There’s just over a month to go until Scotland votes, on 18 September, on whether to resume its status as an independent country. It is still too soon to describe the result as a foregone conclusion, but opinion polls continue to show, as they have consistently shown all along, that a clear majority will vote against independence.
A month or two ago it looked as if the “yes” vote was gaining ground, with a number of polls showing the “no” lead falling to single digits. Recent polling, however, suggests that the pro-independence momentum, such as it was, has been lost. (Wikipedia has a summary table.) A Survation poll for the Scottish Daily Mail released last week, for example, put the “no” vote ahead by 49.7% to 36.4%, with 14.0% undecided.
But nationalism is an unpredictable thing, and it’s impossible to say which way the Scots might swing in the last days or weeks. For what it’s worth, my view is that voters’ natural caution will tilt them against taking a leap into the dark. The emotional appeal of the nationalist campaign still has time to turn things around, but it will be an uphill task.
One thing that probably doesn’t help the anti-independence campaign is the habit of outsiders sticking their oars into the Scottish debate. The whole point of nationalism is a desire to make decisions for yourself, rather than have to work with what others think is best. So having Barack Obama say, as he did in June, that he wanted to see the United Kingdom stay united, is just as likely to have helped the nationalists as hurt them.
Now a less powerful but more outspoken outsider has weighed in, with Australia’s Tony Abbott telling the Times of London (paywalled here; reported by the BBC here) that “it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland.”
Like Obama, Abbott made a pro forma acknowledgement of the Scots’ right to decide the issue for themselves. But he made it clear that he sees the referendum as part and parcel of an international war of ideas (or at least prejudices), in which “justice” and “freedom” are on the side of British unity and those who take the opposite view “are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.”
At one level this probably just reflects a simple partisan divide. The Scottish Nationalists are a left-wing party, while Britain’s government is from the centre-right (although the Labour opposition is also anti-independence), so it’s not hard for Abbott to decide which side he’s on. But it’s also symptomatic of his generally Manichean world-view, in which complexities and subtleties are elided in favor of a grand ideological struggle. Not for nothing did he have Bob Santamaria as his mentor.
Separatism is in the news a lot these days. Ukraine is still fighting to regain control of its rebellious eastern provinces; Catalonia has its own referendum, bitterly opposed by the Spanish government, scheduled for 9 November; and Iraqi Kurdistan is poised to turn its de facto independence into something more.
The Scottish vote, whether for or against, looks like being much less acrimonious than any of these. The relative security of Scotland’s place in Britain, which makes a peaceful vote possible, might itself be taken as a reason not to change the existing arrangements.
But it might also incline the Scots to think that independence is a risk they can now afford to take.
Note: Apologies for the dearth of blogging over the last couple of weeks; it’s a busy time in my other job. Bear with us, and normal service will be resumed before long.