The one outcome that is guaranteed from Thursday’s referendum is that someone will lose. While both sides are being very positive and talking up their prospects, equally we can already tell where the finger of blame might be pointed from the losing side. Blame is never a nice word, but it is certainly something that’s bound to happen as the losing side comes to terms with its defeat. We have already seen elements of this – from protests outside the BBC to the internal politicking of the Better Together campaign.
Taking each side in turn, there is already a narrative coming out about who is to blame for failure. Both sides will be happy to blame their opponents, but there will also be internal blame games, particularly in the Better Together campaign.
The Better Together camp has already faced a lot of criticism for its campaign style – its format, tone and the delivery of the message. Many politicians have been meddling in the campaign, often diminishing the role of Darling. However, should they lose, they are likely to be fairly dismissive of the roles of personalities. They will be keen to talk up the role of Salmond and the case he has made for independence, though this may drift into talk of intimidating tactics. However, the media and external stakeholders will look at Cameron and the Labour Party. They will be quick to cast the blame on Westminster politicians and policies. There will also be a focus on the messaging – were they too negative from the outset? We can expect the media to be looking for the views of many communications experts on whether the messages were the right ones. A Yes vote would pose some particularly difficult questions for Cameron from English voters too – should he have agreed to the referendum in the first place? And for Miliband the questions might also be quite pointed – how did he manage to lose so much of their core vote at such a vital time? The finger of blame is therefore likely to be pointed in various directions at various times.
For the Yes camp, the finger of blame is likely to be pointed at external influences. For them, because they are perceived to have started this campaign as the under-dog, their own campaign will not be to blame. Nor will the role and leadership of Salmond come under much scrutiny unless the polls are completely wrong and the Yes camp loses by a mile. Salmond’s position as the leader of the SNP and the Yes campaign looks assured and they will look to him to lead the charge on the delivery of additional powers in the devolution settlement. So the finger of blame will be pointed instead at the perceived negative campaigning of Better Together; the role of media bias; and the role of the Westminster parties.
The blame game will be an unfortunate result of the referendum, but it is incumbent on the leaders on all sides to ensure that post-referendum analysis does not get out of control and the nation can quickly move on, wherever possible, united.