So, unsurprisingly, the Commonwealth Games have not proved to be a gamechanger for the Nats.
In the Spring, against the background of the polls stubbornly failing to move, the Nationalists briefed that they expected three things to change in their favour before September 18th.
The first was that Scotland would vote differently from the rest of the UK at the Euro elections and would clearly reject UKIP. Well, we all know how that ended up. Despite the Scottish Nationalists having already hovered up much of the potential UKIP vote North of the Border
The second was that the UK opinion polls would move decisively in favour of the Tories. Who knows, that might somehow still happen over the dog days of August and early September but somehow I doubt it. The real battle between Labour and the Tories will only begin to be joined at the Party Conferences and these are scheduled to post date the Referendum. And it is to be joined with Labour ahead.
The third was to be the Commonwealth Games which were apparently to show that Scotland was capable of putting on a World class sporting event. Taken at face value this was a bit strange since nobody but the Nationalists ever doubted that we were. What they really meant was that they hoped that Scotland and England competing separately at the event would transmute the anglophobia of the SNP into the wider population.
Suffice to say that hasn’t happened. English competitors have not just been welcomed in Glasgow on the same terms as those of other nations. They (and the Welsh and Northern Irish) have enjoyed partisan support at a level only one small notch down from that extended to our own home team. You don’t need to take my word for that. It was said by no greater authority than Lynsey Sharp on Radio Five Live this morning. And, without for a moment straying into overt politics, Scotland’s other medallists in the Olympic disciplines have then, over and over again, reflected in victory as to how much, while they had enjoyed the experience of competing in the “Friendly Games” against those more commonly their team mates, for tougher challenges ahead they looked forward to returning to the combined resources of Team GB.
And then of course we have the BBC. One really does wonder what possessed the Nationalists, while the national broadcaster was bringing us all this world class coverage, much of it fronted by Scottish presenters sitting alongside Scottish sporting legends, to respond by complaining about the prominent roles of Gary Lineker and Clare Balding on the grounds that they were English (“bastards”). That however paled into insignificance beside the rabble they mustered outside Pacific Quay on the middle Sunday of the games to demand that the BBC be banned altogether in Scotland!
Suffice to say I suspect that, one day, this latter event will be acknowledged to be misconceived in its timing. At the very least.
So, so far, the proposed gamechangers have not changed the game. Don’t believe me, just look at the opinion polls.
And, thus, the Nats are now left with one last desperate play.
Having avoided doing so for months, Alex Salmond himself has graciously agreed to debate (on one occasion only) with Alistair Darling. He had of course already agreed to this back in July before running away (again) and he has yet failed to confirm whether he will ever do so again. But nonetheless, saving a mystery illness striking down the First Minister, this is to happen on Tuesday.
Well, here I am going to say something that might surprise you. Eck shouldn’t have been so scared. I think he will do alright.
There is a certain section of the nationalist movement who credit Eck with messianic properties. I suspect for some at least that flows from the assumption that if only one Party speaks for “the Nation” then the Leader of that Party must be beyond criticism. For to criticise the leader is to criticise the nation itself. That has certainly been my experience on twitter this past week but it is more generally the pattern of nationalist politics the world over.
I’m obviously not in that camp but, to paraphrase the Pythons, while Eck might not be the messiah he is certainly a very able boy.
STV are understandably “bigging up” this event but, even as somebody immersed in the constitutional debate, I am not exactly looking forward to two hours of engagement in various different formats, about an issue on which I have heard every possible argument. I will nonetheless watch it. So will lots of committed partisans on both sides. But, let’s be honest, the vast majority of still undecided voters are people who are not that interested in politics.
So the chances of many of the don’t knows sitting through all one hundred and twenty minutes of politics in preference to River City or watching Celtic in the Champions League Qualifier is, shall we say, improbable. And that is before you consider that the (generally) good weather appears predicted to continue on the evening.
Thus the outcome of the debate is unlikely to be called by those who have sat it out all the way. For those who will, I confidently predict now that I will call it for Alistair while Stephen Noon will call it for Eck.
But the more important outcome will be called by the journalists watching. And here they would have to declare an interest. Although they won’t. “Already losing side fails to convince” is not a story, whereas “Eck gives Yes a fighting chance” undoubtedly is.
And it will also turn on soundbites. While I have the greatest regard for Comrade Alistair and have no doubt all the facts are on his side...... if I was choosing between him and Eck in a soundbite competition.....
So expect the press to call it for Eck and STV (at least) then to replay his soundbites interminably.
But, as Southey had it, “What good came of it at last?”
Not very much is my prediction. We’ve had three years of this. My side has been ahead throughout. As indeed it has been for the entire period since Scotland has had a universal franchise. Because, as we have seen this last ten days, most Scottish people don’t hate English people. Mibbee that will all be turned round in the next six weeks. But altogether more likely, mibbees naw.