In his notorious "Mount Olympus" address to Scotland from the safe distance of the London Velodrome, David Cameron made clear he was hoping that English people would pick up the phone and beseech their Scottish friends and relatives to "stay" (on the apparent assumption that independence would for some reason involve Scotland "going" somewhere). This was always a risky strategy at best – the catastrophic failure of the Guardian’s ‘write-to-an-Ohioan’ wheeze during the 2004 US Presidential election was a useful reminder that voters often deeply resent outside interference in their own local democratic process, particularly if it’s condescending in tone. At an absolute minimum, the theory that Scotland could be love-bombed into submission surely depended on the London establishment first of all taking some urgent steps to turn around the current perception of Scots that the English don’t really like or respect them very much.
A YouGov poll conducted at the end of February found that 46% of Scottish voters feel that their country is viewed in a negative light by English people, compared to just 23% who think that the English have a positive opinion of Scotland. Such stark numbers shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, given the daily diet of ugly Jock-bashing that is served up by the right-wing London media. However, until a few weeks ago, there was at least some evidence that ordinary English people didn't swallow the media propaganda whole, and were open to taking a much more mature attitude towards Scotland’s exercise in self-determination. A Panelbase poll conducted for the SNP at the turn of the year found that, if they were first reminded that Scotland is one of England’s largest trading partners, English voters backed a post-independence currency union by an enormous margin of 71% to 12%. Here was a reservoir of goodwill that the UK government could have tapped into to plausibly say to Scots – "there you go, English people are respectful of your democratic process, and see you as desirable partners regardless of the referendum outcome". That at least would have been some kind of basis for a successful love-bombing campaign.
What did government ministers do instead? The polar opposite. As a result of them consciously whipping up synthetic outrage among London commentators at the idea of Scotland staking any sort of claim in the shared asset of sterling, the opinion poll numbers have turned on their head in the space of a few short weeks. It’s now abundantly clear to Scots that English people by and large agree with their media that Scotland is not a desirable partner, let alone an equal one. And yet, bizarrely, every time a new poll is published showing a further drop in English support for a currency union, the anti-independence campaign trumpet it from the rooftops. What precisely do they think they have achieved? They've permanently squandered what could have been one of their greatest strengths – authentic respect from south of the border for Scotland’s democratic aspirations.
You see, whatever happens in September, Scots will expect serious negotiations to follow. As a country we may still be divided on the desirability of sovereign statehood, but one thing there is a broad consensus on is that the constitutional status quo isn't an option, and that a new dispensation needs to be negotiated with the UK government. However, the difference is that a Yes vote would force London to the negotiating table, whereas a No vote would leave us entirely at the mercy of London's whim. Given the spectacle we’re now seeing of English voters apparently egging on their political representatives to be as intransigent as possible in any post-independence negotiations, why on Earth should any Scot have the slightest confidence that London will act in good faith in the event of a No vote? If anything, English people now seem to want their government to act vengefully in that circumstance. YouGov suggest that a full 58% of English and Welsh voters think Scotland should be denied any further devolved powers after a No vote, with almost a quarter thinking the powers of the Scottish Parliament should actually be reduced. It seems the narrative that Scottish self-government is somehow a "problem" that must be "contained" or "solved" has firmly taken root south of the border – and it's a view that is utterly irreconcilable with the prevailing mood in Scotland.
And yet, the anti-independence camp will object, the polls also show that English voters do genuinely think Scotland should “stay". True, but what do they want us to stay for? Is it for the chance to put us back in our place – to castrate our parliament and to reduce our mythological "subsidy"? Or is it simply to maintain London’s control over as wide a geographical area as possible, so that no "prestige" is lost internationally? Either way, there's not a lot of room left for "love", is there? And that's entirely the product of the UK government's handiwork. There’s certainly very little prospect of English public opinion ever again coalescing around the view that Scotland is so highly valued that true Home Rule powers should be transferred to the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, thus ensuring that we never again have to suffer Tory rule we didn't vote for as the price for remaining in the UK.
I suspect that if any 'love-bombing' phone calls are ever actually made, Scots will simply hear voices that are totally incomprehending of our aspirations. I won’t be alone in feeling tempted to respond with four simple words: "True love isn't possessive".
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(Note : I wrote this piece two-and-a-half weeks ago. It was intended for publication on another website, hence the slightly different tone.)