Eddie Barnes: Canny Scots voters will take some persuading that full independence for the country is worthwhile

TODAY’S YouGov poll, published in The Scotsman, offers more evidence of the toe-dipping habits of people when it comes to the big constitutional question facing them.

Over the five years since the SNP government has been in power, relentlessly banging the drum on how it requires more powers, people appear to be warming to the prospect of a more autonomous country. And yet the pillars on which the indentity of the UK is built – the monarchy, the pound, even the British Olympic team and Huw Edwards on the ten o’clock news – have grown in popularity. Just 12 per cent of SNP supporters think there should be a separate Scottish currency. Less than a third of voters now want Scotland to be a separate EU member. As people begin to consider more financial autonomy, is it the case they are hedging such risks by backing the comfort blanket of the UK’s cultural and institutional bonds? Pollsters believe the answer is yes. The canny, cautious Scottish voter is alive and well, it appears.

The poll offers perfect evidence for why the SNP now characterises independence purely as a division of the “political union” within the UK, which, it argues, doesn’t even necessitate the ending of the UK itself. Determined to remain in the centre-ground, the SNP has been reassuring about secession. The pound stays for good. The Queen is on board. Ministers travel to Newcastle to show it is possible to demand independence and still be nice to the English. And anyone who argues that things may be a little complicated has “scare-story” branded on their forehead.

This prompts a potential danger for the SNP. For if independence is just the same as before, won’t people start wondering what the fuss is all about? Why go through all the hassle of change, if things end up exactly the same? Furthermore, business and “civic” leaders note that the big-ticket items they want the government to focus on – most notably, an education system which produces skilled and motivated youngsters for the workplace – is something already in the Scottish Government’s gift. So, if even the SNP is saying independence is more of the same, why all the energy spent on it?

Nicola Sturgeon attempted to answer part of that question this week in her speech at Glasgow University. Focusing on the coalition government’s welfare policies, the Deputy First Minister claimed they “offend our sense of decency”. The second half is likely to come this weekend when Alex Salmond speaks at the SNP’s spring conference. As with another speech last week, the First Minister is likely to put the economic case for independence. SNP strategists believe if they can persuade people that a cash reward comes with a Yes vote, the small gap they need to close to win is achievable.

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But the key challenge remains. How do you convince people that something they clearly like – a Scottish Government working for Scotland, within the UK – isn’t the right way to go? Mr Salmond – the great persuader – has a job to do.