In Scotland the independence campaign is very much a battle for public opinion, and a struggle to get the message of the positive benefits of independence out to a population whose traditional media outlets are almost universally active supporters of the Union.
The referendum campaign began with a No campaign which complacently looked on opinion polls showing consistent majorities against independence and decided that they could close the folder on the Scottish question, the result was already in the bag. That’s why the UK government’s strategy was headed by George Osborne, bagging and folding in a department store was his only real life work experience before he went into politics.
It’s quite probably the case that the Westminster government only conceded to the referendum in the first place because it thought it was going to win easily. If they thought they were going to lose, they’d have made a more concerted attempt to prevent independence by offering a more comprehensive devolution package while refusing to concede that Holyrood had the right to hold the referendum.
However UK government felt so confident that Scottish people are proud little Union flag wavers at heart that they allowed us to have an independence referendum that turned out not to be about questions of national identity after all – instead it turned into a debate about democracy, and inequalities, and what sort of future would serve ordinary people in Scotland best. And on those questions the existing constitutional settlement has nothing to offer.
Scottish public opinion seems to be far less decided than the no majority in opinion polls would suggest. That no majority is extremely fragile, and is easily persuadable to switch sides. The result of the Scottish referendum is by no means a foregone conclusion, which a hitherto complacent Better Together has belatedly shown slight signs of recognising.
Perhaps it’s just me, but of late Project Fear seems to have undergone something of a gear change. It’s more Project Mass Hysteria, it’s what happens when you fear that Plan A hasn’t worked but Plan B turned out to be Alistair Carmichael.
There’s still all to play for in the independence campaign. The Yes campaign has spent the past year building a network of tens of thousands of activists and volunteers. Over the coming months they will step up the door to door canvassing, the local events, and the face to face discussion that can overcome the media barrage of unionism. All Project Fear has to counter this is a dispirited and diminishing band of unionist party members.
Between now and September 2014, the challenge for the Scottish independence campaign will be to persuade the undecided, and those whose support for continuing Westminster government is weak or doubting. Once public opinion is secured, and expressed in the referendum vote, independence will follow.
Catalan public opinion is already made up and has decided on independence, the independence campaign must now find a political route that will allow Catalan statehood to become a reality. The challenge for the Catalan independence campaign is to find a way out of the current impasse: Catalonia’s insistence on its right to decide its own future, and the Spanish government’s insistence that Catalonia has no such right.
There’s still no certainty about when Catalonia will have a vote, never mind agreement on details like the exact form of the question, but all opinion polls show large majorities in favour of independence. More people are in favour of independence than the combined total of those opposed, those who don’t know, and those who say they’ll not vote. The only question is just how large the pro-independence majority will be.
An opinion poll published by Cadena Ser in September found that 52% would vote in favour of independence, with 24% opposed. 15.9% were undecided or wouldn’t say, while a further 7.7% had decided not to vote. Discounting the don’t knows and the abstainers, that would produce a referendum result of Yes 68.4%, No 31.6%.
A more recent poll, published on 22 November, found that 54.7% were in favour of independence, with 22.1% against. 15.7% said they would abstain, while the remainder were don’t-knows or wouldn’t-says. This poll actually reported a slight decrease in support for independence (although within margin of error) from the previous poll in the series. Again discounting the don’t knows and won’t says, it produces a hypothetical referendum result of 71.2% Yes, 28.8% No.
Whatever the exact numbers the polls paint a consistent picture. By a substantial margin, the Catalan Yes campaign has already won over public opinion.
The fact that Catalans have already made their minds up is precisely why Madrid is so set against a referendum. It’s already lost a referendum campaign before it’s even begun. A Catalan Millor Junts campaign would be duffed up by els independentistes far more comprehensively than Nicola Sturgeon duffed up Alistair Carmichael. And it wouldn’t even have such a tame media to rely on. So you can see why Madrid is keen to avoid it, it wouldn’t be at all pretty from its point of view, although those who delight in schadenfreude would love it.
The massive and enthusiastic public support for independence was fully displayed in la Via Catalana in September this year, when over 1.6 million Catalans formed a human chain stretching across Catalonia from the French frontier to the Valencian Community. Catalans know how to party, they also know how to demonstrate.
Following the event, the Partido Popular’s leader in Catalunya, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, sniffed that her party (with its 19 seats in the 135 seat Catalan Parliament) represented the silent majority of Catalans. She probably didn’t mean those who did not especially relish standing in the sun in 30º temperatures along a stretch of motorway in order to prove a point, but were quite likely to vote yes anyway.
It only left her open to the contemptuous response: Let us have a vote then we’ll find out who’s the majority.
Madrid is growing nervous of external developments that may upset its increasingly desperate attempts to fend off the growing clamour from Catalans for the right to vote – like the possibility that the Scots may just vote Yes after all, despite all the assurances the Partido Popular heard from friendly Tories that it wasn’t going to happen.
Scotland can probably expect to hear a bit more from Mr Rajoy and his friends over the coming months.