If anyone ever tells you that opinion polls don’t matter, ignore them.
Whether they matter in and of themselves is debateable, but what this past week has shown is that, every now and again, an opinion poll can come along and turn the political world on its head.
For an illustration of this, consider what happened last night. At a Labour party event in Loanhead Miners’ Welfare Club, the former Labour Prime Minister essentially announced the policy of the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. This is the Coalition that ousted said Prime Minister from office and spent most of its early years in power trashing his record at both the Treasury and Number 10. We live in strange times indeed.
The man who, in a famous slip of the tongue, once “saved the world” is now being widely looked to as the man to save the Union.
It is not a fair burden to place on his, nor anyone else’s, shoulders alone. No one person at this stage can save the union, any more than Alex Salmond alone can be expected to seal the deal for independence.
The YouGov poll which put Yes ahead for the first time in the campaign has been followed by Panelbase and TNS-BMRB polls which all confirm a referendum which is simply too close to call. Both sides now need to draw on every resource available to them if they are to get over the magical 50% mark. You might even say they need to be ‘campaigns of all the talents’.
If there is one thing for which the No campaign will be grateful, it is that these dramatic polls did not appear so late in the day as to leave them no time to do anything in response. If you think the last few days of more powers-promising, saltire-raising and PMQs-cancelling all seem to suggest a No camp gripped by panic, then you would be absolutely right. But the alternative – to carry on regardless – would have been far, far worse.
The decision to cancel PMQs, as well as the decision to endorse Gordon Brown’s timetable for delivery of further devolution, was apparently taken at a meeting between Ed Miliband and David Cameron on Monday. The plan of action for the last phase of the campaign seems to be broadly as follows:
- Mobilise as many political ‘big beasts’ as possible, especially in the crucial areas of central Scotland;
- Shift the focus as much as possible onto the guarantee of more powers for Scotland; and
- Make a more emotional case for the UK, emphasising what has already been achieved together and what more can be done.
On the last point, the Better Together broadcast to be screened this evening marks a clear shift in tone. The campaign’s previous televised broadcast which focused on a female voter in her kitchen weighing up the risks and uncertainties of independence was roundly mocked and dismissed as patronising. The new broadcast seeks to channel more of Danny Boyle’s London 2012 vision of the story of Britain, from grainy black and white footage through to the present day.
But with the momentum clearly with the Yes campaign, is it all too late?
If today’s poll by TNS-BMRB is to be believed, then no, it is not. According to TNS, almost one in four voters remain undecided. This seems rather high in comparison to other pollsters who now find less than 10% undecided. This may owe something to the differing methodologies used, with YouGov and Panelbase recruiting respondents online and perhaps surveying a more politically engaged audience than the door-to-door methods of TNS.
Whoever you believe, there are clearly still many crucial undecided voters to be won over.
This race is going down to the wire.