Tom Peterkin: Edgy times for Better Together

There have been worrying signs for those who value Scotland's place in the Union. Picture: Getty
There have been worrying signs for those who value Scotland's place in the Union. Picture: Getty
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It wasn’t so long ago that many No supporters thought the result in this month’s referendum would be a foregone conclusion.

There can’t be many that think that now. There have been some worrying signs for those who value Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

From Alex Salmond’s bruising performance in the second TV debate to David Cameron’s admission that he is feeling “nervous” about the referendum result, there is little doubt that the race has suddenly become far tighter.

Yesterday, we saw Nicola Sturgeon making comparisons between Yes Scotland’s campaign and the SNP’s astonishing landslide victory in 2011.

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Particularly tellingly, the independence campaign has had a post-debate bounce in the opinion polls – most notably in the recent YouGov survey, which put Yes at 47 per cent and No at just 53 per cent when undecided voters were excluded.

From Better Together’s point of view, the one positive aspect of this apparent aligning of the stars for independence is that any vestiges of complacency have gone.

It is all hands to the pumps in Better Together HQ, on the streets and on the stump. Speak to the No side’s strategists, however, and there are no obvious signs of panic. According to those at the heart of the campaign, it was always expected that the polls would tighten appreciably before the big day.

That intelligence is based on all the research the campaign has done on undecided voters over the last two and a half years within focus groups, from discussions on the doorsteps and within Better Together’s internal polling. This research suggests that within the crucial undecided category – which will determine the referendum result – voters inclined to break for Yes are likely to do so before those inclined to plump for No.

“We think that is what is going on,” said one Better Together source yesterday.

As polling day edges closer and questions on currency, EU membership etc remain up in the air, Better Together reckons that Yes voters recognise they are not going to get answers and take “a leap of faith” and declare for Yes.

The other group, which eventually comes down on the No side, is more inclined to delay its decision in the hope of answers. When they finally accept that they will remain unanswered they go for a No vote – a decision that might not be finally made until the voter walks into the polling booth and picks up a ballot paper.

That’s all very well, but it suggests that the next couple of weeks could be a bit of a white-knuckle ride for those who have already nailed their commitment to the United Kingdom to the mast.