I doubt if anybody votes according to policy. I mean the reason you support a party is because the policies it pursues are attractive or at least don’t alienate you but do you really vote for that reason or for another less intellectual motive? It’s far from clear that Labour people vote Labour for specific policies for example but rather they have a generalised sense that Labour stands for them. That is about history, social background and group association. Everybody has an impression of what Labour is and who Labour people are and either identify with it or not. Policy issues may make you feel more or less inclined to follow your instinct but they don’t really determine how you’ll vote. At least not very often. I had a dilemma a few years ago when I wanted to express my contempt and fury at Labour – or more accurately Tony Blair – and would have voted SNP as usual. But the Lib Dems were running second to Labour in my constituency so I went for them. That was a kind of policy vote but really it was more of a protest against something. I was following my instincts and saying to hell with the economy, social policy, welfare and every other domestic issue. I made an emotional choice. (Didn’t work).
I don’t believe many Labour voters backed Alex Salmond in the last two Scottish elections because they wanted independence but because they had a gut instinct that he represented them better than did Labour. As the polling shows, Scots think Salmond and his team “stand up for Scotland” better than anybody else and that has a generalised appeal. Despite their natural bias they were so turned off by Labour – and I suspect the two leaders involved, McConnell and Gray – that they were open to switch. So, although they probably liked some of the SNP policy, most decided to follow their heart. This idea that politics isn’t about policy is hardly new. The best articulated example would be David Hume and his concept of sentiment directing reason. People are more likely to vote for what they like even if it isn’t necessarily the best option available.
Recently I had two encounters with different people who said very much the same as the other. (Maybe they’re communicating and I didn’t know it). What they said was that this vote more than any other comes down to a moment in time…that after years of talking, after reams of reports, of assertion and scaremongering, of hours of programming, it all comes down to one silent moment in the plywood cubicle, pencil in hand. You don’t get the chance to change your vote in four years time. Have you really assimilated it all? Have you worked out your answer to every question? Are you absolutely sure about your intention and have no regret? Do you really know what your opinion is? Or will it be as you stand there looking at Yes and No that something primal stirs, a sense that sometimes in life it takes a leap of faith and what’s so perfect about the current set-up anyway? You’re being challenged and the common view is you haven’t got it in you to give up the security blanket. You’re not sure all the numbers add up to stress free new country but a sense of excitement and defiance takes over. You vote Yes.
It’s what they’re calling the Fuck It Factor. That’s the phrase both my contacts used. They mean that at the last moment, even in the face of cold logic, there is a dangerously thrawn element to Scots’ character that may not say much at the time but which takes a silent delight in defying expectation. If they judge that the forces of the Union have patronised them, insulted them or taken them for granted and if they credit Salmond – again – for being a man with the guts to stand up and be counted, they will breathe deeply and say: Fuck It.
Now this is wishful thinking without doubt. But doesn’t it have a familiar ring of something the Scots might just do? Didn’t they defy the odds by electing a majority nationalist government? I think the FIF has a certain illogical logic about it and would also confound the pollsters. You have to ask if the publicity assault of the British government is still working. Is anybody still reading those reports…does any rational person still believe the UK will think it is against its interests to resist monetary union…was the latest effort by Ian Davidson anything other than a joke on Westminster, suggesting it was outwith Holyrood’s powers to stage a referendum? He is using the position as chair of a Commons committee to politick when the purpose of select committees is to scrutinise objectively. It has been up to now one of the real successes of a creaking Westminster system. But the idea that Davidson warns anyone else they mustn’t engage in propaganda is entering the realms of Monty Python. How the Unionists must regret putting in charge someone so laughably one-eyed at such a crucial time when they could have had for example Ming Campbell, assuming he was available. Had he been in the chair, they wouldn’t have lost Eilidh Whiteford and, if the SNP tried to wriggle out of membership, he would have worked tirelessly to keep them on board realising the importance of balance. How much more import would the reports have had when presented by someone of intellect and gravitas, how much more forensic the questioning by a trained advocate. In over 20 years in the Commons has Ian Davidson ever been promoted? As far as I know not a single Labour minister has offered him even a PPS position so perhaps he’s soaking up the notoriety now as he gets his wee moment in the limelight. He has made himself as much a figurehead for Union as Alistair Carmichael and he adds daily to their nutcase hysteria. The more they bang on and the more strident they become, the less credible they appear. I think the Scots will be heartily sick of Unionist rantings by the time polling day arrives. Welcome to the FIF.