Belfast Telegraph

When the counting's done, both sides must unite for Scotland

By Liam Clarke

As decision-time gets closer in Scotland, the political temperature is starting to rise. In recent days, Jim Murphy, the Labour MP, who wants a No vote on independence, has resumed his street tour of Scotland, which was halted after he complained that organised mobs of Yes vote supporters were intimidating and disrupting his campaign.

That is seen as a positive sign, but it only came after Iain Livingstone, deputy chief constable of Police Scotland, met Better Together chairman Alistair Darling to discuss security.

Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, has played things down while confirming that he received "death threats from a few daft people".

Both sides are trying to keep a lid on things and it isn't as bitter as a similar debate might be here.

There are still floating voters and there has been no street violence, bomb scares or physical confrontations between politicians. Yet, as the vote gets closer and the outcome less clear, the temperature may rise.

Professor John Curtice, Scotland's best-known polling guru, believes that, for the first time, the No side can't be confident of winning. Recent polls have put its lead as low as 5% and falling.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of new people have entered the electoral register in the final days up to close of applications at midnight on Tuesday.

As the midnight deadline approached, the Right Rev John Chalmers, moderator of the Church of Scotland, sounded the alarm. He admitted he was "disturbed by apparent increased aggression and bitterness" as the referendum date approaches.

"I have faith that, despite divergent views, most Scots are behaving courteously during the run-up to the referendum. However, it has become clear that some are not. I fear that something ugly may be beginning to permeate the independence debate," Rev Chambers observed.

He is planning a service of national reconciliation on September 21, after the result is known, whatever the outcome. Smaller churches and the Evangelical Alliance are calling for a day of prayer before the referendum to calm things down.

Any rise in emotion may favour the Yes campaign disproportionately. It is pitching a bold vision of a free Scotland, while the No camp is warning against taking an irrevocable step into the unknown.

Much attention is focusing on the "missing million" potential voters who either didn't turn out or weren't on the register in the 2011 Scottish election.

Many of them are thought to have registered in the recent drive and it has been speculated that, because many come from poorer, working-class areas, the Yes side may benefit disproportionately.

Against this, Curtice has found that a narrow majority of those who say they abstained in the last election now say they will vote No.

The wild card in all these calculation is turnout. It was 50% in the last Scottish election, but this time most experts are expecting something close to the 81% who voted in our referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Few are predicting less that 75%.

It is also slowly sinking it that, whatever way it goes, a close vote with this level of participation will leave a large disaffected minority of nearly half the population.

The losers will have to be accommodated afterwards. Even a No vote won't return the UK as it was before.

Better Together has already promised that more powers will be devolved to Scotland. That will have a ripple effect – and not only for us.

It will open up a debate in areas like the North East and South West of England, which want more powers over their own affairs.

Belfast Telegraph


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