Good morning. “Splitting distance” bellows the Scottish Sun. (“McSqueaky Bum Time” is the some what more irreverent take on page 2 of the English edition) A new YouGov poll for the Sun has the lead for the Union cut to six points – down from 22 points just a month ago. The numbers are: No 48% Yes 42%, Don’t Knows 8%, or No 53% Yes 47% once the undecideds are excluded.
“Scotland puts Union on knife edge” is the Times’ splash. “A reminder that the Union is in real danger,” says James Forsyth. And to think a fortnight ago, Yes Scotland was widely being written off as dead and buried after that first debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling. Yes, it’s just one poll, and the usual health warnings apply. But the polls influence what people like me write, and – more importantly – they influence the mood of the campaigns, too.
“Oh god, it’s happening again,” was the verdict of one Scottish parliamentarian last night. For veterans of Scottish Labour’s 2011 defeat it all feels horribly familiar. Movement in the betting markets is followed by a shift in the polls – the fear now is that, as happened in 2011, the campaign collapses into infighting. The difference this time is that the upper echelons of Better Together have been prepared for the polls to tighten from some time – that Alex Salmond would give them a fright is expected, and planned for.
Westminster, too, has long been braced for a tense final straight. That – as the FT reports – Westminster has no contingency plans in place in the event of a Yes vote makes London look rather more oblivious than they are. Downing Street has been reluctant to hand the Nationalists a PR victory by being seen to plan for the worst, but the PM has long expected that the last days of the campaign will be tight. For Ed Miliband’s part, Labour are taking the campaign seriously enough that they pulled their organisers out of English marginals and into the battle for the Union some time ago. The hope now is that, by being better prepared, Better Together can prevent the referendum being another unexpected triumph for Mr Salmond.
BOMB FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER?
“UK ready to take fight to jihadists” is our splash. The PM told the House yesterday that he is willing to “act immediately” and inform the Commons later if national security is threatened. It looks like an mothballing of the constitutional precedent, set during the Blair years, that the House votes first and action comes after – or, as happened last year, not at all, although Nick Clegg has played down any suggestion that Parliament will be bounced into action. The chances of getting parliamentary approval for any prolonged action the region however, are slim, and will be further reduced by a poll in today’s Indy. “Don’t bomb Syria or Iraq” is the i’s headline. Just 35% of voters back strikes against Isil while 50% oppose action, the survey from Comres has found. Meanwhile, Lord Richards, the former Chief of Defence Staff, told Sky News Tonight that neither the PM nor Barack Obama have “really grasped the enormity of the problem and the scale of the solution” posed by Islamic extremism.
A CONTROL ORDER BY ANY OTHER NAME
The PM’s announcement of beefed-up Tpims has been overshadowed by a Coalition row and legal difficulties, Patrick Wintour reports in the Guardian. The re-introduction of relocation powers – effectively the restoration of control orders under a different brand – has run into difficulties. Measures that appeared to have secured approval from both Coalition partners now look to be rather more controversial, and, with the deadline for emergency motions not yet passed, I’m told that there are now firm plans to force the new Tpims to a vote at the conference floor of Liberal Democrat party conference. The PM has already had to shelve key proposals including the withdrawal of passports from British-born jihadis, in the face of legal objections – as Dominic Grieve noted in the House yesterday, as well as flouting international law, the proposals also run contrary to British common law. There is a growing appetite among Tory hawks for a cross-party deal with Labour in order to bypass what the Sun characterises today as “Lib Dem hand-wringing and skewed priorities”.
ALL YOU NEED IS GOVE
“If Osborne were to die tomorrow, many in Westminster would wonder what he meant by that.” That’s today’s stand-out line from Janan Ganesh’s expanded biography of George Osborne, serialised this week in the Times. The book carries further details of Michael Gove’s expanded back-room role – as I’ve outlined before - and his increasing day-to-day importance to both the PM and Mr Osborne now that he is no longer on Whitehall’s frontlines. And Sajid Javid is outed as the Chancellor’s favourite protege.
AET’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH
England’s largest academy chain may give up control over some of its schools after being censured by Ofsted inspectors. The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) is considering whether some schools would do better with a smaller provider after claims that its rapid expansion left some schools struggling to cope. The inspection of the 12 academies in question does not give an accurate picture of the 77 schools under AET control, a spokesperson said. The affair will deepen the row over whether Ofsted should be able to inspect head office functions as well as individual schools within in academy chains.
OAR’S WELL THAT END’S WELL?
Boris Johnson’s plans for a new major airport in the Thames estuary will be buried by the Davies commission on infrastructure later today, Peter Dominiczak and Nathalie Thomas report. The Mayor’s proxies say that the only think that Sir Howard Davies has sunk is his own commission. It’s “politically impossible” to expand Heathrow, whatever government is in office, the Mayor’s friends and advisers say. In other news, Chris Hope reports on the race to be the Conservative candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip. As well as the Olympic oarsman James Cracknell, former Downing Street adviser Shaun Bailey is among the hopefuls. The field will be winnowed down to a shortlist of three or four on Friday.
The Morning Briefing is written by Stephen Bush, who tweets as @stephenkb. Our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams; you can see his cartoons on Instagram.
POLL OF POLLS
Poll of polls 26th August to 2nd September, Labour lead of four points (ComRes-Populus-Opinium-YouGov)
ComRes: Con 28% Lab 35% LD 9% Ukip 17%
Populus: Con 32% Lab 36% LD 9% Ukip 15%
YouGov: Con 34%, Lab 35%, LD 7%, Ukip 14%