The Commonwealth Games have gone off about as well as the organisers could possibly have hoped. A record haul of medals for Team Scotland and, with just the odd exception, plenty of plaudits for how well the event has been arranged. Even the weather has been kind (at the beginning at least). It would seem that no better backdrop could have been devised for stimulating a bit of national pride as the independence referendum enters its last lap.
But national pride and support for independence are not necessarily synonymous, and today sees the first evidence that the Games may have left the referendum race largely untouched. In a poll conducted between Wednesday and Friday last week – the first since the Games began – Survation for the Mail on Sunday put Yes on 40%, down one point on its previous poll conducted in early July, while No are on 46%, unchanged. When the Don’t Knows (14%, up one) are excluded, Yes are on 47%, the same as in Survation’s previous poll.
Still, we should perhaps be careful before we rush to judgement that the Games have failed to leave any kind of mark on the referendum race at all. In the last couple of months Survation’s polls have been the most optimistic so far as the Yes side is concerned. So the pre-Games standard against which this poll is being judged is a relatively high one. But for the expectation that the Games might have had a positive impact on Yes support, the poll might be regarded as somewhat encouraging news for the Yes side. It is the third time in a row that Survation have put the Yes vote at an all-time high of 47%, just three points (and one vote) short of the winning post, and indeed the result is enough to push the Yes tally in our poll of polls back up to 44%.
Moreover, although the vast bulk of voters – 82% – say that ‘Scotland’s organisation of and performance in’ the Games have not made any difference to the way in which they are likely to vote, amongst those who say they have made a difference rather more say the Games have made them more likely to vote Yes (12%) than claim they have made them more inclined to back No (7%). True, the answers to such questions have largely to be taken with a pinch of salt – most of those who say they are more likely to vote Yes are (and probably in most cases already were) Yes supporters, while those who say it has made them more likely to vote No are (and probably already were) backers of the No side. Partisans are always inclined to see the world through a coloured lens that ensures that any and every event is regarded as evidence in support of their existing view. Even so, we might still note that amongst those who say they are undecided, 14% say the Games has made them more likely to vote Yes while only 4% state that they are now more likely to vote No. So perhaps we should not wholly discount the possibility that the Games have or will produce a small boost to the Yes side – albeit one that may to be too small for any individual poll to identify with any certainty and one that is insufficient (even on Survation’s optimistic reading for the Yes side) to take the Yes side past the winning post.
Meanwhile the one thing of which we can be sure is that politics and the referendum will resume their place at the centre of the media stage on Tuesday when Alex Salmond faces Alistair Darling in Scottish Television’s debate between the leaders of the Yes and No camps. Today’s poll uncovers a potential problem for Mr Salmond in that debate – expectations of his performance are rather high. As many as 37% think that Mr Salmond will win the debate, while only 11% are willing to put their money on Mr Darling. Even amongst No supporters, only 24% reckon the former Chancellor is the pre-debate favourite. So even if the First Minister does do well on Tuesday, perhaps voters will simply say that it was an uneven contest in the first place and discount it – while a poor performance would apparently put Mr Salmond at greater risk of leaving voters disappointed.
Tuesday’s debate has of course been delayed thanks to Mr Salmond’s insistence that he should debate the Prime Minister first. Mr Cameron does not win many plaudits for his refusal to take up that challenge; according to today’s poll 47% reckon he is a ’coward’ for not debating with the First Minister, while only 36% reckon it is a ‘sensible’ decision. But of course most of those who are critical of the Prime Minister are Yes supporters; only 19% of No voters are critical of his absence from the stage. So one doubts if Mr Cameron will lose much sleep over this particular finding – though doubtless Downing St will be keeping as close an eye as anyone on just how well Mr Darling does do in the debate on Tuesday.