Scotland’s independence referendum is the craziest election of the year: Alex Salmond vs. David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Craziest Election of the Year

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Craziest Election of the Year

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 10 2014 12:04 PM

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Craziest Election of the Year

Mr. Independent: Alex Salmond.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

No offense to this year's Senate primaries or their candidates—great job, everybody!—but the most thrilling and history-laden election in the world right now is happening in Scotland. A process that started with the 1997 Labour government's devolution of power in Scotland led to the overwhelming success of Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party, which led to the SNP securing a binding 2014 referendum on whether Scotland should leave the U.K., which after months of bumbling by the "No" campaign and steady work by Salmond, et al. has led to, basically, a tie in the polls. Just as Quebec once seemed ready to leave the Canadian commonwealth, and was saved by only a few thousand votes, Scotland's independence campaign now looks like it might succeed in just eight days.

Stephen Castle and Alan Cowell report on the latest developments, which have seen Prime Minister David Cameron scramble and wage a unity campaign (joined by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband) in Scotland.

“So the choice for you is clear: a leap into the dark with a Yes vote, or a brighter future for Scotland by voting No,” Mr. Cameron said. “You can have the best of both worlds in the U.K. You can have more powers in Scotland. And you can be part of a United Kingdom — standing tall, forging a more secure future in this world, building more opportunities for our children and grandchildren and the generations yet to be born. That is the next chapter in our history; we can write it together — but only if Scotland votes No next week.”

Here's the problem for Cameron. He took over Britain in 2010, after the first win for his Conservative Party in 18 years. It was a narrow, shallow win, secured only when the Liberal Democrats agreed to form a coalition and hold the government for five years, and secured with only one of 59 Scottish constituencies going Tory. (The U.K. used to hold elections whenever the PM asked for them; the coalition government instituted five-year fixed terms.) In 2011 the Scottish parliamentary elections handed total power to Salmond's SNP, as Labour, the Tories, and the Lib Dems collapsed. Salmond's campaign since then has warned Scots that only independence can save it from an unaccountable Tory government in London. Bringing Cameron to campaign in Scotland is like bringing President Obama to Wyoming to help campaign against a bill that would ban guns in Walmart.

"Imagine then how laughable and absurd it would have been if a party had won just a single seat in England but had not only sought to lead a government but succeeded in doing so," wrote Salmond this year. "Such a democratic outrage is so far-fetched that it would not cross anyone’s mind as a reasonable outcome for even a second ... and yet in Scotland today we are subject to a Westminster coalition government led by the Tories, who do indeed have the grand total of one MP north of the border. This affront to democracy gets to the heart of the independence debate."

There are short-sighted campaign promises and there are short-sighted campaign promises. Miliband has not blown many people away as a Labour leader, but he's benefited greatly from the Tories' unpopularity, the utter collapse of the Liberal Democrats, and the rise of the U.K. Independence Party, which slices into a working-class anti-Europe vote the Tories had squandered. Miliband's Labour has consistently led in polls in the general election that's happening just seven months from now. Labour could win that election, take power ... and then lose power in 2016, when Scotland goes independent and 40-odd Labour members of Parliament suddenly hold foreign passports.

It's just a fantastic mess. Oh, I forgot: What's the connection to American politics? Obama-Biden 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina is advising Cameron's party, and longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod is advising Labour. Because they deserved some well-paying, low-stress jobs after the hell of beating Mitt Romney.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.