Politics in Scotland has been utterly transformed in the past week as the long awaited referendum on Independence just got real.
The bells ringing in the New Year had barely stopped chiming when David Cameron strode into the BBC's London studios to declare he was taking charge of the Independence referendum. He insisted it would be conducted on his terms and at his choosing because 'the current uncertainty' over the timing of the referendum was 'destabilising the Scottish economy and bad for business confidence and investment decisions'. His intervention was designed to seize the initiative on behalf of the British state. Uncomfortable with their lack of control Cameron and the British state insisted that Westminster alone had the right to organise any referendum since constitutional matters are reserved to them under The Scotland Act 1998. In using these legal powers he insisted he had the right to see a simple Yes/No question on Independence be put as early as possible.
Cameron sees the current polls suggesting a 60:40 majority for staying within the United Kingdom, and wants any referendum held quickly before a stuttering economy, a populist SNP, or other events alter that ratio.
But Cameron's political weaknesses are all too apparent. The Tories and Liberal Democrats are hugely unpopular in Scotland. The former have just one MP out of 52 and, if anything, the Liberals are even more hated for having gone into coalition with Thatchers heirs.
On the Independence side, where stands the Scottish Socialist Party, the intervention of Cameron is seen as the hand of reaction. Alex Salmond astutely outmanoeuvred Cameron by announcing within hours that the date of the referendum would be Autumn 2014. The polls are seen as a challenge for supporters of Independence, one which can be turned around. And neither side would claim they are at this stage the final verdict of the Scottish people. Perhaps the most interesting of all the recent polls was the one conducted by Ipsos Mori in November which asked people how they would vote if they felt they would be £500 a year better off under Independence. The result was that the 60;40 proportions were completely reversed with a majority this time favouring change.
This news is no surprise to those of us who have argued for 10 years that convincing working people in Scotland that they will be economically, socially, politically and culturally better off if we were able to make our own decisions, control our own economy and shape our own destiny, is they key to winning a resounding Yes vote in Autumn 2014.