THE offices of the two campaigns in the independence referendum, in Glasgow city centre, are near enough to share the same sandwich shop on their lunch-hour.
Yes Scotland faces out, with deliberate symbolism, on to Hope Street and its thundering buses slogging up the hill. Better Together, a few hundred yards up the hill, is based in the quieter surrounds of the city’s famous Blytheswood Square.
This time next year, both will be the site of frantic last-minute efforts to ensure the maximum number of supporters get to polling booths up and down the country. One will emerge triumphant, to claim a place in history.
It will be a “rollercoaster ride”, says Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland and a former executive at BBC Scotland. He speaks from experience, having had a turbulent first year in which some of his staff have left, and the police were called in to investigate allegations of hacking. During it all, his campaign has remained stuck between eight and 30 percentage points behind the No camp, but he projects an optimistic front.
“We now have hundreds of local groups around the country, hundreds of events taking place every week and every month,” he says. “We have a level of activism and visibility that is far greater than anything the No campaign can put out.”
As for the polls, Mr Jenkins insists they aren’t showing the true picture. He claims the two sides are “neck and neck” among those who have made up their minds, with the rest of Scotland undecided. “But the only movement is towards a Yes,” he says. “I would be loathe to put a precise number on it, but I do think the polls will have tightened by the end of this year.”
A key moment in the next year, he says, will be the publication of the SNP government’s white paper on independence. Expected in November, the document will set out a prospectus on independence, and is already said to be numbering several hundred pages. Key figures in the Yes Scotland campaign, including the chair, Denis Canavan, disagree with parts of it, such as the commitment to keep the Queen. But Mr Jenkins says his team is now focused on winning, not debating: “There is an acceptance that the Scottish Government has the right and responsibility to lay out its framework for what an independent Scotland’s foundations will be. Everyone is now focused on winning the referendum.”
Parts of the manifesto will not be in Scotland’s gift to promise. For example, issues such as membership of the European Union and the currency would need to be negotiated after a Yes vote. “In some cases, you will have to state what is a likelihood and what is a preference,” he says.
But he claims that, as the polls narrow, then the pressure will increase on the UK government “to talk turkey”. He adds: “As we go into the next year and it looks more likely to vote Yes, then the UK government will come under pressure from people in England to state things in detail about how it will work.”
Up the hill sits Mr Jenkins’ counterpart, former Labour party adviser Blair McDougall. His analysis differs from Mr Jenkins’ claim of momentum building. Those who support the Union are “where we were before we started the campaign”, he says. And, he adds, a majority of people are still “unconvinced of the case for independence and believe we are stronger sharing risks and rewards and resources as part of a bigger United Kingdom”.
Mr McDougall has brought in Blue State Digital, which provided technological back-up for Barack Obama’s two successful US presidential campaigns. But he says: “Just like Barack Obama’s campaign, having lots of people doing tweets isn’t enough. If it’s not too corny, we need their feet as well. You need shoe leather. You need people knocking the doors.”
(Mr Jenkins agrees, noting that “the single most important factor in this campaign from our point of view is the dialogue, the conversation, that we’re having with people around the country: face-to-face contact”.)
A fresh campaigning push is planned for today, says Mr McDougall. “We will continue to strongly make the case that we get the best of both worlds with a strong Scottish Parliament and the back-up of being something bigger – and that distinctiveness and the success of the Scottish Parliament is underpinned by being part of something bigger.”
And while Mr Jenkins must try to tackle people’s uncertainty, Mr McDougall’s concerns focus on complacency among pro-UK supporters who think it’s in the bag. “That’s why, almost every time there is a poll, we make the same point, which is: whatever people vote for, or don’t vote for in the referendum will be what they get. If people stay at home and other people come out to vote, then you might find that you do get a shock result and people do end up with independence.”
Alongside Better Together is United with Labour, the Scottish Labour Party’s campaign to keep Scotland in the UK. Anas Sarwar, its director, says it has contacted 500,000 voters. “The pledge we made at the launch was to communicate with half-a-million fellow Scots, which we’ve now achieved through either knocking on doors, speaking on the phone or putting a leaflet through the letterbox. We have hit that target.”
There is also a separate Conservative Friends of the Union campaign. “More than 80,000 people, many of whom have never been members of the party or supported the Conservatives, have chosen to join, offering their time, talent and resource,” says Ruth Davidson, the Scottish party leader.
Back down the hill, Mr Jenkins acknowledges that all this activity might be too much for some people. “We have to accept that we can’t force people on to this debate before they want to be involved in it.”
However, with the size of the prize on offer, both campaigns will be out on the streets whether people like it or not. At Hope Street and on Blytheswood Square, the lights will be burning late.
VIEW FROM THE YES CAMP
Margo MacDonald: Greater self-respect and a chance to do better
Why independence? In the words of the L’Oréal advert: because we’re worth it. That’s what it’s about: self-regard and self-worth.
Having to depend on our own energies and effort will make us more careful in how we tackle the big challenges and give us a greater sense of satisfaction when we achieve the outcome for which we will have striven.
That will make us feel more confident, more adventurous and we will grow stronger and bigger, more willing to take the sort of risk that has been absent in much of our business and industry. But that’s in the past now, we’re ready to step out into a field of action we’ve identified as being the right fit for our resources and aspirations.
And what are they? The impression has been given that nothing much will change. Letterboxes will still be red, and since everybody agrees Elizabeth has done a grand job, the royal emblems won’t be removed, Coronation Street will be more popular than River City and there will be no need for a border or passports. In an effort to assure Scots that their lives won’t be changed by what is still an unknown force, nationalists – who should know better – have cut down to size the big idea of independence.
We will write a new song. What’s the alternative? The disgruntled feeling of having to accept public services and facilities becoming ever more shabby, and the private embarrassment of letting slip the chance to do better.
VIEW FROM THE NO CAMP
Rupert Soames: Bad for business with huge rise in costs
I believe independence will be bad for Scottish business because it will place barriers to the free movement of goods, services and people where none exist today.
I am certain that the two-thirds of Scottish exports that go to other parts of the United Kingdom, every pound of the £45 billion, will have attached to it a cost that does not exist today. I am certain that the cost of government borne by the Scottish people and businesses will increase substantially.
All I hear from the nationalists is wishful thinking. They wish to have differentiated economic policy and regulation, yet wish to be in a common currency area with the UK. They wish to have all the benefits of oil, but wish to have the benefits of the UK balance sheet as a lender of last resort.
I think there is a danger that those of us who believe in a Britain without borders are seen only as nay-sayers. We are accused of being only negative, of trying to run down Scotland. Nothing can be further from the truth. I love this country with a passion. I think it is a great place to do business – and at Aggreko we are proud to be Scottish and proud to be headquartered here.
And we have put our money where our mouth is – when faced five years ago with the choice of where to put our new manufacturing and development facility, we chose Scotland. But we chose Scotland in the context that it is part of the United Kingdom.
• Taken from a speech by Rupert Soames setting out the economic and business case for remaining in the UK
VIEW FROM THE UNDECIDED CAMP
Ben Thomson: It all comes down to which side offers devo plus
So far, in the referendum debate, I’m disenfranchised. I believe the Scottish Parliament would be more effective if it had greater powers and was more accountable, but also that there are benefits to remaining part of the UK. For me this is not a compromise, but the ideal outcome.
The problem is that neither Yes Scotland nor Better Together are offering me this option – yet! That’s a pity because opinion polls over the past year show this option is far more popular than either of the options on offer.
On the one hand, particularly if we are to share a common currency and a head of state, the Union is a tried and tested relationship that has broadly worked well for 300 years. What Europe has shown us is that a monetary union without also strong political and social unions will always come under pressure in a crisis such as the current one. The advantages of a stronger voice in foreign affairs and greater clout in defence is also a huge benefit of the Union.
However, there is no accountability in Holyrood budgets being provided from tax revenues from Westminster, instead, it should be responsible for raising its own revenue. Giving MSPs real fiscal responsibility to match their spending responsibility will allow Scotland to stand on its own feet.
I will vote for whichever side comes closer to the sensible middle option that I believe is best for Scotland; a Union with much greater fiscal and welfare powers. So, let’s see which side comes closest to devo plus.