“Better Together” is turning into David Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership

by Kevin Meagher

There’s an air of inevitability about the poll showing Alex Salmond’s Yes campaign is potentially just inches away from victory in the Scottish referendum, hitting a new high of 47 per cent. To those of us watching from the outside, the No team doesn’t seem to have any clear message, other than, well we’re “better together”.

It’s a complacent, technocratic, flat-pack Westminster standard affair. A combination of convoluted arguments about the currency – which must leave most voters cold – and the usual student politics-level stuff looking to exploit perceived gaffes. All sadly predictable and all tragically inadequate, given the way the polls are moving.

Despite their massively lopsided advantages, the No campaign’s money, organisation and establishment support are counting for little against a lesser-equipped but better motivated Yes campaign with a simple proposition.

When have we seen this happen before in our recent political history? Ah yes, the 2010 Labour leadership election. In essence, the No campaign has become a carbon copy of David Miliband’s bid to become Labour leader. An earnest, top-down effort to make the voters listen to sense and political reality, with a brusque appeal to ignore the romantic, siren voices.

Like David Miliband, the Yes campaign has the same air of presumption about the outcome. The same inability to make superior assets count. The same patrician stuffiness. The same underestimation of the opposition.

Just as David Miliband was disastrously pigeon-holed as the “heir to Blair”, so, too, the No campaign can’t seem to shake off the accusation that it’s a front operation for the business-as-usual Westminster elite. This is unfair, but it’s an accusation that sticks, given the leaders of the three main Westminster parties are effectively neutered because of their Englishness and privileged backgrounds.

Meanwhile, Labour is paying the price of fielding a B-team in Scotland for the past decade, allowing Salmond to wipe the floor with the local political class who simply aren’t in his league. Also, the famous (and often parodied) remark that Ed Miliband “speaks human” could equally be applied to Salmond.

His broad, optimistic smile simply absorbs the energy from hard questions over the economic consequences of separation. So far, nothing has penetrated his defences. The Yes campaign seems spritely, a bit chaotic, but with a clearer sense of purpose. A bit like Ed Miliband in 2010.

In terms of matching Salmond’s campaigning elan, the No side offers up Alistair Darling, who, despite his manifold attributes, is to gutsy campaigning what David Moyes is to Premier League football success. Only the commendable Jim Murphy seems to have any fight about him, but even he is learning that the fluffy idealism of the Yes campaign is coupled with a hard-edged ruthlessness out on the streets, after running into its organised opposition.

Could it be that rumours of a popular uprising, with Yes campaigners galvanising support from parts of the Scottish electorate that have never before bothered with politics, are true? If so, it is a sorry state of affairs for defenders of the Union, who, just like David Miliband in 2010, hold the better cards, but still don’t know how to play them in order to win.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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7 Responses to ““Better Together” is turning into David Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership”

  1. paul barker says:

    The recent intensive study by The Scottish Social Survey came up with much lower levels of support for Yes. Theres a real problem with Political Polling in Britain as margins have been cut & cut. Its not just the low numbers Polled, usually around 500 actual responses but the very high numbers of people not answering. The danger is that we get an echo-chamber with respondents confirming what they think everyone else thinks.

  2. Geoff Clegg says:

    Hate to say this as Labour Party member myself, like many others within who for example criticise Ed Milliband, your critique of the ‘Better Together’ campaign is negative without any positive suggestions or proposals to how it can be improved. I am English but British first and terrified and depressed by the possibility that the YES campaign may win and Scotland leaves the Union

  3. uglyfatbloke says:

    If ‘organised opposition’ consists of one person breaking an egg on Jim Murphy’s shoulder surely there’s not too much to worry about.

  4. swatantra says:

    David … who?

  5. bob says:

    Uglyfatbloke: that attitude loses elections.

  6. Could it be that rumours of a popular uprising, with Yes campaigners galvanising support from parts of the Scottish electorate that have never before bothered with politics, are true?

    Or Kevin could it be better put that the core Labour vote is deserting because it perceives that Labour are no longer offering a social democratic future and it believes, probably wrongly, that the nationalists do? The failure of Labour’s leadership to differentiate themselves from the coalition on the major economic issues could be coming home to roost don’t you think?

  7. Murray says:

    if you can tell me 3 ways in which a modern scotland benefits from having a union with a modern england then you’re doing much better than the better together mob have done in the last year. The biggest problem for labour is they are in a lose/lose situation – people that would never vote snp do so as labour is baw deep in david cameron – if the result is no, they will never vote labour again. if the result is yes, scottish labour may flourish but thats not much use for westminster labour when their agenda is to copy tory policies ?

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