by Kevin Meagher
There are no perfect campaigns and while it’s a tad premature to start the post-mortem, you have to ask why Better Together ends this race wheezing and red-faced.
At the start of August it was leading Yes Scotland by 20 points. Yet despite superior assets in terms of money and foot soldiers, as well as existing relationships with the electorate, the multi-party No campaign has not been able to make these structural advantages count and that lead has melted away. So it’s not just Gordon Brown biting his nails to the stump.
Majoring on technocratic arguments, Better Together has lacked emotional punch as well as good basic organisation. The evidence? Brown’s last-minute rescue operation promising “devo-max” after postal ballots had been sent to a fifth of the electorate. A panicked move that, to be properly effective, should have come weeks before. (As, indeed, should Brown, who was left on the subs bench for too long. His speech yesterday is described by Steve Richards in The Guardian as “mesmerising”).
So, in a spirit of evaluating why we are where we are and positing why we shouldn’t actually be here, let me offer the following:
1) It should never have been this close. Alistair Darling is fond of saying that he warned people it would go “down to the wire”. If, indeed, Darling was planning for a tight race then he has got this campaign wrong, strategically, from the very start. The aim should have been a thumping victory to close the issue down for good and avoid the so-called “neverendum”. If devolution in 1998 has given nearly half of Scots a taste for full independence just 15 years later, what sort of ratchet effect will “devo max” have on Scottish voters’ identity and sense of otherness in a few years’ time? If as many as 45 per cent of them vote for independence today, the matter will not rest. Make no mistake; we’ll be back here again within a decade.
2) Westminster should have been alive to the danger much earlier. Since 2010, there have been three secretaries of state for Scotland. Each of them, Danny Alexander, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael are Liberal Democrats. And each of them has been asleep at the wheel. The role should have been used to help counter the SNP’s advance in the Scottish Parliament. (It would be fascinating to see the Secretary of State’s diary entries between 2010 and 2014 because so little of value to this campaign seems to have been achieved in that time). Carmichael, especially, should have been galvanising the Cabinet to tee-up a more considered “devo max” offer much earlier, or, indeed, have that option put on the ballot paper.
3) The Tories have not delivered. Despite David Cameron’s heartfelt please to Scots in recent days, his party’s meltdown in Scotland in recent decades has meant that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has, incongruously, had limited purchase in this debate. That said, despite only having a single MP, half a million Scots still voted Conservative at the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections. Tory strategists should have spent the last few years cultivating this base and their party’s organisation for this very moment. Unfortunately, David Cameron’s detoxification of his party never included a meaningful attempt to regain a foothold in Scotland. (This is presumably why he surrendered the Scottish Office to the Lib Dems). (more…)