Alastair Campbell is one of a few members of the London establishment who have rather desperately been flying a kite in recent days to see if the idea of a UK-wide referendum to decide on whether Scotland could become independent would gain any traction. In other words, 91% of the people making the decision would not actually live in Scotland - not so much national self-determination as a hostage situation. I'd love to see how popular he'd become if he extended that logic to its natural conclusion by suggesting that the UK would need the permission of voters in Germany, Poland, France and Italy if it ever wanted to withdraw from the European Union! In any case, he's been given his answer loud and clear in a new YouGov poll -
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has pledged to hold a referendum of the Scottish people on Scotland becoming an independent country. Some people think English and Welsh voters should also be able to vote on whether Scotland remains in the UK or becomes an independent country, other people are opposed to there being a referendum at all. Which of the following best reflects your view?
The decision on whether Scotland stays in the UK should be made by Scottish
voters alone - 67%
Voters in England and Wales should also have a vote on whether Scotland
remains part of the UK - 9%
There should not be a referendum on Scottish independence at all - 19%
And even amongst English and Welsh voters themselves there is a majority of 42% to 34% against Campbell's wheeze. Well, there's our Alistair for you - always with his finger right on the pulse.
It has to be said the headline figures on support for independence itself (among Scottish voters) make for less encouraging reading...
Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?
Support Scottish independence - 29%
Oppose Scottish independence - 58%
I think we're going to continue to find, though, that the numbers on independence vary wildly depending on the pollster and the precise wording used. In recent years, YouGov has been consistently less favourable for what we can now loosely call the 'Yes side'. Although this particular wording is somewhat less skewed than others they've used in the past, such as 'completely separate from the rest of the United Kingdom', I'd argue that it's still far from ideal. On past form, it seems likely that removing the words "from the rest of the United Kingdom" from the end of the question would make a statistically significant difference.
One phenomenon that's been observed in recent years is that whenever the issue of independence comes under scrutiny in the heat of an election campaign, the numbers in favour of independence seem to go down. I think there's a limit to what that can tell us, though, because the SNP's strategy in that scenario has invariably been not to full-bloodedly defend the idea of independence itself, but rather to 'decouple' it (to use Sally Magnusson's favourite word) from the idea of voting SNP. So, if you effectively only have the 'No side' talking about independence the impact on the poll figures is not that surprising - but that quite obviously will not be what happens in the run-up to the referendum.
Of course, the real beauty of the SNP now having a parliamentary majority is that they can assess movement in public opinion over the coming years as they make the case for independence, and then reach a strategic decision on what the format of the plebiscite should be. In recent days, John Rentoul has been having a riotous time on Twitter smugly suggesting that the question of whether Scotland would vote to become independent was one of his #QTWTAINs (Questions To Which The Answer Is No) - although of course I'd suggest it's more of a #WWDWBWASJ (Well Why Don't We Bloody Wait And See, John?). But intriguingly he seemed rather less sure of himself when he spotted an article pointing out that it was perfectly possible that the SNP would go for a multi-option or multi-question referendum - he observed that this would be "too canny by half". Now, would that be a #SRTWTAIG (Snide Remark To Which The Answer Is "Gotcha"), John?