3 Jul 2014

Cameron: Scotland, don’t go breaking my heart

David Cameron told Tories in Perth that it would break his heart if Scotland left the Union.

Introducing him, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, told the crowd to “make people feel like they’re part of a majority.” She wanted supporters to proclaim their no vote, put up posters, not be cowed.

The two of them were playing their part in a wider Better Together operation aimed at giving different cohorts of voters “permission” to vote no.

Other arms of the operation include Gordon Brown speaking to a particular type of long-standing Labour supporter, football figures from Celtic and elsewhere speaking to similar voters.

But today, in genteel Perth, we saw the PM telling shy unionists they’re not alone. It’s alright to vote no. It’s patriotic to vote no (one aide looked shocked when I asked if he was the right man to give that assurance to Scots).

At one point David Cameron said he wanted the sleeping or shy no voters to rise up “to put the question beyond doubt for our future.”

That speaks of a growing confidence you hear muttered in no campaign circles that they may just be able to widen the gap over the yes camp over the summer.

A saga that started with bold claims of swatting the yes vote by 70 to 30 mutated over time into a much tighter contest moving towards 55 to 45. You hear folk in the no camp now talk of maybe winning 60 to 40 or better.

But they know a big “unknown,” as Donald Rumsfeld would say, is on its way.

The yes campaign launch of the White Paper for independence was a strangely bloodless event that’s been compared to a company AGM.

In the weeks ahead it is expected to shift to a more emotional gear.

Alex Salmond is expected to warn Scots that they won’t like themselves if they wake up the morning after the vote and think they contributed to a missed moment.

The no camp can’t know for sure the impact of that message, for all the focus-grouping they’ve tried.

In Perth, the Tories still manage a second place in elections (though it was once their safest seat in Scotland).

The “silent majority” line – no doubt itself focus-grouped to destruction – struck a chord with the burghers I met around town today. But then this is sometimes called “Scotland’s Hampshire”.

You hear quite a few Conservatives daring to say they think they might do much better in Scotland in 2015 (if the country hasn’t voted for independence). A very senior Labour figure is going around predicting they could get several Scottish seats.

You also hear senior figures in all parties suggesting that if Scotland voted no, Alex Salmond might rouse Scots to back SNP candidates in the 2015 General Election with the message that it’s the only way to get the extra powers promised by pro-union parties.

This, some suggest (one of them the same very prominent Labour figure) could mean an SNP surge in 2015 that knocks out a few surprised Labour MPs.

Back on David Cameron’s speech, John Swinney (the SNP’s Government’s Finance Minister) said the PM’s talk of a “silent majority” was presumptuous talk. There are, after all, 77 days still to go.

You could fit three normal general election campaigns into that timetable.

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