Alex Salmond: Optimist-in-chief

Despite the polls the First Minister and the 'Yes' side are convinced they can win on 18 September Photo: PA

Alex Salmond looked me in the eye this morning and told me that he will secure a 'Yes' vote in September's independence referendum, including in the Borders.

Yes, this is a statement of obvious. No politician is going to concede defeat ahead of an election - or in this case a referendum.

But what was striking was the absolute certainty with which the First Minister made his prediction.

Again, you might say this is not unusual. Self-belief is a prerequisite for surviving and thriving in politics. And Mr Salmond is not a man lacking in self-belief.

Yet despite the polls consistently showing 'Yes' behind 'No', albeit to varying degrees, the First Minister is no doubt he will win.

So it is worth considering how the 'Yes' side think they will achieve victory. I got some insight into their thinking when 'Yes' strategist Stephen Noon spoke recently at an Edinburgh Fringe festival event.

Mr Noon, who used to work for Mr Salmond and is seen as the intellectual driving force behind the modern nationalist 'narrative' - to use the political jargon - put it very simply.

First, he says the referendum means that people are talking about independence and not, in his view, about the Union, or not in the same way. Second, he says that the 'Yes' campaign is forward looking and optimistic, not negative which he says is the 'No' side problem.

Third, Mr Noon says the polls do not show that there are a spectrum of views on independence among the public.

When they canvas, the 'Yes' side are asking people to say where they stand on independence on a scale of 1 to 10.

They believe that anyone who is above 5 or perhaps 6 can be persuaded between now and September 18 to move to casting their vote in favour of leaving the UK.

On top of that the Yes side say that they are getting a very good response what we might still call 'working class' areas of Scotland.

A survey of canvas returns by the Radical Independence Campaign claims to show two-thirds of people in more socially deprived areas of Scotland backing a 'Yes' vote.

These are areas where the electorate traditionally voted Labour, if they voted at all.

The 'Yes' side say that these people have been neglected by the main UK parties, particularly Labour, and the prospect of a "fairer Scotland" offered by independence appeals to them.

Now, there is always the danger that the pro-independence side is finding what it wants to find in canvassing.

And that at events like many around the Fringe 'Yes' supporters are just speaking to like-minded folk, deceiving themselves as to the surge of support for their cause.

Hearing what they want to hear in other words.

But might the 'Yes' side optimists, led by the optimist-in-chief the First Minister, be right?

Well, the polling - including our last survey for ITV Border's Representing Border in the south of Scotland - would say they are not.

Yet if they do win the 'Yes' side will claim to have proved their theory that the media - that includes me - are missing the real story of a largely unnoticed grassroots growth in support for independence.

We'll know if they are right soon enough.

In the meantime it is worth at least pondering if there might be something in this thesis, something which gives Mr Salmond his cast iron, look me in the eye, certainty.

I'll blog soon on the counter view to this from the 'No' side who are, you won't be surprised to learn, equally confident they will win.

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