The announcement that the leaders of the three main pro-unionist parties - including Prime Minister David Cameron - are to visit Scotland today has raised a number of questions:
IS THE VISIT A PANIC RESPONSE TO THE POLLS?: Sunday’s poll giving Yes a lead for the first time caused consternation among the No camp, but there was no immediate sign that David Cameron and the other party leaders were clearing their diaries to go north and fight for the Union. Outlining the Prime Minister’s schedule to reporters on Monday morning, Mr Cameron’s official spokesman gave no indication of plans for a trip to Scotland this week. Indeed, the PM faced some criticism from MPs for not throwing himself more whole-heartedly into the battle.
There was widespread surprise in Westminster at the joint announcement by all three leaders that they would all miss Prime Minister’s Questions and go to Scotland. SNP leader Alex Salmond has derided the hastily-arranged trip as proof that “the Westminster elite are in a state of absolute panic”.
WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?: The idea was raised at a meeting between Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband in the Prime Minister’s office in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, following their exchanges in the chamber over Iraq. Agreement was reached later with Liberal Democrats. Mr Cameron’s spokesman refused to say who initially proposed the trip, saying only that it “emerged from cross-party discussions”.
WHY TODAY?: Obviously, there is little time to lose before the September 18 vote, and once the leaders had decided to go north of the border on the same day, it made sense to do it as soon as possible. It is also the case that by missing PMQs, the leaders add a little drama to their trip and send a message that the fight to save the union now takes priority over every other issue.
WILL THE THREE LEADERS TRAVEL TOGETHER?: No, and there are no plans for them to appear together on a joint platform. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are each expected to follow their own programme arranged by the parties separately. Downing Street said that this would provide an opportunity for them to speak to more voters in more places.
WILL THE VISIT HELP THE NO CAMPAIGN?: This is the key question to which no-one knows the answer. None of the three leaders has made any secret of their wish for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, but none has taken a leading role in the No campaign, for fear of being seen as English members of the establishment trying to tell the Scots what to do.
It is difficult to tell whether their co-ordinated “love-bombing” of the Scots will be seen by voters north of the border as a welcome offer of a hand of friendship from England, or a belated and unwanted attempt to browbeat them into giving up their chance of independence.
The SNP are clearly hoping that the visit will backfire and send more voters flooding into the Yes camp, pointing out that the three Westminster leaders between them have a combined satisfaction rating of lower than minus-150.