I've read a couple of unionist-flavoured articles over the last few hours that have posed similar questions in my mind, so I thought I'd take a look at them together. Firstly, Stewart Whyte in a post at Tory Hoose entitled 'Do The SNP Care Enough About Scotland To Lose With Dignity?' (a 'when did you stop beating your wife' query if ever there was one) -
"The big question is what will the Referendum do to Scotland. Will it be the cathartic settlement of the constitutional issue that will give the Scots peace for a generation? Will it allow the SNP to continue on their current path to becoming a proper political party where governing is more important than a single issue? Or will their frustration and anger at the failure of their raison d’etre tear them apart in bitterness and recrimination.
And will they take Scotland down with them? For be in no doubt the eyes of the world are watching."
Now, what does 'taking Scotland down with them' actually mean in concrete terms? What would it look like? What reason is there to suspect that such a non-specific yet catastrophic event would actually happen? We don't know.
In particular, I'm struggling to see why a party that is 'tearing itself apart in bitterness and recrimination' would actually remain in power and thus be capable of taking anyone else down with them, but perhaps Mr Whyte has more faith in the SNP's unshakeable popularity than I do. This is an uncomfortable truth for the unionist parties, but the example of Quebec suggests that the SNP would have an excellent chance of a) remaining united following a referendum defeat, and b) winning the subsequent election. The Parti Québécois retained power in the election following each of the two referendum defeats in 1980 and 1995. To be fair, there's a much more plausible case for thinking the SNP might fracture following a referendum victory, but I'm not sure that's any greater a comfort for Mr Whyte.
Turning now to Jim Gallagher in the Guardian -
"...what it means to have a political union, a deeply integrated economic union and – hardest of all to pin down – a social union: not just the personal and family connections that separation might disrupt..."
Again, how in specific, practical terms would independence "disrupt" personal and family connections? What would that disruption look like? Has Mr Gallagher never heard of email, mobile phones and EasyJet, or does he think most communication between family members takes place by means of carrier pigeons that are in future liable to be shot down by the Salmond Border Militia?
Now back to Mr Whyte -
"For lose the Referendum they surely will. Last week’s opinion poll had the Yes on 33%, No on 57% and Don’t Knows on 10%. The killer for the Nationalists is the last number – there are just not enough people who have not made up their minds for them to win."
It's difficult to know where to start with nonsense like this. Clearly Stewart isn't a regular reader of Anthony Wells' strictures at UK Polling Report. First of all, there's the obvious point that the figures Stewart quotes aren't especially meaningful, because the poll in question was commissioned by the No campaign, who quite understandably went to the pollster with a track record of producing the most favourable results for No, and then got them to ask a loaded question. But even if the figures were meaningful, they still wouldn't have the significance Stewart seems to think they do. The 'don't know' figures are actually very similar to what is always seen in general election polls - so if that means the opinion of everyone who doesn't declare themselves a 'don't know' can be assumed to be absolutely set in stone, then clearly we can spare ourselves the trouble and expense of going through a UK general election in 2015, because we already 'know' the Tories will lose. In truth, polls aren't (and don't claim to be) predictions. They are snapshots of how people would vote if the election or referendum was held NOW. But the referendum isn't being held now, any more than the 2015 general election is being held now. That means there are far, far, far more votes up for grabs than the self-defined 'don't knows'. Many of the people who answered 'Yes' or 'No' will have barely even considered the issue yet, and there is a long campaign period ahead of us.
Back again to Mr Gallagher -
"Scots don't actually want to leave the UK: only a quarter want independence."
Wait a minute - hasn't Stewart just told us the figure is 33%? Crikey, at this rate it'll be zero before the day is out.
"Salmond's success has been to take control of it [Holyrood] – but at the same time failing at Westminster. In the 2010 general election, Labour polled more than twice as many votes as the SNP, and gained 41 MPs to their six. The voters knew exactly what they were doing. Fifty SNP MPs could have pushed for secession. Holyrood cannot."
Er, no, Jim, it's the other way round. Fifty SNP MPs couldn't have done a huge amount about holding a referendum, because they could have been easily outvoted by the other 600 (almost entirely non-Scottish) MPs. That's kind of the case for independence in a nutshell, isn't it? By contrast, 69 SNP members of the Scottish Parliament do seem to be in a rather strong position to "push for secession". Or is the fact that we're going to have an independence referendum a figment of my imagination?
Oh, and the reason Scots didn't vote SNP at the Westminster election is not the one Jim suggests, but instead that a) there were three rigged TV leaders' debates that totally excluded one (just one) of Scotland's four main parties, and b) people believed Jim Murphy's claim that voting Labour in Scotland would stop the Tories taking power in London. Well, that worked a treat, didn't it?
"Unionism may be right, but it needs to craft a story that speaks to the heart as well as the head."
One thing we can probably all agree on is that unionism is very much "right". It's been a long, long time since a unionist government at Westminster was in any meaningful sense "left" - hence the reason the anti-independence side will have a problem once people start contemplating the consequences of a No vote, and the decades of unbroken right-wing rule from London that would lie ahead.