Politicians from the UK’s three main parties are launching a frantic final push after a shock poll put the pro-independence campaign ahead in Scotland for the first time with only 10 days to go before the vote. With the weakening pound indicating that financial markets are now taking the prospects of Scotland voting Yes seriously it seems those who felt that Sept. 18 would be a one-way bet are quickly hedging their positions.
Here are five things to watch out for over the next week:
1) The giveaways are coming…
Prime Minister David Cameron has already dangled the carrot of giving Scotland further powers over tax and spending policy “soon” if the country votes No to independence. This will likely take the form of the so-called “devolution max,” whereby the Scottish parliament will be given increased powers to set tax rates, in particular income tax, and greater control over welfare policy.
In a poll in February, 32% of respondents said they supported Devo Max — whereby Scotland would have control over all policy except for defence and foreign affairs — compared with 31% who favoured full independence. However, the survey found that if voters were given the head-to-head choice of Devo Max versus independence, the former would have 61% of the vote to the latter’s 39%.
The additional powers are part of Cameron’s last-ditch attempt to sway voters who favour giving more powers to the Scottish Parliament, but are who wary of the potential costs that full independence might bring. The question is, however, whether voters will see this as a genuine promise or last-minute panic from Westminster.
2) Scotland will be seeing a lot more of this man: Labour party leader Ed Miliband.
The oft-repeated joke is that there are more pandas in Edinburgh zoo than Scottish Conservative MPs in Westminster (for the record, there are currently two pandas — with another possibly on the way — to one Scottish Conservative MP). One of the major complaints by First Minister Alex Salmond during the pre-referendum TV debates has been that Scotland has spent more of his lifetime under Conservative governments that he didn’t vote for, than any other party.
Labour, however, has a much stronger foothold north of the border having won 41 of the 59 available Scottish seats in the House of Commons at the last election. So who better to provide some much-need support to the Better Together campaign than the leader of the opposition, a man presumably as committed to getting the Conservatives out of power as the Scottish National Party?
Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party, will be making an appearance in Glasgow next week alongside former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and has called on Labour MPs from England and Wales to “get up there” to help their Scottish counterparts make the case for Union. If the polls remain as tight as they have been, you can expect to see a lot more of the Labour leader and a lot less of the Prime Minister.
3) Every new poll will be greeted as if it’s the end of everything, but treat them with caution.
Pollsters tend to be highly professional these days, and the quality of political polling has improved immeasurably over recent years. Nevertheless, these professionals are fully aware of the limitations of a single poll and will constantly point to the importance of looking at the trend rather than the individual data points.
So headlines proclaiming victory for the Yes after a poll gave them 51% to the No’s 49% should be treated with extreme caution. The lead is safely within the traditional margin of error for these surveys — so these results could equally suggest the No vote is maintaining a narrow lead.
The trend away from the pro-Union camp and toward the Yes vote over the past month, however, is quite clear as the Financial Times poll tracker shows.
4) Neither side will acknowledge the existence of a Plan B — but both will be working on one frantically.
Despite confident claims by Westminster and Holyrood politicians that they will be victorious on Sept. 18, the tightness of the polls suggests this race is far, far from a forgone conclusion. While campaigning will continue in earnest, behind-the-scenes plans for the fallout if the vote goes the wrong way will be readied will equal vigor.
Chief among the concerns will be the fact that Scotland is home to a number of key strategic assets for the U.K. As a report by the government last year pointed out, Scotland is already an integral part of the country’s defence arrangements, hosting just under 8% of armed forces personnel. Underlining the region’s importance, the report says that under current plans by 2020 “Scotland will be home to one of three Royal Navy main bases, including all its submarines, one of the British Army’s seven Adaptable Force Brigades and one of three Royal Air Force fast jet main operating bases.”
The critical role of Scotland to the Ministry of Defence’s plans is likely to mean that, however heated the rhetoric gets over the next 10 days, there will be plenty of wiggle-room for negotiation irrespective of which way the vote goes.
5) There will be cupcakes.
The battle to win over Scottish people’s stomachs appears to be every bit as competitive. Members of the group “English Scots for YES” handed out free tea and baby blue frosted cupcakes on Sunday.
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