Ian Swanson: ‘The Guide’ to increasing Yes vote

The White Paper on Scotland's Future is now to be referred to as 'The Guide'. Pic: Robert Perry
The White Paper on Scotland's Future is now to be referred to as 'The Guide'. Pic: Robert Perry
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IT could hardly be described as a breakthrough, but the latest polls show a slight increase in support for independence in the wake of the release of the White Paper detailing the SNP’s vision of Scotland’s future.

An Ipsos MORI survey this week showed the Yes vote was up by three percentage points since September, while the No vote was down two.

That still leaves the No camp ahead by 57 per cent to 34, but from Alex Salmond’s point of view the movement is at least in the right direction.

Another poll, by YouGov, shows a one point rise in support for a Yes vote 33 per cent, while backing for a No vote was unchanged on 52 per cent.

It’s a small start but, with nine months still to go, the Yes camp is hoping support will now grow steadily in the run-up to the referendum.

The White Paper, unveiled just over two weeks ago, was quickly pushed out of the headlines by the police helicopter tragedy in Glasgow and then the death of Nelson Mandela.

But Tory former Scottish secretary Michael (now Lord) Forsyth managed to get some coverage for his jibe that it had “all the deliverability and relevance of a letter to Santa Claus”.

And a question and answer session with Mr Salmond and the Scottish Cabinet at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Tuesday allowed invited members of “civic Scotland” to have their say, which included calls for clearer costings.

Hard copies of the 670-page document are hard to get hold of – though free if you ring up and order one, then wait for it to arrive through the post. Civil servants have been told they must now call it The Guide. The term White Paper suggests something eagerly anticipated because it will set out new ideas which the government wants to pursue, but once published the same name has the air of a document which might or might not lead to something, and which has a strong chance of being left on the shelf and eventually forgotten. A guide, in contrast, has an aura of authority, implies it can solve problems and tell you what to do to achieve your desired objective.

Meanwhile, over in the anti-
independence camp, Tory politicians have apparently been briefing against former chancellor Alistair Darling, the leader of the cross-party Better Together campaign. He was branded “useless” and “comatose” and accused of having “no fire in his belly”.

But these Tories’ suggestion that English Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt or Scots-born Education Secretary Michael Gove would be a better choice to lead the No campaign from Mr Darling is laughable. The Tories at Westminster are part of the problem, not the solution.

In a string of Cabinet posts before becoming chancellor, Mr Darling became known for his ability to defuse problems and take departments out of the headlines. He may have been voted Britain’s most boring politician, but his calm, unflappable style offered voters reassurance. And he was one of the few people who emerged from the 2008 banking crisis with his reputation enhanced. No-one could have been under any illusion about what they were getting when he was appointed to lead Better Together.

Indeed, when Mr Darling spoke at a fringe meeting at the Scottish Tory conference earlier this year, he was embarrassed to be given a standing ovation and a better reception than any of the party’s own big hitters.

One senior Scottish Labour politician says: “The Tories at Westminster are so out of touch it’s not real. Their briefings probably have more to do with their fear Alistair might return to Labour’s frontbench.”