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.

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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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