Should Scotland’s people decide to separate from Britain in next month’s independence referendum, the English establishment may well be very unhappy with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose recent ham-fisted attack on Scottish nationalism appears to have given the Yes campaign a boost.
In an August 16 interview with The Times in London, Abbott urged Scotland to stay within the Union, saying independence was a threat to “justice” and “freedom”. A day later, two new polls showed support for Scottish independence had reached new highs.
Abbott told The Times that “it's hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland”. He added: “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom.”
Given Abbott’s over-the-top language is typically reserved for terrorist groups – George W Bush, for example, once described the 9/11 hijackers as “enemies of freedom” – it’s not hard to see why Scotland’s independence supporters have treated his comments with derision.
Scotland’s First Minister, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond, said Abbott’s comments were “foolish” and “offensive to the Scottish people”. He said Abbott’s remarks were hypocritical “because independence [from England] does not seem to have done Australia any harm”.
He also said: "If it does anything it will persuade people to vote Yes because the natural reaction to this sort of nonsense is 'Who is Mr Abbott to lecture Scots on freedom and justice?'”
Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “Tony Abbott’s ludicrous comments indicate that he thinks the Yes campaign are a collection of comic book super villains ... After a Yes vote Scotland will take our place as a valued and respected member of the international community.” Harvie also thanked Australian Greens leader Christine Milne, who said she welcomes an independent Scotland.
Since the referendum was announced, the No campaign — which is backed by the Conservative, New Labour and Liberal-Democrat Parties — has held a comfortable lead in opinion polls. But two August 17 polls showed that the Yes campaign is gaining ground fast. An ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday put Yes votes at 38%, No votes at 47% with 14% undecided. Leaving aside the undecided votes, the figures were Yes 45% and No 55%.
A Panelbase poll for the Sunday Herald found 42% of voters planned to vote Yes and 46% planned to vote No, with 12% undecided. Taking out the undecided votes, the results were the closest yet recorded: Yes 48% and No 52%.
Both polls suggest that most undecided voters are tending towards support for the Yes camp. One such voter was the well-known Scottish historian Tom Devine, who announced on August 17 that he would vote Yes after a long period of indecision.
The referendum result is likely to be very close. But those who put more faith in betting trends than opinion polls for predicting election results might note that William Hill Bookmakers — Britain’s largest betting agency — says 79% of Scottish punters have put their money on a Yes vote.
The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is part of the radical wing of Scotland’s independence movement. The party has registered a surge in support and membership over the course of the independence campaign. SSP leader and Yes Scotland boardmember Colin Fox told the August 17 Glasgow Sunday Herald he thought Yes would win in a close vote, but if the vote was No then “the struggle continues”.
In the case of a No vote, Fox said the 2016 Scottish elections could prove to be a decisive moment: "If, in 2016, [pro-independence parties] the SSP, the Greens and the SNP get a majority, the very next day we're all on the first train from Edinburgh to David Cameron [to demand a new referendum].”