What a panic’s in their breastie!

What a different two (or three actually) polls make.

First, the Panelbase poll conducted by the Yes campaign shows a record high of 47% support for independence among women with the gender gap virtually closed.  Hurrah for us!  And especially Women for Independence who right from the onset – even before Yes Scotland was formed actually – realised that women would take longer to make their minds up, that women needed to be listened to rather than talked at in this campaign and be offered space beyond traditional political hierarchies in which to engage. Our instincts have proven to be spot on.

Second, the sensational YouGov poll for the Sunday Times putting Yes ahead for the first time in the campaign.  It’s a slender 2 points but the momentum is all ours.  A wiser owl than me told me of recent Irish referenda experience.  In each and every one, the vote started shifting in the last few weeks.  Once it does, it doesn’t stop: all the other side can hope to do is slow down the shift enough to prevent it reaching the finish line.  It looks like the efforts the No campaign have made in the last week to achieve this have failed.

But hard hats on and heads down (though our tails are clearly up).  To coin a phrase, there is no room for complacency.  There’s a lot to do and everyone who wants to see Yes win the day on 18th September must redouble their efforts, continuing to target the key voter groups of Labour supporters, working class voters, women and people aged under 40.  According to Peter Kellner at YouGov, these are the voters who have shifted the most in the last few weeks.  Everyone in local Yes and grassroots groups must focus on reaching more of them, each and every day between now and the 18th.

As for the No campaign?  Well, you can promise jam today, jam tomorrow and jam the next day but it won’t wash.  Like dodgy market traders with a palette of shop-soiled goods to offload before they perish, they are frantically trying to cobble a “more devo” offer together.

Like the offer they should have allowed to go on the ballot paper from the start.  Or even the offer they should have made months ago.

But then, they promised us more devo at the start of this campaign.  And Messrs Naw, Nay and Never managed to come up with competing claims that amounted to a begrudged attempt to hold on to as much as they can and give away as little as they thought they could get away with.  Who’ll believe them now? The Scottish people are not buying I’m afraid.

The hard hats are needed because we are also going to be assaulted with an aerial bombardment of fear and smear like no other.  The British establishment is fighting for its continued grasp on power and control.  The Labour party is fighting for its very political existence in Scotland, if not elsewhere.  David Cameron is possibly fighting for his job.  What is about to rain down on us will be unprecedented in its severity, weight and virulence.  So this is a time for cool heads, calm hearts and onwards, forever onwards.  One doorstep at a time.

That’s presuming of course that they can stop fighting like ferrets in a sack.  It’s already started.

Unnamed backbench Conservative MPs have started calling for Cameron’s head on a plate:  “If Lord North went in 1782 for losing the American colonies, I can’t see how Cameron can stay, frankly.”  Note the language there:  it betrays how they really view Scotland.

Cameron is being blamed for allowing Alex Salmond to out-strategise him by one former Minister, especially on the timing of the referendum.  Again, betraying that they understand nothing of what is going on in Scotland right now.

And also, that it is still all about them.  Secret talks are apparently being held to force a leadership contest by parachuting Boris in through a parliamentary by-election.  The calculations on what happens if Scotland votes yes are all about shoring up their rump and being in a position to hold onto their seats at the UK election in 2015.

But the Tories are not just fighting among themselves – they’re turning their fire on their erstwhile Naw partners, Labour.  Apparently, it’s all also Labour’s fault for failing to deliver its vote.  Which again mistakes that this is about parties and even, as I opined here, that Labour has a core vote these days in Scotland.  The Scottish Tories are rock solid – but then that was to be expected.  It’s Labour whose support is haemorraghing.

Poor Douglas Alexander is the one coming under fire with particularly nasty personalised attacks.  Why him?  He isn’t the leader of Better Together – Alistair Darling is.  Many other Labour figures, including Scottish ones, have played much more senior roles.  The attacks on him whiff of jealousy, of score settling and of seeing off his credentials as a Labour leadership contender.  Yet, if any senior Labour figure has tried to create a positive narrative for the Naw lot, it’s him.  At various points, he’s been pushed out of the picture by others jostling to lead the front line.  With very few following his messaging.  Why?  Because they all thought this would be a skoosh and it was a platform for them to see out their twilight years basking in shared glory or from which to jettison them into the limelight and potential leadership roles. It seems to me that he and Brown are the two working their hardest to retrieve the situation.

But therein lies part of the problem.  For all that Gordon Brown is still a respected political figure in Scotland – and revered by the media to embarrassingly gauche levels – he is still yesterday’s man.  He may understand UK politics but having served his entire career on that stage, he is out of touch with the dynamic of Scottish politics.  He – and others – do not get us anymore.  That is at the heart of their problem.

As it is for the whole Naw movement, as Rory Stewart – he of the failed attempt to create hands across the border and build symbolic cairns and other irrelevant nonsense – attests. “A Yes vote would represent a failure of the entire political class. I think it’s the greatest constitutional issue we have faced for 300 years and it has not been treated like that. In the 19th century, this would have been like the great reform act. It would have engaged the whole nation and its politicians for years.”

Yet, the debate that Scotland has been having has been like our own great reform act, our own democratic renewal, with people of all ages enthused, engaged, debating and deliberating.  It has captured our imaginations and our attention.  The whole nation has been enthralled.  If the rest of the UK (but primarily England, for this is what they mean when they say “we”) failed to notice, or care, or contribute positively, that’s its problem.

But “we” as Scotland, as a nation, have awoken and to tar us with the brush of indifference is inaccurate and unfair.

Our political class – on the Yes side at least – have not been found wanting.  There is no failure of leadership here.

But it’s not actually about them.  What has happened in Scotland isn’t about them, but about us.  All of us.

There’s no failure, simply success.  To get to where we are today, with Yes leading by two points twelve days before the vote, having had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us from on high by the British establishment, big business, world leaders, the UK Government, the British media, rich people with deep pockets, and all those with their hands currently on the levers of power, is little short of astonishing.

It’s not a failure but a triumph.  Of the will of the Scottish people to stand up and say no more.  No more waiting.  No more empty promises. We want this one opportunity to create a better life for everyone who lives here.  And most especially of all, we want the chance to create a better future for our children, our grandchildren and the generations yet to come.




#sp11 – it’s going down to the wire

I’d like to be able to say I told you so with that blogpost about the Royal Wedding, but the latest YouGov poll for Scotland on Sunday was conducted before the big event.

These findings, the last in a series of polls stretching back to October 2010, show a tightening at the top.  For whatever reason, voters have paused for thought.  It’s as if we’re in a communal changing room, unable to decide between the golden yellow and the poppy red.  Which suits us best?  Having opted for the yellow, a last minute wobble has got us trying out the red, one more time, just to be sure.

What’s caused the SNP to slip several percentage points in both votes and Labour to gain?  Could be any number of things.

Labour’s much pilloried re-launch might just have hit the mark with Lib Dem and Conservative switch voters.  Until now, they were prepared to plump for the SNP but that was before a stark reminder that a near majority for the Nats would result in a referendum for independence.  Seeds of doubt will have been sown with some.

Or could it be that with the election losing top billing to the big wedding build up, the SNP’s ability to dominate the air war was dented, allowing the effective ground battle being fought by Labour to gain a little traction at last?

Labour is now piling resources into key seats, and even in some much less winnable ones on paper.  This week, this household received a very good candidate leaflet, hitting the right note on all the local issues.  It was delivered before 8am, by a big team with Geordie accents.  We also received two target letters – one for me, talking a lot of tosh about Tory policies that only apply south of the border, but deliberately included to appeal to me as a *hard working family* type;  and one for the Big chicklet, talking about key Holyrood pledges on youth issues.  This, dear reader, is voter targeting at its most sophisticated.

As this is nowhere near a target seat for the SNP, it’s hard to know if they were matching Labour’s offensive.  One hopes so, because this kind of bombardment and ratcheting up of momentum in the last ten days of the campaign counts.

More conjecture: the narrowing of the SNP’s poll lead might be down simply to all those don’t knows making up their minds at long last.  Or perhaps it is the arrival of April’s payslip that is finally focusing minds.

I’ve banged on before that Scotland has been in a phoney war in relation to the cuts and would only start to get it when the first UK budget changes kicked in.  Well, now they have.  Increased National Insurance contributions, benefit changes and reduced tax credits combine this month with pay freezes for many and whacking big rent rises for others, as well as other council fees going up.  Suddenly, we are in real economic time.

One final possible reason – and this one’s a googly – the Scots like an underdog.  For much of this election campaign, the SNP has rolled through town in a Panzer tank demolishing everything in its wake, pushing Labour on to the defensive and making them look incompetent all along the way (though they also managed to do a fair bit on the incompetency front themselves).  Now, this is not to suggest that folk have decided to vote Labour because they feel sorry for Iain Gray and his party.  But Labour is the home that Scots love best, and just as the Scots reacted badly to the doing Gordon Brown got day in, day out on the stump in the 2010 General Election, could there be a similar kind of reaction going on in the final denouement of this Scottish election campaign?

Whatever, it’s now going down to the wire.  Yes, the SNP are still ahead – and it should be pointed out that the Mail on Sunday poll by Scottish Progressive Opinion has them ahead by a country mile, and only a handful of seats short of an overall majority – and that is where they are likely to stay.  Especially as we have two leaders’ debates between now and polling day.  If Alex Salmond is on as good form as he has been all campaign, he’ll wipe the floor with the other leaders and not even get out of second gear.  He and the SNP thoroughly deserve the endorsements received today from the News of the World, Scotland on Sunday and Sir Tom Farmer (UPDATE – and Scottish Sunday Express)

But staying just ahead ain’t enough to win this election.  The SNP has to win on the constituency vote to hold the seats it has (or needs to retake, thanks to boundary changes).  As was seen in 2007, a narrow win will do and returning 21, and maybe one or two more, constituency MSPs sets the party on its way back into government.  An eight point lead is nice to have but doesn’t translate into a big enough swing to start toppling Labour’s dominoes across the central belt.  The majorities are just too big in most seats.

Which is why a convincing and resounding lead on the regional vote is so necessary.  A two point lead on the lists will ensure enough MSPs are returned to increase the majority.  But it’s tight – well within the margin of error tight.  If Labour picks up regional MSPs at the expense of the other parties, that is not good news for the SNP.  Not only will the SNP have more MSPs but so will Labour.  Moreover, it might even mean that Labour wins the popular vote which some in their ranks will interpret as a good enough mandate to seek a coalition deal.

There are still four days of campaigning left:  whisper it, but Labour could still be gaining ground.  As one of the SNP’s dream team, Stephen Noon, tweeted tonight:  *it’s the numbers on Friday that matter most.  Got to turn good polls into votes.*  Indeed.

For once, every vote really will count.

SNP’s record doesn’t stack up with voters

Last week, I saw a man, standing tall and erect, outside NHS Scotland’s offices in Edinburgh.  Dressed for work with a briefcase at his feet, he was impassive and stoic, holding a handwritten card in front of him.  He smiled politely at people going into their work – they all put their heads down and refused to meet his gaze – but otherwise maintained a dignified silence.

*The NHS abused my wife* read the card.  It was enough to make me gasp and as you can tell, has stayed with me.  I’ve been worrying the scenario, trying to elicit its meaning and implication.  Young people and anarchists taking up the UK Uncut cause with noisy abandon we are used to, ditto with the dotty Mr Fraser who thought it appropriate to strip to protest at bankers’ bonuses, but this kind of protest?  It’s still rare.

But I wonder if it goes on in a slightly different shape and form in living rooms and over dinner tables across the land?  Certainly that would be the suggestion behind the YouGov poll findings on the SNP’s record in government, published last week in Scotland on Sunday.  Indeed, everyone has a horror story to tell about their own or a family member’s experience at the hands of the NHS (read some of the comments on this breastfeeding blogpost);  daily, people commute to work almost in spite of our transport systems;  parents regularly regale each other with their contempt for the education system and wonder if a work-life balance is simply a myth; and while the statistics show crime, and the fear of crime, falling, that collective experience is a far cry from the individual view.

The SNP’s 2007 manifesto commitments were so ambitious in scope and scale, on some level, they were bound to disappoint.  The party can trumpet all it likes that it has met 84 out of 94 of its promises but it failed on the biggies and that’s what people remember.  Moreover, it may have kept its end of the deal on some key issues, but on many others, it – as Ministers found out pretty quickly – was not actually able to deliver progress or change.  That responsibility lay with national and local government agencies and their foot-dragging has meant slow progress on the ground.  The fact is that people have noticed very little difference in the last four years.

Thus, when put on the spot, when asked if things have improved, stayed the same or got worse under the SNP Government, most opted to show their least sunny sides.  Including tax and the economy when a devolved Scottish government has limited powers in these areas was mischievous, so let’s ignore those findings (though given how the parties are fighting like ferrets in a sack over a council tax freeze, they may wish to note that only ten per cent of respondents reckoned tax had got better in the last four years).

Only on two issues – Scottish parliamentary powers and the environment – did a majority of respondents think things had got better or stayed the same.  On the others, the numbers thinking things had got worse outweighed those thinking things had got better.  On health:  30 per cent think worse, 27 per cent better.  On crime:  38 per cent think worse, 20 per cent better.  On education:  32 per cent think worse, only 18 per cent better.  On transport:  38 per cent think things have got worse and a tiny 14 per cent better.  And on family life and childcare:  26 per cent think worse, 12 per cent better.

The less numerically challenged of you will have noted that the overwhelming response of poll participants was a resounding meh.  Despite a change in government, despite a spring in Scotland’s collective step (certainly in the first two years), despite record funding for key public services, the vast majority of people think nothing has changed in the last four years.  Everything has stayed the same.

It hardly adds up to a resounding endorsement, yet the weekend’s polls show that the SNP has leapfrogged Labour in a rather dramatic turnaround.  People are saying they are going to vote for the SNP to give them another term in government, even though they are not overly impressed with their record so far.

So what on earth is going on?  It’s hard to pinpoint, especially when the SNP’s manifesto is promising more of the same.  As in, the same sort of things it offered last time – 1000 police officers, a council tax freeze, more money for the NHS, lower class sizes, free higher education – and as in, no big changes to how we do things in Scotland.  Which when you think about it is a remarkable stance from the party that wants to make the biggest change of all.

These particular poll findings, delivering a shrug of the shoulders on the SNP’s record, offer a glimmer of hope to Labour.  If it can somehow shift the narrative away from personalities and polls and back on to bread and butter issues, it has a chance of stopping the SNP’s re-election express train in its tracks.  So far, Labour has failed to nail the SNP’s failure to improve things on key issues and consequently, has not provided voters with compelling reasons to shift their vote.  But now there is nothing left to lose but the election itself.

This rescue mission requires three steps:  trash the record; then say something positive about what can be done differently; and remind people why it’s time to come home.

It might not work: too little, too late and all that.  But at least the campaign would challenge something the SNP reckons is an asset and this poll suggests is most definitely not.  Real life confirmation of which, can be found in the desperately sad vigil of the man outside NHS Scotland.