One Year Out

It is exactly one year to go until Scotland votes whether or not to become an independent country. All the opinion polls point to a no vote and yet there’s one man who can’t wipe the smile off of his face.

Alex Salmond is a man who has knowingly undersold himself but he’ll need all of his salesman skills to convince the people of Scotland to take this second hand uninsured car off his hands.

In 2011, the SNP won an extraordinary victory. Under a voting system specifically designed to avoid an SNP majority, they won and won big. However, if the 2011 election result was repeated the independence referendum will still be lost and that’s working on the assumption that everyone voting for the SNP supports independence which isn’t true (one opinion poll showed 20% of 2011 SNP voters definitely won’t be voting for independence, including yours truly).

In spite of this, Alex Salmond seems pretty confident. He talks about this period being the phony war and referring anyone who questions independence to the forever delayed white paper due to be published soon. Increasingly his gives the appearance of a man who has become detached from reality.

In the past year he’s said we’ll keep the pound, the Queen, the BBC, EU membership and the oil. Whilst these are all sensible policies, it does lead to the question; what is the point of independence? Every nationalist that I have spoken to speaks about national identity as their main reason for voting for independence and yet the leader of their movement is now in favour of keeping the Monarchy, perhaps the most recognised British symbol across the world. As Johann Lamont drily noted, perhaps the SNP backbenchers should set up a breakaway group “SNP for Independence”.

Remarkably the SNP remain united behind Salmond with only two backbench resignations over the (yet another) change in party policy in favour of NATO. Although the SNP backbenchers are pathetically incapable of independent thought which perhaps makes this less surprising. He remains the dominant figure in Scottish politics but he is no longer the remarkable leader that conquered all before him.

Perhaps I’m underestimating Alex Salmond. Maybe he does have a grand strategy which will free us from Tory rule and lead us to the Promised Land. He does still have a few cards left to play. A Tory revival does narrow the polls (although not significantly), the Better Together campaign gives the impression of complacency and the SNP’s polling operation is among the world’s best. They will throw everything they’ve got at winning next September and yet I don’t think it’ll be enough.

After more than 20 years at the centre of Scottish politics, Alex Salmond is strong candidate for the greatest politician we have ever produced but as Enoch Powell once observed “all political careers ultimately end in failure”. One year out, all signs point to a no vote and there appears to be little Alex Salmond to change that.