Alex Salmond’s summer of headaches continues, with new polling has revealing a dip in support for his cherished dream of Scottish independence.
The findings, compiled by YouGov for the Fabian Society, show 30% of Scots support the idea of independence, down 3 points since the start of the year. The number opposed is up 1 point in the same period to 54%. This comes on the back of similar findings, such as from Ipsos Mori last month, which reported a 4-point drop in support for independence since the beginning of the year, down to 35% with 55% opposed.
With findings such as this, the SNP leader will be keen to resist all attempts to hold an early referendum, which was the message from David Cameron yesterday.
Speaking during a visit to Glasgow yesterday, the prime minister challenged Scotland’s first minister to gamble all, using the term “let’s go nap” - used by gamblers to define betting everything on the table.
“I hope we can do it quickly. I mean frankly the Scottish people deserve to have that fair, decisive and legal referendum. We made an offer to let that happen.
“The Scottish Secretary of State and the first minister should be hammering out the detail so I can meet Alex Salmond at the end of September and then we can go nap on a date and all the rest of it.
“It really should be possible to do this. All of the Scottish political parties, both campaigns, want a one question referendum that is what the Scottish people deserve. Let’s for heaven’s sake not let process get in the way of the outcome the Scottish people deserve.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government, meanwhile, effectively told Westminster to butt out of the debate, responding to the prime minister’s comments:
“The terms and timing of the referendum must be decided in Scotland, by the Scottish parliament - not dictated by a Tory-led government at Westminster - and the prime minister has already conceded the autumn 2014 timescale.
“We are very confident indeed of achieving a Yes vote for independence in autumn 2014.
“The Scottish government’s referendum consultation received nearly 10 times the number of responses of the UK Government consultation, and the independent analysis will be completed and published by the end of the summer.
“As the first minister said in his letter to the Scottish Secretary last month, Bruce Crawford for the Scottish Government and Scotland Office Minister David Mundell have already had two meetings to help clarify the procedural issues which need to be considered in any wider discussions on the referendum.
“They are due to meet again in August to see what further progress can be made.”
Giving their spin on the poll findings, meanwhile, a spokesman for the SNP argued support for independence remained higher than it did when the party won an outright majority in last year’s election’s to Holyrood.
“We are confident the majority of people in Scotland prefer home rule with independence to Tory rule from Westminster, and we are confident of achieving a Yes vote in autumn 2014.”
However, for the Scottish Fabians, things don’t look so rosy for Salmond et al, co-coordinator Daniel Johnson declaring:
“It looks like the SNP has blown it. A clear majority of Scots now oppose separation.”
Meanwhile, amidst reports of a strong challenge to plans by the SNP leadership to accept the idea of NATO membership, the party’s MSPs have been ordered not to speak publicly on the issue.
The Scotsman this morning prints a copy of an email sent to them which reads:
I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy.
Please ask them to e-mail you any questions and respond with the following:
“We are looking forward to an excellent debate within the SNP on Nato, which will be democratically decided at party conference in October - the SNP’s clear policy is for Trident nuclear weapons to be removed from Scotland, and independence is the only constitutional option which enables this to be achieved.”
In his assessment of the situation facing the party, Eddie Barnes, political editor of the Scotsman, writes:
At other party conferences, it is a common sight. Whether it be over fox-hunting, Iraq or the NHS, a protest accusing delegates of betraying the public mood is usually present to greet them as they make their way inside. The SNP has rarely had to run such a gauntlet.
This autumn, however, the placards look likely to be out in force.
The conference will play host to a powder keg debate on whether or not to change party policy so that an independent Scotland would remain part of the NATO alliance. Peace campaigners are already planning to ensure that when card-carrying members turn up, they get a noisy welcome.
The reasoning behind the SNP’s policy shift, proposed by the party’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson, has been set out at length. The Moray MP argues that Scotland needs to get on board to show fellow NATO members, like Denmark and Norway, that it can be a good and trustworthy neighbour. So long as NATO agrees that Scotland shouldn’t host nuclear weapons and will only take part in UN-sanctioned operations, it should sign on the dotted line.
For peace campaigners, the problem is that NATO membership would still put Scotland in the role of military aggressor. Opponents also point out the contradiction of the SNP insisting on removing the “obscenity” of nuclear weapons at home, at the same time as it joins a club which, just a few weeks ago, declared it should remain “a nuclear alliance”.
That is the detail. However, the NATO debate within the SNP hits at something much deeper and more personal. The SNP has a self-image rooted in its exceptionalism. It isn’t like other parties. It isn’t, in other words, the kind of party where you turn up, just like at Labour, and find placard-waving peace campaigners accusing you of selling out your principles.
Given this, the ingredients are there for the NATO debate to become a totem for a far wider row within the party over what kind of organisation it wants to be, and what kind of country it wants to give birth to ahead of the referendum in 2014.