Last week, I was sceptical about the impact the debate would have. I wasn’t convinced that we would see or hear much that we hadn’t before or that many outside of the ‘bubble’ would be interested; Alistair Darling would present the calm and measured case for the Union; we would get the usual rhetorical flourishes from Alex Salmond; the substance would come second place to style.
How wrong I was.
On Tuesday night, a staggering 1.7 million people tuned in, Alistair Darling gave a full blooded, passionate and aggressive performance and substance did matter.
But most importantly, Alex Salmond, First Minister and figurehead of the cause for an independent Scotland, faltered on the issue which is now at the heart of the referendum campaign: what is the plan B on the currency.
For the last six months, I have been speaking to voters about the referendum several times a week. The people I speak to for the longest are those that are undecided. I ask them what the issues are that matter to them and what will make up their mind one way or another. Time and again, the response I get is ‘I don’t feel I have enough answers about independence yet.”
The currency is key on the doorstep. You don’t have to have a Nobel Laureate in economics to appreciate that currency has an impact on jobs, trade, pensions, mortgages, interest rates and the economy – basically every other issue in the referendum debate. Uncertainty over what you would get paid in and what you would spend in the shops has been the biggest issue for the undecided voters I have spoken to.
Six months ago, these voters were willing to give the Yes campaign time to give them the facts they needed before they ruled out a vote for independence. They thought they would have them before they went to the polls.
Fast forward to August and I am still being told, “I don’t feel I have enough answers about independence yet.”
That we have got to less than six weeks until the referendum vote and the Yes campaign have failed to address the key issue for these voters is a problem of their own making.
A surprising number of the undecided voters I have spoken to since last Tuesday watched the debate. They are obviously keen to hear the arguments in their search for answers. They have not been impressed with Alex Salmond’s failure to give them the answers – and the reassurance – that they want and need. That the first poll post debate showed such a massive increase of lead for the No campaign shows how important the debate – and its content – has been for voters.
I am confident that the Yes campaign will lose the referendum for the same reason Alex Salmond lost the debate: lack of answers on the issues that matter most to voters.
This is not to say that the Better Together campaign and everyone working for a No vote can or should rely on a weakening opponent. There is no room for complacency, after all.
I don’t want people to just vote against independence; I want them to vote for the Union. Our positive vision for a strong Scotland in the UK, with enhanced devolution for Holyrood, needs to remain integral to our campaign as we go into the final stretch.
I have my own radical vision for Scotland: a strong and proud devolved Scottish Parliament which uses the powers it has to improves the day to day lives of those that live in this country and stands up for its interests; better Governments with better policies that make lives better; a parliament that uses cooperation and consensus to makes laws rather than one that relies on a government majority; politicians who focus on the issues that really matter – jobs, health, education, housing, transport – rather than the constitution.
This shouldn’t be radical, but in the summer of 2014, it seems that way. This is the Scotland that the majority of voters yearn for. If there is a No vote next month, lets all get to work on giving them what they want.