When (or because) push came to shove, it was a No

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September 19, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

The recriminations have started. How could they have got it wrong. They thought it would be Ok, they thought it would be right. Yet this morning fingers are being pointed in earnest at the pollsters, who had spent the last two weeks telling us it was too close to call, even suggesting at one point that the ‘Yes’ campaign were ahead. The data they released made the UK political party leaders run up to Scotland and along with Gordon Brown systematically give away many of Westminster’s powers over Scotland without any consultation with Parliament, which is why the victory this morning for the “Better Together” campaign is only the beginning of what could be some serious constitutional chaos.

“Actually”, the pollsters will point out, “we did say that there were a lot of ‘don’t know’s”. Those were far more significant than many people recognised, and when push came to shove, those people probably tipped the balance. I use the term ‘when push came to shove’ on purpose. The intimidation of “No” voters, the covering up of No campaign posters, the shouting down and throwing of eggs at No campaigners meant that a lot of people were really quite scared to admit they were voting No in public, but also even on the phone. So the don’t knows were really No votes, and this is the first time they got properly counted as so.

The No campaign will breathe a massive sigh of relief, because it should never have come to a situation where it was so close. It started with the arrogant attitude to negotiation by David Cameron which resulted in such a one-sided agreement in which the question was worded so the change was the positive result, 16-17 year olds were allowed to vote, and the date was out when it was. As I have mentioned before, promises were made by members of the campaign that are going to be extremely hard to live up to. In particular, Gordon Brown’s statement that it would be “nothing short of home rule” was rather rash. Yet Gordon Brown is the person who made the biggest difference in the last few weeks. Trusted far more by Scots than by the rest of the UK, he delivered a speech on a Wednesday that was so astonishing in its passion and clear analysis of the case for No that he became the darling of the right wing press (pun not intended) and reminded us how he got to the position of being coronated as Prime Minister in 2007. It felt right that it was the result from Fife, his constituency, that confirmed the victory.

As for the Yes campaign, considering they were up against the establishment to such an extent that every single newspaper in the UK bar the Scottish Herald were ranged against them, they ran a quite incredible political campaign, perhaps one of the best in living memory. Alex Salmond came into politics to achieve something concrete and turned politics on its head in the Scottish Parliament elections first then almost achieved a result that would have set independence in stone. I wasn’t a big fan of some of his tactics – the refusal to answer economic questions, the refusal to condemn the intimidation of No voters and the press so clearly being used by supporters of his campaign, the constant use of language and promises that could never be measured in the future (what actually IS ‘fair’ and ‘just’?) grated on many. Yet now he must joint “Team Scotland” just as he claimed he would have invited members of the “No” campaign to do, because Scotland will always need him.

As for the people of Scotland, a turnout of above 84% is a testament to the seriousness with which they took their democratic responsibilities. If every referendum were treated so reverently, the political culture of the UK would be a lot more positive.

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