Wednesday 26th March
Yesterday I got a visit from the Government Deputy Chief Whip, Greg Hands, asking if we were going to call a vote on the Government’s welfare cap. This is the measure in the budget that calls on the total spending on welfare to be capped at a £119 billion pound limit and cuts found if it’s exceeded. Greg very much wants to test the Labour Party on this knowing that there are divisions in their Parliamentary group. I assure him that we will indeed be opposing and if the Labour left do not call the vote we most certainly will.
They have said that they support a welfare cap in most of this week’s press and now it looks like they will have to vote with the Tories. UK Labour have been looking at the opinion polls and they know the cap is popular in the UK and they want to demonstrate just what a ‘responsible ‘ Government in waiting they are.
This is particularly tough for our Scottish Labour colleagues. They have just spent the weekend at their Scottish conference telling the nation that they are now back in touch with their roots. Adopting the word ‘socialism’ like it had gone out of fashion and Tony Blair never actually existed. We were once again the ‘tartan Tories’ and they were the newly proclaimed tribunes of the people. Well, today, they will walk through the lobbies with the Tories in support of a Tory welfare cap which will significantly impact on the poorest in our community.
All day I gently tease my Scottish Labour colleagues asking which way these newly defined ‘socialists’ would vote? In the middle of the afternoon Ed Balls defiantly confirmed that Labour would support the Tories and an hour later they voted accordingly. Watching the faces of Labour you could almost feel the embarrassment and there was a very real feeling that this would go down as a very significant moment in the indyref.
We of course did all we could to embarrass Labour with messages like “the weekend socialists back to the day job voting with the Tories’. Later in the evening I put up a blog with the 30 Scottish Labour members (a majority) who voted with the Tories. After this was left to hang Labour just had to take the shame. A very bad day for them and this blows holes in their strategy to outflank us on the left and stop the haemorrhaging of Labour votes to Yes.
The only comfort for them is it looks like the Scottish Press, predictably, are going to totally ignore it.
Saturday 13th September
The last Saturday of the campaign and you can almost feel and touch the excitement in the air in the city centre. Both campaigns are here (obviously) and there is something approaching a carnival atmosphere with practically everyone wearing either a Yes badge or one of their ‘No Thanks’ stickers. I’ve organised a flash mob circled round the Perthshire singer Dougie Maclean and his iconic song Caledonia. We put the word round social media and there is already an expectant crowd of a few hundred gathered in Perth High Street.
The idea is that the busker who is performing in the city centre starts to perform Caledonia and is then joined by our own independence choir, who is then joined by about 15 musicians who walk towards the busker before Dougie himself appears while everyone joins in with lyrics to the song which we are distributing. It doesn’t quite go like that. The High Street is too busy for the musicians to get any sort of platform and our busker forgets some of the words! But then Dougie turns up and it is absolutely electric. Silence seems to descend on the High Street and looking round several people are actually close to tears. When Dougie is finished I make a small speech and some Better Together idiot makes a lunge at Dougie but is quickly calmed down by our supporters. It was a fantastic event and everybody is really happy. As we finish we start to see some pictures of elsewhere in Scotland. In Glasgow thousands of Yes supporters have taken to the streets and George Square and Buchanan Street are stowed out. There have never been scenes like this in Scotland and no-one is going to forget this day.
Meanwhile the No campaign have to endure the Orange Order who are having a British ‘unity’ parade in Edinburgh. Almost ironically this is perhaps the biggest rally the No campaign have managed throughout the whole referendum. This is immensely embarrassing for the Nos who have ran a mile from any association with this divisive group. The images are bad. All over Scotland Yes campaigners are joyfully celebrating this carnival of politics whilst in Edinburgh this group wanders round the capital with their union jacks and messages of division and hate. All of the Yes campaign ignore this march and the fear of any flashpoint dissipates. Exhausted we retire to the Greyfriars pub in Perth with Dougie where more songs are performed. The campaign is coming to a climax now and it almost feels a privilege to be living through such times.
Just before going to bed I hear that the Perth hostage, David Haines, has been executed by the IS jihadists in Iraq. We had all been hoping that he might still get out alive and I have been dealing with the family offering any assistance that they may need. Dreadful stuff and will be huge in the press tomorrow.
Sunday 14th September
I get my first phone call and bid to appear on the media at 6.15am and from then my phone did not stop. Did Radio’s 4 and 5 before 7am and Sky had dispatched a van for an 9am interview. This goes on all day and it was actually quite distressing having to give comment on a man who was so brutally murdered. Try to give the view from Perth and how the whole community would be here for the family. Inevitably some of the interviews verge on to the indyref particularly from the many foreign news outlets who have descended on Perth. What is impressive is that so many foreign broadcasters understand all the issues concerning the indyref and they approach these issues without any particular agendas and with a real sensitivity to a city that is in grief following the brutal murder of one of its sons.
The big news today is of course the last of the opinion polls. There are 2 this morning showing a small swing back to No. A Survation and Opinium poll both give No 53% to Yes 47% but a smaller ICM poll actually gives a 54% to 46% lead. It is absolutely too close to call. After 2 and a half years the polls are now on a knife edge where last year there was something like a 20% No lead. This is now getting overwhelmingly exciting and people are actually having trouble sleeping trying to figure things out. It is incredible that we go into the last week with the referendum so finely balanced and with a few days still to go there is a sense that there are still a few twists to play out yet.
In the evening I venture down to the concert for Yes in the Usher Hall. Scottish musicians have come together for this last big concert and there is a stellar line up including Mogwai, Amy MacDonald, Franz Ferdinand and Frightened Rabbit. It is a fantastic joyous occasion high on emotion and passion. Get a chance to see some of my colleagues for the last time before the referendum. Everybody is obviously excited and high on adrenalin with a real determination to deliver this. Support from Scottish artists has been absolutely incredible and they have helped build support amongst young Scots. Some have emerged as key communicators like Mogwai’s, Stuart Braithwaite, who has helped ensure that Yes is the overwhelmingly ‘cool’ option. Leave exhilarated and now totally set for what will be the biggest week in my political life.