ONE of the canniest moves the Yes campaign has pulled has been to present itself as the underdog, a poor mite finally finding the courage to stand up to its heartless Westminster masters.
In reality, when it comes to cash and official backing, it is the Crufts champion of modern political campaigns: a sleek, well-fed beast that sleeps on a plump bed of fivers and civil service advice.
Recently, for example, not one but two full-colour newspapers have arrived at my door. Titled Yes!, the Spring 2014 issue is designed to look like a proper newspaper, except the only stories allowed are good news ones. Yes! has headlines with lots of exclamation marks! Moody photos of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond! The chance to win an iPad! A message from Alan Cumming which is unfortunately not an offer to stay at his fabulous home in New York! Altogether, it looks like a fearful waste of money, there to confirm rather than convert opinion.
It is hard, though, to become too worked up over Yes! After all, free newspapers are the best advertisement for paid papers you will ever see. Nor is there ever any danger of being confused about the message being punted by Yes!, or the identity of who is doing the punting. This cod newspaper is just one of the methods the campaign has chosen to "love bomb" the electorate, and it is as subtle as a cruise missile between the eyes.
Other forms of love bombing are harder to read. The very term can be taken to mean a number of things, from the sinister (cult practices) to the psychological (boosting self-esteem). The referendum campaign, as in so many other areas, has stretched the envelope further. Today, love bombing has become accepted political practice, a campaigning means to a democratic end. Any side can deploy it, or, in the case of David Cameron, not deploy it. Thus far, the attempts of Coalition ministers to love bomb Scots has been the political equivalent of friendly fire. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that he is perhaps not catnip to the Scots, but that will not stop him from heading here. Once the European elections are over, it has been reported, there will be no stopping Mr Cameron, or the Labour leader Ed Miliband from visiting Scotland regularly. Not that we are second in their list of priorities, you understand, it is just that some things - the European elections, the kids' sports days, the big shop at Waitrose - come first. Whenever you are ready, boys.
The use of love bombing is not confined to within Scotland. Last month the First Minister spent St George's Day in Carlisle, telling the other North that Scottish independence would be the best thing to happen to the place since Tony Warren had the idea for a weekly drama set on a cobbled street in Greater Manchester. Mr Salmond has delivered the same message to London audiences, except in those cases he is more friendly financial adviser than all-social democrats-together cheerleader. The rest of the UK, just like Scotland, has nothing to fear from Scottish independence is the essence of those London love bombs.
Love bombing has become such an accepted part of the campaign that it is now open to allcomers. As revealed by The Herald, senior councillors representing the Core Cities Group of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield came to the Dear Green Place of Glasgow yesterday with flowers in their hair (metaphorically speaking) and love in their hearts. Their message, as set out in a letter to this newspaper from the councils' various leaders, stated that while the question of independence was one for the people of Scotland, "we need to add our voices to those who believe that devolving more power to cities to let them create jobs and grow their economies is a more radical constitutional agenda than establishing a border at Carlisle".
Given that all the councils bar Bristol are Labour-controlled, we can take this "Glasgow Declaration" as an essentially Better Together message with a few "Ay oops", "Calm downs", "Chucks", plus a couple of whippets, thrown in. (Apologies chaps, but if you are true brothers and sisters in arms with Glasgow, as Gordon Matheson, the leader of Glasgow City Council says, you must know that dispensing a gentle slagging is our way of saying we care.) Mr Matheson scores a direct hit, though, when he says that Glasgow has more in common with Liverpool than it does with much of the rest of Scotland. It is an argument the leader of Scottish Labour has only tiptoed around so far, but it could mean the difference between victory and defeat in Glasgow and other urban areas come September.
As with the Yes! freesheet, we can see from a mile off where the Core Cities Group is coming from. But, sometimes, you can understand the motives of the love bombers, yet still be slightly confused.
We can all agree that celebrity love bombs, from the likes of David Bowie and Alan Cumming, are the political equivalent of fireworks. They make a huge show initially, only to fizzle out quickly and leave naught but whisps of smoke hanging in the air. It is harder, though, to know what to make of new groups such as To Scotland with Love, and its "we want you to stay" message, or Vote No Borders, founded by Malcolm Offord, a well-to-do businessman and former Conservative donor, which describes itself as "a people's campaign voiced by ordinary Scots". Internet-based, giving of their own time and money, both these groups want to say how much they care about the Union. Not that they have been thanked by all for doing so. Just days after Vote No Borders launched with an invitation to individuals to post videos pledging their support, the level of abuse has been such that comments have now been suspended.
All sides, including Yes Scotland, have duly come forth to state once again that the debate should be conducted in a reasonable, respectful manner. But as ever, a stain and a nasty taste in the mouth are left behind.
While we might wonder why anyone should want to love bomb us - is it the oil reserves in our pocket, or are they genuinely pleased to see us? - it has come to a not so pretty pass when expressing a viewpoint unleashes the internet dogs of war. This behaviour is nothing but poisonous to the independence cause. It reeks of insecurity, and is the very antithesis of what a modern, democratic, inclusive Scotland should be about. If the posters to these videos are so threatened by professions of friendship, one would hate to see their reaction to genuine enmity.
We have still a way to go in this campaign. The love bombing has barely started. Come summer, the average voter, unless they have built their very own love bomb shelter in the garden, will not be able to escape the affections of the Yes and No camps. There is no getting away from it, but we can make clear what is unacceptable. Love bomb us if you wish, but hate bombs? You can keep them.
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