A majority of people back Scottish independence, says poll

Alex Salmond says that David Cameron's "dictatorial" intervention has increased support for independ

A referendum on Scottish independence, currently scheduled for autumn 2014, may still be a way off, but public opinion is moving in the right direction for the SNP if a Sunday Express poll is to be believed. It found that 51 per cent of people in Scotland back independence. This follows a New Statesman poll earlier this week which found 44 per cent of the Scottish public in favour.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, Salmond had his own theory on why this could be:

I think that some of that increase in support for independence is a reaction against the sort of dictatorial line we've been getting from some of the pronouncements from Downing Street.

I think the prime minister would do well to perhaps listen to the voice of the people and try to conduct this debate with a bit more positivity.

However, this might not be the only reason. Notably, the poll used Salmond's preferred referendum question -- "Do you support Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?" -- which has come under fire for being loaded, as the phrasing is designed to invite a positive answer. (Political Scrapbook pointed out this week that schoolchildren are taught that these types of questions are wrong).

Interestingly, although Salmond criticised Westminster, he also appeared to suggest that Scotland would remain part of the UK, even if people vote for independence:

The Queen will still be our head of state ... I don't think it would be a good idea to talk about United Kingdoms when what we're actually talking about is political independence for Scotland.

He also renewed calls for a third option of devo-max to be added to the ballot paper. Cameron has indicated that devo-max, which involves greater economic rather than political freedom, would be inconsistent with remaining in the UK.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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