Apparently we are all mad, or have joined a gnostic cult. No votes have yet been counted, but polls predicting 50% plus for the SNP have almost become banal. There is a risk that the SNP winning a majority of Scottish Westminster seats will seem an anti-climax. Whatever the final result, all pundits seem to agree that something extraordinary is happening in Scotland. And yet few on any side seem to have a clear idea of why.
A key pointer is the level of mistrust revealed in recent polls regarding Scottish Labour. The SNP line is that in joining forces with the toxic Tories during the referendum campaign Labour betrayed the trust of voters in Scotland. The deeper truth is that it is the way in which Labour campaigned for a No vote that finally alienated the trust of many.
Better Together consciously and deliberately set out to fight a relentlessly negative campaign to scare Scots out of voting for independence. It was not a panicked reaction to a closing of the polls, Project Fear was a 30 month strategy. The aim was not just to win the referendum, but to crush the SNP. Remember Ian Davidson and bayoneting the wounded.
The good voters of Scotland were not to be treated with respect and offered a positive case for the union. They were instead to be bombarded through a pliant media with one scare story after another. Too wee, too poor, too stupid. We would not be allowed to join the EU. We would not be allowed to use the pound. There would be barbed wire on the border.
Alex Salmond was identified as an effective communicator and was therefore subjected to prolonged and bitter personal attacks and smears.
Multinational supermarket chains who claim to compete on price were persuaded to threaten price rises. 10 Downing Street announced the banks were moving and the BBC dutifully implied massive job losses, notwithstanding RBS clarification that no jobs or operations would be moved. And the mighty Gordon Brown told outright lies about pensions.
The Labour apparatchiks who ran Better Together seem to have assumed that a nasty and negative campaign was the most effective way to maximise the No vote, and that after a referendum victory politics would go back to “normal” and there would be no consequences for those who had made ridiculous and exaggerated claims to the Scottish electorate. In fact it was probably their tactics which contributed to the Yes surge.
And it turns out that the voters of Scotland did not like what they had been subjected to. It was not so much that Labour had shared platforms with the Tories, but that they had campaigned like Tories.
Scottish Labour still do not seem to understand that the key issue is trust. Their general election strategy has been strongly based on promoting a false proposition that we must vote Labour to get rid of the Tories. Jim Murphy has spent weeks dancing around his “largest party” shtick, apparently without any awareness that it reinforces the message that Labour are not being honest.
The votes are still to be counted, but lets hope that one of the lessons to emerge from the probable collapse of Labour in Scotland is that negative campaigning has long term consequences.