It’s been like waking up on another planet. The day after Yes broke the 50 per cent barrier for the first time in an official poll, independence campaigners have been simultaneously celebrating, pinching themselves and struggling not to appear smug. Far from TV sofas and academic debates, folk on the campaign trail have been witnessing a steady drift towards Yes which became a dramatic lurch after the last Salmond/Darling debate. Now the polling organisation traditionally most pessimistic about the independence cause appears to have caught up.
Is an unfounded worry about pensions encouraging some senior citizens to plan a No vote on 18 September? Last week’s Survation poll found Yes was in the lead amongst 25 to 54 year-olds but behind amongst younger and older voters. So far there’s been great emphasis on the newly enfranchised 16 and 17 year-olds – partly because their risk averse outlook can be cast as a “snub” to the SNP government and partly because their participation in a major ballot will make UK history. Yet that youthful cohort of 98,000 registered teenagers is smaller and less likely to turn out than the most Yes-resistant group of 145,000 “dignified elderly.” These are female pensioners (in the main), often emotionally torn between children living in England and Scots-based children who intend to vote Yes. All have had a lifetime’s experience inside the UK, and many have a profound belief that any kind of change will leave them financially worse off.
Alex Salmond will announce a new Declaration of Arbroath today, pledging to protect the NHS from privatisation and create a fairer society. Is that a “cynical ruse” to win votes in a narrowing referendum race or just clear, unambiguous recognition of the widening gap between the Scottish and English health systems?
Why do almost half of Scots want Scotland to become an independent state? I’m asked this every other day by foreign journalists pouring into Scotland who want to understand the dynamics behind the world’s most peaceful and high-profile independence process. Without exception they are amazed that newspapers here are obsessed with the single issue of currency. The drivers for change are less examined than one possible consequence of it.
So farewell to the fabulous Commonwealth Games. Team Scotland broke through the psychological 50-medal barrier at the weekend, the culmination of 11 days of sporting endeavour that was theatrical in its intensity and confidence-enhancing for all involved – even couch-potato, spectating Scots.
Day after day, we could tune into Scottish, British or international TV and radio channels to discover athletes from this little country had beaten the best in the world – again.
Weaving through the hills of Kintail on a long drive home from the Outer Hebrides, the radio signal all but disappeared. Amidst the blaring static, it wasn’t entirely clear what new marvel the Commonwealth Games had produced. Suddenly though, all was revealed. The sound of thousands singing Flower of Scotland came belting from both speakers. A Scot had evidently won gold – again. It could have been swimming, judo, cycling or some other sport at which Scots apparently excel. Then came the news that Scotland had equalled its previous tally of gold medals – just three days into proceedings.
It’s the height of the silly season. Unseasonal heatwaves have swept Scotland. Beaches here on the Hebrides are packed. Scots have even been seen swimming. City streets are quiet. Summer sales are on. Politicians are abroad. Voters are focused on sunscreen, Playstation for the kids and time off in the sun. It’s hardly the time for a massive breakthrough in the independence campaign. Yet last week was a turning point – the week in which key narratives in the Better Together campaign began to crumble.
Today the Westminster government will rush through emergency laws making companies store details of public calls and emails to counter various threats, including the activities of paedophile networks.
Meanwhile, the internet and newspapers are alive with allegations that past and serving members of governments have conspired to conceal a paedophile ring active within Westminster itself.
Are prominent Scots who oppose independence really under threat if they speak their minds? Or are No campaigners almost guaranteed to have funding applications approved and plans accepted – even dodgy ones – precisely because the Scottish Government must prove its even-handedness in the face of relentless scaremongering?