How do they love thee?
Let them count the ways. By the looks of things, it will be difficult to persuade them to stop. The Better Together campaign means to be positive come what may. When this is over, jobs selling The Watchtower await.
The thinking, as it is sometimes called, seems to be that the search for No votes can reverse polarities like a Dr Who gadget. Since it begins from a position that is by definition negative - No means No, as George Osborne is fond of saying - this is trickier than it sounds. It can also be confusing for anyone on the receiving end.
How do you respond when someone who has been downright unpleasant for weeks and months decides, out of the blue, to be nice? Most of us, I submit, would wonder what they were up to.
Undaunted, Better Together has decided "an injection of love" is called for - don't all wince at once - in the campaign to prevent independence. This follows weeks of what Whitehall's master strategists know as "the Dambusters' strategy". The same strategists have forgotten the original raids on German dams had only limited success, at horrible cost to the attackers, but put that aside.
The Yes case has been worked over with rhetorical truncheons, so the argument goes, and now the good cop can put in an appearance. Apparently voters will never notice the same actors have been playing both parts. No-one will realise the people who told of Scotland cast into the darkness without a pound sterling to its name are the people who want to sing our praises now. Can that possibly work?
So the betting goes. Better Together's premise is, in fact, that public opinion can be manipulated at will. A scare here, an endearment there; first a threat, then a promised reward: BF Skinner's experiments conditioning pigeons were more subtle. But the can-do - or doo - types of the No campaign are not fans of subtle. "Project Fear", you will remember, was their little office joke.
Nevertheless, you have to wonder about their analysis. For one example, they seem to believe the rejection of a currency union by the three amigos, Mr Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander, was some sort of key moment. Say what you like about opinion polls, but they contain no evidence of that seismic event. Support for Yes has grown, not diminished, since the great and powerful Os appeared from behind his curtain.
You needn't take my word for it. Professor John Curtice, who is taken very seriously by Better Together, has been tracking the impact of the Chancellor's very own Operation Chastisement. To paraphrase the professor, the dam has not been dented, far less breached.
In a blog published on Thursday on the What Scotland Thinks website, Professor Curtice looked at the most recent Panelbase poll commissioned by newsnetscotland.com. With the usual psephologist's caveats, and bearing in mind the evidence of previous polls, he wrote: "There can now be little doubt the No side's lead has narrowed - and equally that last month's currency intervention has so far failed to reverse that trend."
So G for George dropped the big one and no-one can find the crater? That seems like an odd reason to accentuate the positive ("latch on to the affirmative") all of a sudden. Has Better Together's prized Patriot voter-tracking software caused the realisation Unionists might have been overdoing things just a bit? Or was naming a computer program after a notoriously inaccurate missile system the first mistake?
Never mind. The injection of "love" now being promised is more than enough to be going on with. It's hard to describe quite how creepy this sounds without defaming the devotees of Hare Krishna who once used to accost folk in the street. Unsolicited declarations of affection are not, let's say, a Scottish habit. By the sound of things, we face the political equivalent of stalking.
That counts as another problem for the Knights Who Like to Say Nope. Affection is one thing, and all very well in its place, no doubt, if you're serious about conveying the meaning of a three-century-old constitutional arrangement. The fact remains that most of those nominated as couriers for the message are politicians. How do you generally react when one of those attempts sincerity?
We've had a taste of this already from David Cameron in his down-the-line speech from London's Olympic Park. There was a lot in that to do with the Prime Minister's affection for "the Scots". But who was he talking about exactly? I'm pretty sure it wasn't me. I'm pretty sure, in fact, that if we ever had the chance to compare notes, Mr Cameron and I would agree only to differ.
Which is to say, simply, that I don't believe him. I don't believe all his unctuous stuff about caring and bonds. I don't blame him, necessarily, for not caring. That's part of the argument, in fact. It would be ridiculous to expect a British Prime Minister to have Scotland at the top of his agenda at all times. That being so, it stands to reason that we'd be better off attending to our own agenda.
You would have to say the same about the rest of the Unionist great and good. First, they're politicians, people with a habit of saying whatever they need to say to achieve their ends. Second, this "love injection" they intend to inflict on us arises from a fiction, from the idea that the real bonds of family are mirrored in institutional relationships. If that was true I'd be demanding political union with - at the last count - France, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and England.
In reality, there's an insult offered to the authentic cross-border ties of family when Mr Cameron or Ed Miliband or any of the rest of them present themselves as long lost cousins. I'm far more interested in the Unionist menage a trois of Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats, and how Scottish Labour supporters really feel about their new in-laws.
As The Herald's Michael Settle reported yesterday, the big thinkers in Whitehall might be catching on to the fact that a negative campaign has become a tad counter-productive. It seems they have some bright boys and girls in England's capital. What has been the effect of the Dambusters nonsense, after all? Merely to convey to Scots it doesn't matter in the slightest what they want, or what they vote for. According to those posing as kith and kin, it won't be allowed.
Still, fun awaits. The Whitehall analysis paper on debt that comes garlanded with endearments, probably in iambic pentameter, should pass for a comedy gala all on its own. But this won't last. The distinguishing feature of the Better Together operation has been the relish with which it has taken to negative campaigning. Scotland's budget deficit has grown? Huzzah to that, they say.
Negative is what they like; it's what suits them; it's what they do best. That's more revealing than greetings card sentimentality. At this rate, the Union will wind up looking like an ill-advised marriage of convenience.
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