2 Sep 2014

Independence referendum: plenty for Labour to worry about

Woodburn in Dalkeith just outside Edinburgh is a post-1930s estate that used to serve Scotland’s coal-mining industry. We came to see if the numbers suggested by the YouGov poll were repeated on the ground in traditionally safe Labour terrain like this. YouGov’s poll suggests that Labour supporters backing independence have increased from 18 to 30 per cent in the space of three weeks.

The yes campaign posters and stickers way outnumber the no material – that’s not unusual across Scotland. But yes campaigners say it’s a sign they’re achieving what they call “groundswell” thanks to relentless and buoyant activity by activists across the country.

Another yes campaign term you hear is “community effect”. They say the posters and the activity give individuals confidence to switch and they claim that’s what’s happening in street after street across Scotland.

In Woodburn, I found one voter who said he was undecided, 60/40 for independence and who said only one Labour voice might pull him back to the union: Gordon Brown.

Others who were wobbling sounded like they might just wobble back to the no side. But there were solid yes voters around, where Labour still returns two of the three councillors, and plenty for Labour to worry about.


In Edinburgh this morning I saw Labour MP Jim Murphy resuming his 100 street corner campaign, interrupted after he said yes campaigners were aggressively disrupting meetings and putting the public in danger. He insisted the yes campaign could boast all it liked about its strength on the ground but the no campaign had the people and the voter contacts.

But yesterday I met a recently sacked Tory minister in Westminster who said he and colleagues had been given 100 Scottish names and phone numbers each to phone up and canvas. It made him “despair” to think anyone thought a voice phoning from SW1 would help anyone switch sides in Scotland.

Talk to non-Labour figures in the Better Together campaign and they say one of the biggest revelations of their time involved in the campaign has been discovering that the famed Labour machine in Scotland doesn’t actually exist any more. Rubbish, Labour sources say, the party’s made 280,000 contacts with its own voter base.

This all matters because much in a tight contest could come down to organisation: who knows where their vote is, who got people registered, who connected and stirred irregular voters to vote.

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3 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    New Labour cannot complain if they too get routed in Scotland. After all, they are little more than neocon copies of the tories, while the LibDems are mere sandal-wearing Guardian readers. All of them have betrayed this country to the bankers, profiteers and warmongers. That is why they are hated so much and increasing numbers of citizens refuse to vote. Nobody with a brain in their head trusts a word they say.

    In these circumstances it is easy to see why a large number of Jocks, particularly the young, want rid of the London/public school/Oxbridge gang. I have every sympathy with that opinion. But the problem is what happens if Scotland does go independent: the fact is they will be even more vulnerable to international capitalism, which will either move to crush any social advancement or simply let them wither on the vine; it won’t matter much that the Scots are well capable of administering their own country. Another threat to them is that of paranoid nationalism if and when things start to go wrong – Yugoslavia and Ukraine anybody? Nationalism may be a fiery motivator but is also history’s worst destroyer.

    As for the rest of the so-called UK, sooner or later history will turn on this generation of corrupt, evil politicians. It always does. The big worry for all of us is what form it will take.

    1. CWH says:

      Two points: In the event of Independence I do not think the Scots will lie down to anyone or any organisation that tries to stifle social advancement. It is too deeply ingrained and a central issue in the debate.

      Secondly, your comment about ‘paranoid nationalism’ is so wide of the mark. Scotland is not Yugoslavia or the Ukraine. It has not had alien institutions foisted on it by a departing colonial power. It has a centuries old and distinct legal system; its own established Church, the Church of Scotland which from its inception in the 16th century shaped not just the religious life of the country but the social and education system. We have at least 5 world class universities so the idea that we will descend into parochial, paranoid nationalism is to misunderstand entirely the situation in Scotland.

      Too many people have too glibly tried to tar the SNP with the nationalism of the 3rd Reich and its ilk as a means to denigrate the whole movement towards independence but it is in no way credible in the context of Scottish independence which has a long history stretching back to the late 19th century thus predating the SNP.

  2. David Barrie Grieve says:

    The thing that some people haven’t recognised is the social democratic nationalist approach of this Yes campaign.

    Scotland is, and has been for around 1,300 years, a country. The people who live in that terraine have inherited a lot of successful human attitudes. Not all the Scottish people are ‘Nationalists’ as that word is often bandied around, but they are more simply the people who live in Scotland and enjoy a cultural inheritance type of national identity (and legal reality!).

    Most people who live in Scotland use an automatically well defined cultural concept called commonsense… and that continues. This country (Scotland) has matured throughout it’s life and continues to do so. An example? Progress not through collective violance or war, but through collective agreement under international legal prowess and lots and lots and lots….. of patience.

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