IT’S the end of term at Holyrood and MSPs are about to head off on their summer break. With the sun shining, sporadically at least, politicians will allow themselves – and the voters – some respite from the referendum.
But don’t expect an entirely politics-free summer. With the historic decision on Scotland’s constitutional future looming ever closer, the two sides of the debate will find it hard to resist the temptation to carry on campaigning. Insiders predict a lull for a few weeks before both the Scottish and UK governments publish further reports setting out the arguments on different aspects of the case for and against independence.
And when MSPs return from the summer recess there will be just a year to go to the big day.
One punter this week placed a confident £200,000 bet on a No vote on September 18. Polls continue to show support for independence well short of a majority, but Nationalists have seized on the results of a Panelbase survey last month which found people split 44 per cent No, 36 per cent Yes – in other words a lead of just eight per cent for the anti-independence cause. If people thought the UK was going to leave the European Union, the split was 44-44.
Alex Salmond’s election successes in 2007 and 2011 have shown he is the master of surprises, winning through when the odds are against him. An SNP insider points out the party went into 2011, the year of the last Holyrood election, 15 points behind in the polls and ended up winning by 15 points.
Mr Salmond signalled in a recent magazine interview that he did not believe the campaign proper had even begun. “This is the phoney war,” he said.
It’s not clear whether the comment should be interpreted as a promise that things are going to get better than the party point-scoring experienced so far or just a threat of even more intensified Punch and Judy politics.
But Yes campaign strategists have long said their first task is to get people to think about the issues. Many voters, they insist, have not made up their minds on independence and are open to persuasion. They now see publication of the Scottish Government’s white paper in the autumn, spelling out the case for independence, as the next key milestone. “We’ll see what transpires after that,” says one source.
In his magazine interview, Mr Salmond attacked the anti-independence Better Together campaign as “wholly negative” and predicted it would “run out of steam”. He said: “The campaign is a bit like Dracula in one of those Hammer films – it will be dragged out in the light of day and crumble.”
The No campaigners remain confident that Scots will not be lured into taking the “one-way ticket to an uncertain future” which they claim independence represents.
Warnings that independence could mean losing access to the BBC iPlayer or not being able to play the National Lottery have brought accusations of scaremongering. But concerns about what currency a go-it-alone Scotland would use and fears over their pensions are more likely to make people pause for thought.
One No insider admits voters still don’t feel they’re getting information they can trust from either camp. “They just see two groups having a rammy –and they’re not impressed.”
Unfortunately for them, if Mr Salmond is right that this is still the phoney war, it could be we ain’t seen nothing yet.