If the Tories are worried about Scotland voting for independence, they shouldn't be

All of the polls continue to show a large double-digit lead for the No side. There is no reason to believe opinion will shift dramatically in the next nine months.

According to today's Sunday Times, senior Tories are increasingly fearful that Scotland will vote for independence next year. Lynton Crosby is said to believe that "Salmond will pull it off", while former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth declares: "It’s time England woke up and that we, as partners in the United Kingdom, work out how we’re going to move forward and ensure that a reckless decision to break up the United Kingdom is not made in September."

Their views reflect those of many commentators, who are now describing the result as "too close to call". But while a tight race would undoubtedly be more exciting (the primary concern of most newspapermen), the suggestion that the Union is in peril is unsupported by the best guide we have to how people will vote (which is not Lynton Crosby's hunches): the polls.

Before the publication of the White Paper on independence, I heard plenty of nationalists suggest that the event would be a "gamechanger" for the Yes campaign. But every poll published since has shown the No side ahead by between 14 and 29 points, with no significant increase in support for separation. The Union side, as it has done the last two years, retains a healthy double-digit lead. While some of the pollsters might be wrong some of the time, all of the pollsters can't be wrong all of the time. So why the anxiety?

Those who believe that the Scots are likely to vote for independence typically point to the large number of undecided voters, with around a quarter yet to say how they will vote. But if the Yes side is to take the lead, they'll need to win over almost all of this group. Indeed, according to the most recent YouGov poll, which put the No side ahead by 52-33, even winning over 100 per cent would still leave the nationalists four points behind. Why assume that the Yes campaign will prove so successful at converting them?

Others, pointing to the SNP's remarkable victory in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election, remind us that Salmond is a "great finisher" who specialises in defying the odds. The man himself told NS editor Jason Cowley back in June, "This is the phoney war. This is not the campaign. I went into an election [for the Scottish Parliament] in 2011 20 points behind in the polls and ended up 15 in front. The real game hasn’t even started. We are just clearing the ground." But in the form of the SNP's 2007 victory, there was at least something close to a precedent for this. By contrast, there has never been a consistent majority for independence and the uncertainty created by the financial crisis and its aftermath has made voters even more reluctant to take a leap into the dark.

There have been polls showing that Scots would vote for independence if they believed it would make them better off, but the problem for Salmond is that they don't. Asked earlier this month by YouGov, "Do you think Scotland would be economically better or worse off if it became an independent country, or would it make no difference?" (the defining issue of the campaign), just 26 per cent said "better off" and 48 per cent said "worse off". If Salmond couldn't persuade voters that Scotland would be better off alone when the UK was in an austerity-induced double-dip recession, he's not going to be able to persuade them now.

The sceptics on the Union side finally point out that referendums are uncertain beasts. But while true, this ignores the tendency for support for the status quo to increase as voting day approaches (recall the 1975 EU referendum and that on the Alternative Vote in 2011, as well as the Quebec plebiscite). Faced with the real possibility of secession, I expect a significant minority of Yes supporters to pull back from the brink.

When I put all of these points to nationalists, I'm told that studying the polls is no substitute for gauging "feeling on the ground". But this is merely the age-old cry of the losing side; Romney supporters said much the same in 2012. When Nate Silver, who has rightly argued that the Yes campaign has "virtually no chance" of victory, pointed out that almost all of the polls suggested a comfortable win for Obama, he was dismissed by conservative pundits who insisted (typically on the basis of little more than their personal hunches) that the race was "too close to call". They were left looking rather foolish after 6 November 2012, and so will those now suggesting that Scotland is about to go it alone.

Alex Salmond presents the White Paper for Scottish independance at the Science Museum Glasgow on November 26, 2013 in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times