PREDICTION: Reuters Opinion Columnist Bill Coles G... |


Scottish referendum

  • PREDICTION: Reuters Opinion Columnist Bill Coles Gives His (Highly Personal) Call On The Referendum

    It is true that I do not have any access to high-tech computer algorithms, and nor do I have any inkling as to the exit polls from the Scottish Referendum - but I am still going to put my head on the block.

    With some considerable confidence, I am going to predict the referendum result.
    Cocky? Maybe. Riding for a fall? Also maybe.

    But nevertheless, I am going to call it. I absolutely know what the result is going to be. And I’ll even give you the numbers.

    First of all though - who the hell am I? Who am I to be sticking myself out on a limb like this when most pundits are saying the Scottish Referendum is too close to call?

    And what makes me so different from any other jackanapes shouting off on his soap-box?
    Well… I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years, have written for everything from the Wall Street Journal to The Sun, and so I am pretty dispassionate about the referendum. I’ve also been a Political Correspondent, so I am inured to all the harrumphing that goes on in the news. I live in the middle of Edinburgh. I gamble a bit and so I know my odds.

    And lastly, and most importantly… I also know a fair bit about human nature.

    So, without further ado: my confident prediction for the Scottish Indy referendum is that the Nos - the Better Together campaign - will win it and that they will win it handsomely.

    I think they the “No” campaign will win by AT LEAST 53 points to 47; could easily be 54 points to 46. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if they won it by a staggering ten points - that is 55 points to 45.

    I know - I know! It’s shocking! Who would have thought that this “too tight to call” referendum would in fact turn out to be a solid gold win for the “Better Together” campaign?

    Who would have thought it? After all these polls in the past fortnight, some saying that the Scottish Nationalists are ahead, some giving it to Better Together - and most saying it’s just anyone’s guess.

    And - in particular - who would have guessed that Alex Salmond’s dream would be so comprehensively busted when, firstly, he’s played a complete blinder and, secondly, the Better Together campaign has been so utterly shambolic. Just diabolical! In years to come, the Better Together campaign will be wheeled out to political students as an example of how to really, really cock things up.

    But we can leave all these post-mortems for later, when the Scots Nats go off to lick their wounds and the Better Together campaigners breathe a sigh of the most immense relief.
    Here’s how - without the use of a computer or a single exit poll - I have worked out that Better Together is going to win.

    It’s pretty simple. And yet also… deceptively simple.

    Like every other political pundit, I have been watching the polls over the last few months. I have also observed how the gap between the Scots Nats and the Unionists has narrowed.
    But one thing has stayed consistently the same.

    That is the number of “Undecided” voters.

    The number of “Undecideds” has always been at least 10 per cent of the poll; that represents around 350,000 people.

    And for some crazy reason, it has always been rather assumed that these “Undecideds” are just an amorphous blob of people who can’t really make up their minds and who, come polling day, will probably be split about fifty-fifty down the middle. Half will be voting for Alex Salmond and the other half will vote for the Union.

    That - at least in past elections - has usually been the way of it with “Undecideds”.

    Not this time though. Not one little bit.

    This poll is quite different. It is unique.

    And I believe that the “Undecideds” are, in point of fact, not quite so “Undecided”. It’s down to a thing that is known as “Human Nature”. You may have heard of it. Just factor that into your computer and your polls! Cannot Compute!

    What the pundits have not factored into all their polls is the very febrile nature of Scotland at the moment. It’s edgy. There is a real air of menace and aggression.
    So asking people what they’re going to vote is in itself a loaded question.
    And it is my confident prediction that there are a lot of people out there who are saying they’re undecided, when in fact they decided a long time ago. But - who’d have guessed it? - they have no intention whatsoever of declaring that to the pollsters.

    Most “Yes” voters are will be very happy indeed to tell you that they’ll be voting Yes.
    Not so with the “No” voters. A number of them are rather shy about coming forward. The only way you’ll ever actually know they’ve voted “No” is if you’ve looked over their shoulder in the polling booth. And that’s why I think that even tonight’s exit polls might be out by a point or two - because some voters may vote for the Union, but they will never, ever ‘fess up to it.

    Of the “Undecideds”, I reckon that at least 80 per cent will be voting for the Union - which, if the two sides were absolutely neck and neck, would work out to be a six point difference in the polls, 53 to 47.

    But as it is…

    The Better Together campaigners have well and truly messed things up in the past month, but in the last week they’ve still had a bit of a bounce back. Difficult to tell what to make of all the many different polls, but my hunch has been that even without the “Undecideds”, the Unionists were nudging it anyway, maybe 52 to 48.

    Add in the extra six points that you get from the “Undecideds” and you come to the magical figure of 55 to the “Nos” and 45 to the “Yes” - a clear ten point win.

    No computer required; no need to chunk through reams of exit polls.

    If you were into spread-betting, you could fill your boots.

    Just don’t blame me if my predictions all go horribly wrong. You see that’s the thing about elections: the voters are always so damn contrary.

    * WHAT IF…

    I love “What if…” questions, as you argue that great imponderable stream of hypotheticals and might-have-beens.
    This is a beautiful “What If…”
    What If… Alex Salmond had been a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party?
    What If… Instead of signing up with the Scots Nats, Salmond had instead joined Scotland’s alternative party of choice, the Labour Party?

    I’m thinking that perhaps, just possibly, he might have been the greatest Prime Minister we’ve never had.
    Now actually… this “What If” is not nearly as fantastical as it might sound.
    Most people assume that Salmond has always been a dyed-in-the-wool Scots Nat. Not a bit of it!
    Now: the following story may seem a little far-fetched but it is nevertheless reliably recorded in David Torrance’s biography, “Salmond: Against The Odds”.

    In 1973, when Salmond was an 18-year-old student at St Andrews, he started dating a beautiful English rose. Her name was Debbie Horton and she was an ardent Labour activist.
    All was going well, Alex was very much in love, and then at the end of term in December, the pair had a bust-up - and Debbie was to scream the now immortal words: “If you feel like that, go and join the bloody SNP!”

    The next day, that is exactly what her now ex-boyfriend did.
    Oh, Debbie! Debbie, Debbie, Debbie!
    So: if it had not been for this unpleasant row between Alex and Debbie, it is not too unreasonable to suppose that he might have instead signed up with the Labour party.

    And then…
    Well just watch Salmond on TV. He’s brilliant. Far and away the best politician in British politics today. He’s a formidable operator - streets better than David Cameron or Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband.
    Salmond might not have been able to beat Tony Blair twenty years ago to become leader of the Labour Party.

    But he’d have beaten Gordon Brown out of sight; he’d have thrashed him. Salmond is so much more versatile than the clunking Brown; he has many more gears.
    And then Salmond would have been Prime Minister.

    And then… well he certainly wouldn’t have messed up the last General Election like Brown, which would mean that he’d still probably be Prime Minister today.
    Which would mean that Labour would still have held the balance of power in Scotland in the last election, in which case the Scots Nats would never even have got off the ground…
    And that would all rather indicate that… this question of Scottish Independence would still be just another fanciful Scottish pipe-dream.


    Instead of just being the Prince of Scotland, Salmond could today be living in Number Ten Downing Street, dining at the top table, and generally being feted by the leaders of the world…

    And the sheer beauty of it, the sheer deliciousness of it all, is that everything turned on that single spat that Alex had with his Debbie…

    Isn’t that a glorious thought? Talk about the flap of a butterfly’s wing causing a tsunami! Salmond has a trifling argument with his girlfriend and over 40 years later England comes within an ace of losing her greatest and most important ally.
    So: just one of the many joys of “What If…”
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