Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will have been smiling this weekend as a new poll revealed that more people in the UK support independence for Scotland than oppose it.
The poll conducted by ComRes revealed that 39% of people in Britain believed that Scotland should be independent compared to 33% against it. Although, more startling was the growing support for independence amongst the Scottish people. Since the SNP came to power in May there has been an 11% increase in support for Scotland splitting from the rest of the UK with nearly half of Scots now agreeing with the cause of independence with only 37% opposing the idea.
While political analysts would argue that polls should always be treated with caution if these figures are accurate it is a worrying trend and will be of great concern to the unionist parties. So, with support for independence apparently on the rise what can the unionists do to halt Salmond’s momentum and convince the Scottish people to remain part of the union?
The unionists parties can go a long way towards winning the argument by simply putting aside party differences and agreeing to work together to discredit the idea of independence. While our three leading political parties may disagree on many things from the depth of the cuts to reforms in the NHS there is one thing that they do agree on and that is that independence would be disasterous for Scotland.
So, there is no reason why David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband cannot share the same platform and argue logically and ferociously for Scotland to remain part of the union. While an argument could be made that these three men do not capture the hearts of the Scottish people they could be supplemented by respected Scottish politicians such as Gordon Brown and Charles Kennedy.
If our three leading political parties were able to unite on one stage it would give massive credibility to the anti-independence argument. This show of unity would create an impression that this issue is bigger than party politics and would clearly illustrate to the Scottish people that the SNP was alone in believing that independence was a good thing for Scotland.
The next important step in convincing the Scottish people is putting together a strong and concise argument as to why independence is not desirable for Scotland. So far, the tactics from the coalition government has been to ask questions of Alex Salmond as to what an independent Scotland would look like. While it is right to press Salmond over issues such as currency and whether Scotland would be part of the EU, it should only form part of the strategy.
While it is obvious that disputes with Alex Salmond are unavoidable, attacking him will not aid the unionists cause in the long term. Alex Salmond is an incredibly talented politician with excellent communication skills and is clearly popular with the Scottish people. So, rather than running a negative campaign against a popular Salmond that will only rally people to his cause, the unionists need to be cleverer.
They must run a positive campaign built round 3-4 short, clear and concise arguments against independence. These arguments must involve issues that truly matter to people and must convince them that being part of an independent Scotland will make them worse off.
In addition, the unionists must start putting together these arguments as quickly as possible. With the referendum, three years away they should not be afraid to start pushing these arguments in the next 12-18 months. It is never too early to alert the Scottish people to what the consequences of independence would be. At the moment, while support for independence is increasing I would suggest that the vast majority of the population is unsure as to what it would entail. The SNP have been suitably vague as to what their proposals are, so that could be an opportunity for a unionist movement to take the lead and spell out the negatives aspects of an independent state.
What is undeniable is that there is a long way to go before the referendum. The SNP is clearly riding on the crest of a wave following successful election results in May coupled with an unpopular coalition at Westminster. At the moment there would appear to be an upward swing in favour of independence, though that can quickly change.
Domestically, an issue may emerge that could question the SNP’s competency to govern and consequently affect its popularity. That is before even considering the fragile international money markets where a consensus may emerge that a multilateral approach is needed for economic recovery and that conditions are not suitable for Scotland to survive economically as an independent nation.
While there are a number of events that could influence the outcome of the referendum in three years, what remains crucial is that the unionist parties must take urgent action in response to the recent poll results. There must be a new determination to come together and present clear arguments as to why Scotland should not break away from the rest of the UK. If they don’t a skilled politician like Alex Salmond will take advantage and secure his long held dream of independence.