Another Scots Independent column... do we hear the sound of ice cracking beneath the feet of the Better Together campaign?
The Scottish winter of 2010 was, as the natives would say, Baltic, with doubtless an intensifier or two thrown in there for good measure. However, one group of Scots which became very excited by the prolonged cold spell was the devotees of the roaring game of curling.
For a while it looked as if the ice on the Lake of Menteith might be thick enough to allow for a bonspiel to take place for the first time since 1979. Unfortunately, elf’n’safety concerns meant that it didn’t go ahead officially, though that didn’t stop some 20,000 people turning up and having fun anyway.
Thankfully the ice held up for them. However, you don’t have to listen all that closely to discern the distinctive sound of ice cracking beneath the feet of the Better Together campaign. From a ‘Yes’ perspective, it’s enormously encouraging to hear the increasingly panicky outbursts coming from leading unionist figures as they try to secure a ‘No’ vote.
Take Lord George Robertson. He might have impressed Westminster colleagues with his harrying of the Major government during the passage of the Maastricht Bill through the Commons but he cut a decidedly unimpressive figure later on as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. His elevation first to Defence Secretary and then to become Secretary General of NATO was a triumph of loyalty over talent if ever there was one.
Yet even in political retirement his lordship remains a senior figure. Just look at the quality of his suits. Count his bodyguards. Thumb through his directorships. Consider the ease with which he moves through the shadowy milieu of the securocrats who keep us safe and understand the world as it really is. This is a man of importance and a proud Scot to boot. Know your place, plebs, and listen to what he has to say.
Or so the script was supposed to go. Alas, his ‘cataclysmic’ language ensured that whatever point it was he was trying to make was drowned out in gale force ridicule. Even fellow unionists were forced to concede publicly that his remarks were at best ‘unhelpful’. However, we didn’t have long to wait for it to be trumped.
The leadership of the CBI being against Scottish Independence is about as newsworthy as the Pope’s Catholicism or the lavatorial habits of bears residing in forested areas. Yet for some reason, their opposition to Independence, just like their earlier opposition to devolution, was always allowed to be reported as if they were in some way acting as a disinterested and impartial observer.
By registering as an official supporter of ‘Better Together’, the CBI threw away the pin and held on instead to the grenade, with entirely predictable results. Trying to blame the registration on a junior official (actually their Head of Campaigns) and drawing attention to the planned early retirement of their Scottish partisan-in-chief Iain MacMillan just won’t do, any more than will withdrawing as an official supporter.
Their organisation is tainted, not just as being politically biased, but also as one which shows contempt for the views of its members. Even before compulsory strike ballots were introduced, the most militant of trade union leaders at least went through the charade of a show of hands in a car park to gauge support. It seems that faced with a CBI leadership adamant that ‘we know best’, that’s still a level of democratic engagement which their membership can only dream of.
Even a largely biddable Scottish media no longer seems to have the heart to try and portray such shenanigans as anything other than a complete embarrassment to the 'No' camp. The most dangerous weapons in the political armoury are laughter and contempt - things which Better Together now finds itself on the receiving end of even from voters who would still class themselves as undecided.
The ‘No’ camp is in deep trouble and belatedly, they seem to be realising it. In more reflective moments we occasionally get an acknowledgement of Better Together’s negativity - it is the no campaign after all! - only to be assured that there’s really quite a lot of positivity out there. The fact that the ‘battle for the head’ has ‘already been won’ is justification for the tack taken so far and in the time which remains between now and September, we can expect the ‘battle for the heart’ to commence.
Apart from identifying - correctly - that Alistair Darling is neither box-office not particularly effective, the response seems to be that they need more ‘big hitters’, who will deliver something called ‘hard facts’, which are believed to be kryptonite to narrow separatists like us. It’s a tactic which deserves to fail spectacularly and which in all likelihood probably will.
The old, familiar voices of authority are being disdained by the electorate. Respect previously taken for granted now has to be earned. We are now more likely to validate our views against the benchmark of our close friends, family and associates than to take our political and media talking heads at face value. Those used to dominating the bandwidth of political discussion seem at a loss to know what to do about it.
All of which must be very interesting if you are a business leader or an official in a foreign government currently being lobbied by Westminster to make waves in the Scottish debate. Ultimately, these people are only ever interested in being on one side - and that’s the winning side. After these cataclysmic interventions, the odds of that side being ‘Yes’ must have dropped markedly.