Panic on the streets of Edinburgh

Alex Salmond speaks on St Andrews Day

With 24 hours to go, the independence debate has reached fever-pitch.

As both sides in the Scottish independence debate lay out their closing arguments with just 24 hours before the referendum vote, an element of chaos has emerged in the campaigns. Labour leader Ed Miliband was forced to abandon a walkabout in an Edinburgh shopping centre as he was mobbed by ‘Yes’ supporters hurling abuse, with some even branding him a ‘serial murderer’. Meanwhile, a campaigner for the Socialist Workers party was seen holding a sign saying “don’t let the Nazis divide us” amid scenes that have been described as a “stampede”. Miliband himself was quoted as saying that the melee was evidence of “an ugly side to … the yes campaign”. This latest incident comes after other senior Labour party figures, including Gordon Brown and Jim Murphy, have fallen victim to verbal intimidation by pro-independence campaigners.

Meanwhile, south of the border David Cameron faces a revolt in his own camp as backbench Conservative MP’s reacted angrily to news of an agreement that supposedly guarantees an additional £1,400 per capita in public funding for Scotland. Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, has added to the clamour of backbench dissent by stating that he will not support any further devolution of powers to Scotland, a view that diametrically opposes the one expressed by the leaders of the three Westminster parties in yesterday’s front-page pledge. More concerned parties are making their voices heard as the campaign comes down to the wire; in an open letter to the Sun 14 former chiefs of the armed forces stated that a ‘Yes’ vote would be a threat to UK national security. Former US President Bill Clinton has also voiced support for the preservation of the Union.

The most recent polling figures give the ‘No’ campaign a four-point lead although the actual result is likely to be determined by undecided voters, who constitute an estimated 1 in 7 of the voting population. This being the case there remains a great deal of uncertainty over which way the vote will go, despite reports that some betting agencies are already paying out on ‘No’ wagers. Alex Salmond has said “the time for talking is nearly done”, which is likely a relief for him as all he has seemed to do is talk.

All the key questions regarding the future of an independent Scotland remain unanswered as Salmond has steadfastly refused to provide meaningful responses to issues such as Scotland’s post-independence currency situation, the length of time it will take to join the EU, which debt-sharing system will be used, how an independent Scotland will square promises of expanding state benefits with a desperate need to balance a dangerously skewed budget, and so forth. Instead, he has responded to mounting challenges from the ‘No’ campaign, business leaders, military figures and prominent members of the international community by repeatedly playing the victim card; denouncing the mere mention of any concerns as ‘intimidation’ and countering that Scotland will not be ‘bullied’. His own rhetoric is a woolly mess of abstract promises, fear-mongering (as with references to NHS privatization), labelling any criticism as stemming from the conspiratorial ‘Westminster’ establishment and fervent praising of the Scottish people that verges on jingoism.

With these actions Salmond has set the tone of the campaign, at once bitterly divided and shrouded in uncertainty. It is thus no wonder that as the referendum clock ticks down by the second the debate has exited the halls of reasoned discourse onto streets of heckles, absurd placards and swirling crowds, where it will remain until tomorrow.