The swallows are coming

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by Ken McNeil

One swallow doth not a summer make, goes the old saying.  Neither does one opinion poll, but maybe just maybe.

We have had two polls recently with encouraging results for nationalists.  Without a single bum warming a seat yet in the new parliament Ipsos-MORI are reporting tremendous gains for the SNP.  Compared to the May election result the SNP have gained ground while all the Unionist parties have lost ground.  The SNP leads Labour 49% to 28%.

More remarkable are the figures for Westminster voting intentions with the SNP on 42% and Labour on 33%.

Alex Salmond is increasingly popular with a 62% approval rating.  Willie Rennie manages just 17%, less than Tavish Scott.  I have to admit knowing little about Rennie before his election but Lib Dems must be greatly disappointed.  When I first heard him I was expecting a leader with new ideas and a positive agenda, a Scottish perspective to put the Liberal back in the Lib Dems after the trashing the national leadership had given the brand.  Instead he sounded like an unreconstructed old Labourite who still hadn’t come to terms with losing the election in 2007 never mind 2011.  I’m afraid he has continued in the same vein.

The Tories and Labour didn’t feature in this part of the poll of course because they don’t have leaders.  The results would probably be worse if they did.  The Tories are tearing themselves apart, literally it seems, and Labour can’t find an MSP to stick their head above the parapet and are delusional if they think the answer to their problems is to parachute in an MP from Westminster HQ.

All this would be terribly exciting if there was a general election next week, but there isn’t.  What really interests me is the results from that other poll, from TNS-BMRB, on support for independence.  The results are:

Yes – 39%
No – 38%
Don’t know – 23%

This poll is the latest of a series of 10 which have all asked the same question, ‘that the Scottish Government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of the United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state’.  Note there is no 3rd way question.

The ‘No’ vote is the lowest recorded and compares to a lead for the no vote of 8% in the last poll and down from a high of 15%.

In an article I wrote for Newsnet (Keep calm and carry on,http://www.newsnetscotland.org/index.php/scottish-politics/2402-scottish-politics.html ) I argued that the interesting figure in independence polls was not so much the don’t knows but the No vote.  My argument was that the No vote is soft and that many people simply defaulted to that position.

People don’t like change and independence is a biggy.  Coupled with 300 years in the Union and decades of negative propaganda this was hardly surprising.  My belief was that as the debate unfolded and people were educated about independence and the lies and distortions they had been exposed to, they would gain confidence from knowledge and many would move to the independence camp.

Now the fact is the debate hasn’t started yet.  The SNP, much to the frustration of some on the independence side, is keeping its powder dry.  This seems sensible to me given that the vote is likely to be at least 3 and more probably 4 years away.  We will need a long campaign, it is a big subject but 4 years is rather too long.  The SNP can claim quite legitimately that they are sticking to their timetable and concentrating on economic matters and improving the Scotland Bill in the meantime.  It is the Unionists not the nationalists who are obsessing about independence.

Unionist leader after Unionist leader is lining up not to have a debate but to continue the overwhelmingly negative attacks which have so cheesed off the electorate.  Let them.  The most high profile examples of course have been Moore and Alexander, acting on orders from the beautifully named Death Quad, who even had BBC Newsnight Scotland accusing them of trotting out old discredited figures and arguments.

People are moving to the Yes vote or the Don’t Know column without a shot being fired and this is what gives me great hope.  The electorate could be persuaded to elect a majority SNP government which meant a lot of people made a U-turn.  Now it is increasingly obvious that they will listen to the argument for independence.

The swallows are ready to fly and they’re stretching their wings.  Summer is coming.