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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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.