Talk about the dangers of complacency and the negativity of the ‘Better Together’ campaign seem to me to be entirely credible, however. It’s always a problem with opinion polls showing a large lead for one side or the other that those benefiting from said lead can become complacent, whilst those struggling can become desperate. But recent elections in Scotland have amply demonstrated that the unexpected can, and sometimes does, happen.
It may be, of course, that the Tories are less concerned, in reality, with the future of the union than with the future of their party. Whilst any rational appraisal of election results over many decades would suggest that the removal of Scottish MPs from the House of Commons would benefit the Tories more than anyone else, I can understand their fear that, in the shorter term, Tory voters in the shires of England – many of whom are what we might call ‘traditionalists’, wedded to ‘what-is’ – might decide to punish any Tory PM who presided over the break-up of the last remnants of empire.
Whatever their underlying motivations, a realisation that the increasingly lurid claims of the campaign led by Alistair Darling that independence would lead to pestilence and plague (well, they haven’t quite got round to that one yet, but they seem to be heading in that general direction) might change the tone of the debate, assuming that those responsible for the negativity start to listen.
Somehow, though, I doubt that they will listen. They’re too set in a particular mode of campaigning, based on a failure to understand the nature of the desire for independence. It was a prominent Tory politician around half a century ago, Iain McLeod, who said that people tend to prefer self-government to good government. He was talking about the break-up of the Empire rather than the Union, and it was rather a patronising way of expressing himself. It was, though, a recognition of the mood of the time, and an understanding, of sorts, of the desire which can drive independence movements.It’s an understanding which seems to be completely missing from the ‘no’ side in the Scottish debate. I’m still not confident that the Scots will vote yes in their first independence referendum. It is, though, entirely clear that there is a clear demand for more self-government. The failure of unionists to articulate how the UK should change to reflect that may yet lead to exactly the result that the “senior Tories” most fear.