22 Apr 2014

Gordon Brown, the union, and spirals of silence

Gordon Brown had been intending to give the all-party Better Together campaign a wide berth, doing his speeches through the Labour party’s no campaign, United with Labour. He didn’t want anything to do with a campaign that ran on Tory money and he wasn’t really on “speakies” with its head, Alistair Darling, after the latter’s memoirs painted him as a less than easy colleague.

But then the narrowing of the polls happened. Four weeks ago the former PM was asked to lend his weight to the all-party campaign – tonight he’s doing just that with a speech at a converted church/lecture theatre at Glasgow University… and more is to follow.  And in Scotland the former PM has quite a lot of weight still. He even managed a small but perceptible swing towards Labour in Scotland in the 2010 general election.
The no camp hopes he connects with the very swing voters who’ve lost some faith in Labour and the union. Today his target is the pensioner vote – he’s quoting figures that suggest that Scots OAPs do very well out of the union, all from a leaked DWP document (happy memories came flooding back of him forever refusing to comment on leaks).

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In his speech, delivered without notes pacing up and down, the brooding bear tried to reclaim the NHS and the welfare state for the union, after months of watching the yes campaign claim the only way to save them is to quit the UK.

Glasgow University is a slightly awkward venue. The chancellor of the University who introduced him (the same Sir Kenneth Calman whose proposed reforms Gordon Brown and others are vaulting over to promise still more devolution) today withdrew Glasgow University from the Scottish CBI because it didn’t approve of the employers’ organisation signing up to the no camp. It’s another David Moyes-style unforced error for the team. They say it’s more a sign of the SNP pressurising pubic bodies to toe the “Yes” camp line – see this piece by the Telegraph’s Alan Cochrane. But you do wonder if this was “gamed” by anyone. It’s hard to see how bodies like universities would want to be allied in any way to one camp.

Gordon Brown will soon appear at another event side by side with Alistair Darling. Neither that nor tonight’s talk was part of a grid, but then “grid” isn’t something the Better Together campaign has, strictly speaking, got.

There are plans to sharpen up and tighten up the Better Together campaign which should come into view soon. Danny Alexander and Douglas Alexander could become part of a streamlined executive that takes tactical and strategic decisions; the PM’s Scotland adviser Andrew Dunlop would be representing the PM’s views.

Meanwhile there’s one bit of good news for the no camp amid the narrowing polls: ICM’s Martin Boon told me he has worries there’s a “spiral of silence” at work in the polls, that it’s seen as uncool and unpatriotic to say you might vote no, and that could be depressing their showing in the polls. Better Together, with bigger samples than the newspapers’ polls, say they think their lead has narrowed but by no more than 2 to 3 per cent over six months. But they’re the ones re-jigging the campaign so you know who’s under pressure right now.

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