Will they stay or will they go?

I spent a week in Scotland recently. While there, I learnt a lot of things. Some of them are mildly interesting:

  • If I lived there, I’d be a lot fitter. There are a lot more hills to cycle up than around my part of the Midlands.
  • While I don’t think I’d ever tire of the way they roll their Rs, I do think that there’s something to be said for not having to listen to a Glaswegian accent for hours at a time.
  • The Edinburgh Festival is a fantastic experience if you’re a fan of watching interesting people do interesting things for no particular reason.

However, what I found more interesting than all those is that it reminded me that there’s an impending referendum on Scottish Independence. Until recently, it was easy to miss in England – there’d be the odd article in the newspaper, or a result of a poll, but little else.

But in Scotland, it was everywhere. And it was all Yes. Almost every town had a big Yes statue as you enter (about 1m high by 2m wide, and impossible to miss). Loads of cars had bumper stickers, people had saltire lapel pins, shops would have Yes posters in their windows. If you didn’t know any better, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there was only one option on the referendum. Very surprising, given that at that point, the polls were indicating about a 55% / 35% victory for the No camp.

I did see one car with a Better Together sticker in the window. Something about “Proud to be a Scot, Delighted to be United”. Not quite as catchy as “Yes”. And in the month since then, the Yes vote has slowly caught up.

Over this weekend, a poll was taken which put the Yes camp ahead by a very small margin (47% Yes, 45% No). The media in England went into a tizz about it, and the politicians on our side of the suddenly-imminent border have tried not to look like they’re panicking as they’re desperately trying to woo back the pesky Scots. But I wonder whether it’s really that close.

To me, given the strong visual presence of the Yes vote compared to that of the No camp, this strikes me as a possible Bradley effect case. There’s certainly a stigma attached to not wanting Scottish independence, and people might be afraid of not appearing patriotic enough when asked the question by pollsters. Come voting day, the private vote may well turn out to be significantly more No than expected.

I’m also reminded of John Steinbeck’s comments on Texas secession in Travels with Charley, and I wonder whether a similar sentiment applies here. That is, the Scots don’t really want to leave the Union, but but they want you to think that they will if they want to. And they certainly don’t want the English telling them whether or not they should or shouldn’t do so. I have a sneaking suspicion that if all three major English political parties had gone “Meh. Go ahead and leave, we couldn’t really care.”, it would have taken the wind right out of Salmond’s sails, and he’d have found it a lot harder to drum up support.

 

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