What will happen on 18 September 2014, when Scotland goes to the polls to vote on independence?
The polls seem to be saying that they will reject independence by a majority, though perhaps not as clear a majority as once it seemed. Pretty much all the polls show between 25% and 35% planning to vote yes and between 40% and 55% planning to vote no. The large variations there should give us pause, though, as should the sizeable 'don't know' figures: 33% in the last poll I saw (December 2013). If those 'don't knows' convert to Yeses, then Scotland will be independent. There's only limited evidence that something like that could happen: so far, the polls broadly show that the lower the 'don't knows' the higher the 'No' lead, which suggests that there's most movement between 'don't knows' and 'No' voters.
Personally, I will take no particular pleasure in the failure of the Yes campaign. Not because I am a particular advocate of Scottish Independence: I think Scotland's influence in the UK is a fundamentally good thing, so I worry that we'd all become a worse, duller, more parochial, conservative and Conservative nation. One passionate advocate of Independence put aside these worries, saying that Scottish votes have never swung a UK election, but that's probably not true. As the table (left) shows, three times since the war, Labour would have been unable to govern without its Scottish MPs, though in 1964 it could perhaps have governed as a minority party, maybe after the 2nd 1974 election too (though that would almost certainly not have been called, given the revised result in February of that year). Now, as with all counterfactuals, we don't know how England would have behaved without Scotland, but those of us on the English Left have possible reason to worry about Scottish independence.
But that thought is selfish and no one on the Left should sacrifice the right of self-determination for the dream of a socialist England. As someone said, if the English are so worried about perpetual Conservative governments after Scottish Independence, all we have to do is stop voting for them. (I should also say, because someone is bound to raise this canard, that just because it is of course the Scots' legal right to determine their independence [or not], this does not mean that no one else is allowed to have or offer opinions about it, so don't bother trying to slap me down about that.)
The real reason I will take no pleasure in a No vote is the idiotic, scaremongering, unimaginative nature of the No campaign. For the last eighteen months, the No campaign has produced a non-stop series of dim-witted and preposterously false scare stories suggesting only inevitable catastrophe resulting from a Yes vote. Scotland will have to renegotiate 14,000 treaties! The Scots will be forced to join the Euro! Scottish phone bills will go up! And best of all, Scotland will have to give its pandas back!
They have offered nothing positive: there is no positive flesh on the bones of their positive slogan 'better together'. Why are we better together? In what sense will we not be together after independence? We in England will continue to benefit from Scottish culture in just the way that we benefit from French or American culture. Imagine the American "No" campaigner in 1773, worrying that they won't be able to use the pound and who will they put on their banknotes now?
These thoughts are prompted again by this interview with David Greig, or, more precisely, by the extraordinary response to it in the comments below. I know, I know, never read the bottom half of the internet, but here you do see how the No campaign conducts itself almost entirely in ignorant bluster and, now, ad hominem insult: 'Well, well, well another separatist who's enjoyed an English education and success in London hoying his twopenneth worth of opinion in on what will be best for the "other" cities of England. Raging hypocrite springs to mind' writes one commentator; 'Who cares what the writer of the musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory thinks? Its a very patronising comment to campaign for Scotland to leave the UK and then tell England whats best for them. Arrogant twerp,' offers another. And what is Greig's crime? He is suggesting that Scottish independence might lead to a flowering of debate about the nature of English democracy. It would send a ripple through the system that says, things can change, we do not have to have the system that we have; we can do things differently.
What is depressing is that the No campaign seem determined not to have that debate. Their approach is conservative, small-minded, blinkered. If it's characterised by anything, it seems to be a fear of even thinking about what change might be. It has whatever might be the opposite of imagination. In the very back of my mind is a thought so cynical that I mostly try to dismiss it as the product of some deep-seated misanthropy: could it possibly be that the Tories realise they will benefit from Independence and so have decided to conduct the worst campaign possible? I dismiss this pessimistic thought with an even gloomier one: no, they are conducting this campaign like this because this is the very essence of right-wing thinking: an aversion to the very possibility of change.
For what it's worth, if there's bad feeling after the referendum (assuming the No's have it), it will be because there was a moment for a debate and the No campaign won by refusing to have it.
Predictions, then: Labour will, if it has any sense at all, announce full support for Devo Max (full or substantial fiscal independence), perhaps at the Scottish Conference in late March. David Cameron will be cornered by this and will make half-hearted hints about listening hard to what the Scottish electorate will say. In May, the SNP will get a boost from the European Parliament elections, though this may in retrospect be seen as a guilty vote in anticipation of voting No in September. At the referendum, we will see a No majority, but slimmer than predicted. Finally, we will come to see this as a lost opportunity to reflect profoundly on who we are.
NOTE: I've just (1.30pm, 5 Jan 2013) revised this slightly, especially the table which was wrongly calculated. Thanks to Kieran Hurley for gently putting me right.