Yes or No, this won’t be the “good result” that Better Together wanted

If it’s a narrow No, the campaign for a second Scottish independence referendum will begin on Friday 19 September.

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The feeling among those close to the SNP to whom I have spoken today is that if the turnout on Thursday is as high as 80 per cent then Scotland will vote Yes – because, as it was put to me, "who’s going to vote for the first time and say No?"

The ICM poll for the Guardian this afternoon confirms the trend of recent days: it's nip and tuck. The No camp is dismayed that, since the first televised debate, which Alistair Darling was adjudged to have won, it has squandered a 20-point lead to find itself panicked and scrambling for every last vote as it goes into the last few days of the campaign. How did it come to this, they are asking.

It seems an eerie coincidence that Ian Paisley, that unrelenting Unionist, should have died today, with the British state so close to be being broken because of the spectacular complacency of the political class. Perhaps he’d seen the promised end? Or image of that horror?

When I visited Darling at the Better Together offices in Glasgow in June, I asked him what a good result would be. "A good result in September is one that puts the matter [of independence] to bed for a generation," he said.

I pushed him to elaborate on what a good result would be – less than 40 per cent voting Yes?

"I’ll tell you when I see it. What you want people to say is we’ve had our referendum and we’ve made our decision. We need a good turnout . . ."

He’ll get his good turnout all right – it’s wonderful that nearly 4.3 million people have registered to vote, 97 per cent of those eligible – but not the result he hoped for and expected only a few weeks ago. Better Together will now take whatever kind of victory they can get, however close the final result. 

But this much I know: if it’s a narrow No, the campaign for a second Scottish independence referendum will begin on Friday 19 September.

"My view is that the union can be saved once,” Adam Tomkins, the John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow and an advisor to the No campaign, told me. "If No win narrowly as they did in Quebec [by 51-49 in the second of two independence referendums] in 1995, the British state must reinvigorate itself – and that means more devolution. If circumstances require us to have a second referendum in a parliament or two's time, Yes will win by a country mile."

Indeed it will. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.