If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ on the September 18, one thing will be clear: the Better Together campaign has been utterly ineffective. Two years ago, when the Better Together was formed, it had a simple task – maintain the lead unionists have enjoyed over the last twenty years, while battling what is, undeniably, some mightily shaky economics in the ‘Yes’ campaign.
The negativity of the ‘No’ campaign has been identified as one of its key issues. Compare this approach to that which unionists in Canada took in the 1995 Quebec Referendum; a long campaign highlighting the positives of Canada, followed by a burst of negatives at campaign’s end. This resulted in a last minute surge of unionist fervour in the ballot box and held Canada together.
The Better Together campaign has certainly succeeded in promoting a negative sentiment, but has ignored the positives, apart from the slightly deranged murmurs coming from the right about the UK being the greatest country ever. This onslaught has left Scots numb to most of the endless rhetoric, and has led to a backlash against the Better Together leadership.
In the last month, leadership has been absent from the ‘No’ campaign. Alistair Darling was dealt an unexpected blow in the second debate he undertook with Alex Salmond. This is arguably not Darling’s fault, as he has the thankless task of being a Labour politician forced to defend a union which has been undeniably shaped by the policies of his political opponents. However, this crisis is emblematic of the complete failure by politicians in Westminster to stand united. The widening gap between Labour and Tory is inescapable; a perfect complement to Salmond’s fiery criticism of the current state of Westminster politics. If David Cameron even considered accepting Salmond’s repeated offers for a televised debate, the Better Together campaign might as well give up.
The Conservative Party must surely face recriminations for their decision to veto a three-option referendum question. A ‘Devo-Max’ option would surely have divided the ‘Yes’ vote into two, and the only conceivable reason they rejected such an approach is down to their failure to view the ‘Yes’ campaign as a real threat. They now squirm as they throw promises of further devolution, with little regard to how the rest of the UK might view a uniquely empowered Scotland.
It is this inability to empathise with ‘Yes’ voters’ mentality that has undermined the Better Together campaign. Earlier this year, a London-run campaign firm portrayed real Scottish concerns about democratic deficit and misrepresentation as idiotic, nationalist guff. This approach may lead to a success for the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Despite Better Together’s claims otherwise, it is frankly unbelievable that any of the major Westminster party leaders could conceivably remain in office after a ‘Yes’ vote.
In these final breathless days the Scottish people will decide whether the Union is worth saving, and if they do, it will be despite the best efforts of the Better Together campaign.