Today one poll shows a dramatic swing towards a vote for Scottish independence, with a reduction of the unionist lead to 53-47.
Whether you are in favour of Scottish independence or not, the worst possible outcome of a referendum/plebiscite on something so important is a narrow win for either side. Most democratic assemblies in the world require a clear majority – 66/75% – in order to carry constitutional change. Not here. We just need one more Scot in favour and the whole thing goes through.
I have no vote in the future of the state that currently governs me, but I have followed the debates. What strikes me is the very poor quality of the formal confrontations compared to the less structured, less nakedly political panel discussions. On line, the debate has mostly been dire – ignorant, abusive, arrogant. Meanwhile the professionals, principally the SNP leadership and Alistair Darling, have remained within very narrow bounds. Darling has refused to take on board the wider issues relating to nuclear weapons, potential EU withdrawal and the general democratic deficit within the Yes case, while Salmond has jeered and blustered his way through a very long list of issues. He, of course, has had to shoulder the onus of proof – of questioning the status quo, and this is in some ways an easier task, if provided with enough optimism. An idealised future has no faults, and optimism plays better than pessimism. Darling has suffered in consequence.
But Salmond has persistently evaded the worst aspects of the possible outcomes he is advocating, and he has done this to an extent that seems wilfully deceptive.
In short, he has failed to touch, even for a moment, on the very real dangers of making his larger, more powerful, richer southern neighbour into at the very least a rival, and at worst an enemy. Most of the arguments he adduces about the economic position fail to take in that separation will convert most of the arguments into a zero sum game, in which English politicians will have no direct interest in accommodating him AT ALL. Instead we have been given a lot of hurt feelings about being bullied, not being dictated to and so forth. Salmond, nevertheless, feels unembarrassed in telling other people what to do, becasue he can perceive their best interests; this includes the Bank of England, NATO, English political parties, world oil markets and the EU.
The economic case for independence is not clear, and has not been proved. It is at best, marginal. The democratic case for it is strong, but is less emotive for most ordinary voters. Salmond has fudged the two, telling Scots that they will have more jobs, and more accountable government, which will be both cheaper and more generous. All round better, no catches. Just say Yes.
The nation he is so keen to create willy nilly is set to be a ready-divided, churned up entity, as a representative of which he can only embark on negotiations with England carrying a tiny mandate. Would 2 per cent look good? Or 3? And all to get him a statute as Robert the Bruce II? How desirable is it to create a new state that is scarcely convinced of its own necessity to exist? That is the sort of thing that got colonial empires a bad name.
Politicians risk messing about with institutions at their peril, and it is doubly risky if they do it when the alleged necessity so clearly aligns with their own personal interests. Constitutional change is notoriously tricky – if we have the power to make a constitution, on what grounds do we have the power to unmake it? When does the tinkering stop? Salmond has skilfully put together a new coalition that includes romantics, passive aggressives and welfare dreamers, but the only person with a really clear interest in the arrival of Scottish independence is him.