects of the plan could have been more thoughtfully conceived and more deftly implemented. It would be extraordinary if everything had gone exactly to plan, and the plan had been universally well received.
But what we should not lose sight of is that Glasgow 2014 has the backing of the vast majority of the citizens of the east end, as well as of the wider city of Glasgow and the nation. Locally there is a huge store of goodwill and eager anticipation as the day of the opening ceremony looms. It is now up to the Games organisers to stage an event that is such a success, both this summer and in the legacy years, that it leaves the complaints and the gripes and the moans a distant memory.