IN an updated introduction to his 1992 book The Battle for Scotland, Andrew Marr makes the following observation:
“Whenever London Scots get together and talk about independence, there is a general assumption the people back home will never actually vote for it … that a vote for the Scottish National Party in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and televisions studios.
‘They willnae.’ I have become less certain; next September, they micht,” opines Marr.
Marr’s impression of the chatter when Anglo-Scots gather in London bars might also have applied to a fringe meeting at the most recent Scottish Tory Party conference in Stirling. Back in June, Conservative activists had congregated to discuss the constitutional options if there happens to be a “No” vote next year.
Mind you, judging by the attitude of most of those in the room, discussions were more along the lines of “when” there is a No vote rather than “if”’. “We are winning this one out of the park,” appeared to be the overwhelming consensus of the Tory grassroots who had bothered to make it to Stirling.
As an observer of that fringe meeting, it was hard to escape the conclusion that the result of the referendum was being taken for granted. True, the Tory conference had arrived when the Better Together campaign was enjoying a purple patch. Serious questions about the viability of Scottish independence had been raised by UK Government papers.
Despite Better Together landing a few telling blows on the case for independence, it was hard not to detect complacency. Here, after all, were stalwarts of what has become a very tired Scottish party, which struggled to attract a respectable crop of activists to Stirling, talking as if the referendum was in the bag.
Since then the No campaign has suffered a couple of hiccups. There was the UK Government paper suggesting that mobile phone users would have to pay roaming charges in England after independence, an ill-judged contribution that played to the Nationalist narrative that Better Together is concerned with little other than scaremongering.
More recently, there was a the suggestion from an unnamed defence official suggesting that Faslane would be annexed by the UK post independence – a spectacularly unhelpful briefing for Better Together despite swift Downing Street denials.
Moreover, there were reports of a coalition minister saying that the Unionists had “won the argument” on independence – not the most helpful comment when faced by a highly motivated Yes campaign, who will certainly not be affected by complacency. The way things are going, Marr could be proved right. Things might be very much closer than either Tories in Stirling or Scots in London think.