Eyes on voting intentions of former union presidents

Former NFUS president George Lyon is leading Rural Better Together
Former NFUS president George Lyon is leading Rural Better Together
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WITH less than two months to go before the independence vote, both sides are ratcheting up their efforts. Over the coming weeks, a new crop will appear on Scottish farms, especially those with fields adjacent to main thoroughfares.

The crop will only be in the ground for a short time but it will have long-term consequences.

I refer to the sprouting of posters for both sides of the referendum as the Yes and the Better Together campaigns grind towards the September 18 vote.

There are two responses to field posters: if they do not chime with your 
political thoughts or if there are more opposition posters than there are of your own, they are dismissed on the grounds that “fields do not have votes, people do”.

The other view, and it is the one that drives enthusiasts to bang in stobs and put up the posters, is the subliminal 
effect they have on passing motorists.

Meanwhile, the round of meetings organised by NFU Scotland continues to attract large audiences. One held last week in the north-east brought in more than 100 farmers keen to hear both sides of the argument – and that on a night where hay and silage making might have had priority.

More of those meetings are scheduled in the coming weeks as the battle for the farming vote continues.

The one and only farming poll I have seen to date is where some two-thirds of those surveyed expressed a desire for the current relationship within the UK to stay in place.

With these adverse figures, the Yes campaign needs a boost in the final weeks of the campaign.

One possibility might be the much-speculated support of four former union presidents. This is not a figment of my imagination. It was first mooted at last year’s Royal Highland Show. The announcement was to be imminent, the press was told unofficially. Nothing happened until this year’s show where once again the press were unofficially briefed that a gang of four former union presidents would come out in support of the Yes campaign at the show.

It was supposed to happen but nothing transpired. I am now informed the launch date is set for mid-August.

Of the ten living former union presidents, George Lyon is the only one to have gone into politics and he is leading the Rural Better Together campaign.

One other chairs a Scottish Government quango, so he might find it difficult to speak out either way.

That leaves eight other former top union men. Ian Grant was seen sporting a Better Together badge at the Alyth show, so that suggests he is unlikely to be one of the gang of four.

The strong money seems to be on John Cameron being one of the Yes quartet as he never misses an opportunity to be very cosy both with First Minister Alex Salmond and cabinet secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead.

Another name in the frame is Jim Walker, who is never slow to give a trenchant and unqualified opinion. However, judging by his recent views in a trade paper, he seems to be blowing a bit hot and cold on independence.

There are two other dark horses in the frame. One informed source has it that the odds are on John Ross coming out and backing independence. He has always kept his political powder dry as he quietly filled a wide range of public appointments, from chairing the Moredun Foundation through to his involvement with the less well-known Care Farming Scheme.

That leaves one other much talked-about candidate who has publicly backed the SNP: John Kinnaird. Will he come out and back independence? It is rumoured that around the kitchen table such a move would be a hot topic of discussion.

So will it be four? Will it be three, or two who come out and back independence? And, if they do, will the other former presidents then throw their weight behind the Better Together campaign?

Only time will tell.

Will it influence how farmers might vote or is it a bit like the posters in the field? Unlike posters former presidents have a vote but do they have influence?

Only time will tell.