Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond are making their final pitches before the referendum. Photo: Getty
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Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling give their final pitches before the Scottish referendum

Tomorrow is the Scottish independence referendum. The Better Together leader and Scotland’s First Minister are making their last pleas.

Scotland will take to the polling stations tomorrow. As the independence referendum approaches, the leaders of the campaigns on both sides are having their final say.

Polls continue to be extremely close, only just giving a No vote the edge. Three new polls were published last night: one by Opinium for the Daily Telegraph, another by ICM for the Scotsman and a third by Survation for the Daily Mail. They all came out with 52 per cent for No and 48 per cent for Yes. However, they exclude undecided voters.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has written an open letter to Scottish voters, urging them to “wake up on the first day of a better country”.

Here is his message, as reported by the Scotsman:

In these final hours of this historic campaign I want to speak directly to every person in this country who is weighing up the arguments they have heard.

I have no doubt people in Scotland will look past the increasingly desperate and absurd scare stories being generated daily from Downing Street.

Those have no place in a sensible debate.

So in these last days of the greatest campaign Scotland has ever seen, I want to ask you to take a step back from the arguments of politicians and the blizzard of statistics.

For every expert on one side, there is an expert on the other.

For every scare tactic, there is a message of hope, opportunity and possibility.

The opportunity for our Parliament to gain real job creating powers, the ability to protect our treasured National Health Service and the building of a renewed relationship of respect and equality with our friends and neighbours in the rest of these Islands.

But for all that, the talking is nearly done.

The campaigns will have had their say.

What’s left is just us - the people who live and work here.

The only people with a vote. The people who matter.

The people who for a few precious hours during polling day hold sovereignty, power, authority in their hands.

It’s the greatest most empowering moment any of us will ever have.

Scotland’s future - our country in our hands.

What to do? Only each of us knows that.

For my part, I ask only this.

Make this decision with a clear head and a clear conscience.

Know that by voting ‘Yes’, what we take into our hands is a responsibility like no other- the responsibility to work together to make Scotland the nation it can be.

That will require maturity, wisdom, engagement and energy- and it will come not from the usual sources of parties and politicians but from you -the people who have transformed this moment from another political debate into a wonderful celebration of people power.

Does every Country make mistakes? Yes.

Are there challenges for Scotland to overcome? Undoubtedly.

But my question is this - who better to meet those challenges on behalf of our nation than us?

We must trust ourselves.

Trust each other.

In Scotland we’ve always had the wealth, the resources and the talent.

We know that with independence we would immediately be in the top twenty of the richest countries in the world.

But what has emerged in this campaign is something very new.

It has changed Scotland forever. I have met it in every community I have been in the last weeks.

Confidence.

Belief.

Empowerment.

An understanding that if we work hard Scotland can be a global success story.

A beacon of economic growth and a champion of social justice.

That’s who we are as a nation.

We are the land of Adam Smith who said that no society can flourish and be happy if too many of its people do not benefit from its wealth.

We are the land of Robert Burns who loved Scotland dearly and also celebrated humanity the world o’er.

It’s what we can be.

Its why this opportunity is truly historic.

Women and men all over Scotland looking in the mirror and knowing the moment has come.

Our choice, our opportunity, our time.

Wake up on Friday morning to the first day of a better country.

Wake up knowing you did this - you made it happen.

This vote isn’t about me, it isn’t about the SNP, the Labour Party or the Tories.

It’s about you. Your family. Your hopes. Your ambitions.

It’s about taking your country’s future into your hands.

Don’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers.

Don’t let them tell us we can’t.

Let’s do this.

It’s a clear pitch to undecided voters.

The First Minister was also on the BBC’s Today programme this morning, giving his final pitch. He spoke passionately about the debate, calling it “the most amazing thing”. He observed:

I never thought in my political life that I would see people queuing up patiently to register to vote. . . Some people who’d not been on the political register since the poll tax probably. People who couldn’t give a stuff about politicians, including me probably, the BBC, metropolitan leaders. . . [We should] capture some of that enthusiasm, some of that positivity.

However, it was what he lacked in precision that he made up for in enthusiasm. Asked yet again about his plan for Scotland’s currency, still unclear on the eve of the poll, Salmond insisted, fairly vaguely, that, “our proposal is a common sense agreement on our current currency”. He didn't confront the scenario in which Scotland would not receive central bank backing.

Yet he confirmed that, in the event of a Yes vote, “I will say the No and the Yes campaigns are over, we have Team Scotland”. His idea of Team Scotland is to invite figures from across the political spectrum, and both sides of the independence campaign to negotiate in “comradely friendship” for a “best possible settlement for Scotland”.

However, the leader of the Better Together campaign, Alistair Darling, talking on the same programme this morning, called the idea of Team Scotland “deeply offensive”. He was condemning the idea that it was “unpatriotic” not to support the Yes campaign. "He is not Team Scotland".

Darling also criticised the tone in which some of the Yes campaign has been carried out, saying, “unfortunately there are some who have stepped over the mark,” and some had found independence activists “quite frightening”. He gave the example of Yes activists demonstrating outside the BBC.

On devolving further powers to Scotland, Darling said the new powers were announced “months ago”. He said what has been decided in the last stages of the campaign is that there will be a “timetable” for the main parties to sort out their “minor differences” over the details of devolution. On the idea of a “neverendum” following a slim No win, Darling insisted, “no, I think both sides are actually agreed – because I said it and Alex Salmond said it – that this is to settle the matter for a generation.”

He added: “We have all built the UK together and we have benefited from that strength. . . I think it would be a tragedy if that relationship was broken.”

Now both campaigns can do little but watch how their final pitches will affect the undecided 8 per cent (approximately) of voters when they come to make up their minds tomorrow.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.