Category Archives: No campaign

The nightmare on Sauchiehall Street

Joe Pike's "Project Fear" is a really interesting book about Better Together and Labour's subsequent electoral collapse, which must be considered essential reading as we prepare for the next independence campaign.

Joe Pike is the husband of Better Together's Director of Policy, Gordon Aikman, so he's been able to speak directly to practically everybody involved in the No campaign:

The majority of the content is based on over fifty interviews with key players, almost all conducted in person, with many speaking for the first time. Every interview -- from junior staff to leading politicians -- was conducted on the same off-the-record basis. Only a handful of people refused to be involved. [...] Many interviewees have kindly provided emails, internal documents, polling information, contemporaneous notes and the content of text messages.

It contains a lot of wonderful wee anecdotes full of inside information, such as the following, which means the book is a fun and informative read:

If [the patronising BT lady] advert had elicited a critical mauling, another -- which never saw the light of day -- would have been far more controversial. This was scare tactics on steroids: a negative, dark, moody and threatening broadcast. ‘Girders were breaking, oil was spurting out. It was awful,’ said one campaigner. ‘There were kids walking up to the edge of a cliff looking over as the UK was being ripped apart,’ said another. ‘It was an "in emergency, break glass and let's roll this bad boy out" option.’ The advert was made at a cost of £50,000, but was never deployed.

[...] Yet it was Maggie Darling who ensured voters never saw it. ‘It's like Nightmare on Sauchiehall Street,’ she told her husband.

The lasting impression is of a campaign that was under-resourced for a long time (because everybody assumed at first they'd win easily) and completely chaotic towards the end as everybody tried to impose their own ideas on the campaign. Also, they spent a lot of money on polling but not very much on actually doing anything.

Will Better Together II be very different from this? I'm sure it will. Firstly, it will get proper funding from the outset; secondly, nobody will think of it as an easy way to get the Nationalists back into their box; thirdly, Labour won't have an army of MPs and Westminster insiders to rely on; fourthly, the campaign itself might be organised in a way that suits the No side better (a shorter campaign, for instance); and finally, I'm sure a lot of lessons will have been learnt from the way the two campaigns were run.

I just wish somebody would write a similar book about the Yes campaign. In many ways it'd be more difficult, because the campaign was much less centralised -- Yes Scotland was just a small part of it. However, it was also a hugely successful campaign that achieved much more than many people imagined was possible at the outset, so there are a lot of lessons to be learnt about what worked and what didn't.

This is a bit different from Project Fear, which at times comes across as a series of lessons in how not to run a referendum campaign. However, there are also important lessons for the Yes campaign in it. For instance, it's clear Better Together had expected the Scottish Government's White Paper to be much more like a budget, and they had spent a lot of time preparing their response, so they were almost disappointed when it was published. Would it have been better if the White Paper had been more like what the No campaign expected?

I must say this is probably the best book about the independence campaign so far -- and it's all the better for including the Westminster election rather than finishing the day after the referendum.

The Better Together Broadcasting Corporation

I've had enough of the BBC! They've been biased against independence forever (which is perhaps to be expected given the first 'B' in its name stands for 'British'), but in the past week they have gone from being biased to being a campaign organisation that should be called The Better Together Broadcasting Corporation.

Wings over Scotland found a perfect example today: Here's a question by the BBC's Nick Robinson and a very complete answer by Alex Salmond (the footage is from a news conference for foreign media, so it's apparently foreign correspondents that are laughing and applauding in the background):

However, in the 6 o'clock news this exchange had been reduced to the following:

In other words, Salmond's answer is being summarised as 'Salmond didn't answer'. That's simply a lie.

There's also a helpful list of examples of BBC Scotland being manipulative during the referendum campaign on Newsnet Scotland. Some of the examples are simply outrageous.

I don't have an issue with privately owned media having an agenda and campaigning for this, especially when they're open about it. However, we're all forced to finance the BBC if we want to watch live TV at all, and people clearly expect objectivity from the state broadcaster, so this is an absolute scandal.

If we vote Yes in a week's time, the new Scottish public-service broadcaster (the SBS) will have to be created from scratch to avoid any bad habits from being taken over from BBC Scotland.

On the other hand, if we vote No (which is sadly a possibility due to the manipulative and mendacious behaviour by the BBC) the Scottish Government must request and require broadcasting to be devolved as a matter of priority. If that is denied, we must find a way to create a new broadcaster (using crowd-funding, perhaps) that can deliver unbiased news to people in Scotland. This will be much harder than simply voting Yes in a week's time, however.

If I hadn't already been planning to vote Yes, the BBC's outrageous behaviour would have been the final straw. It's completely clear that Scotland needs to escape the Westminster bubble and its broadcaster. The sooner, the better!

The weakening of the Scottish institutions

Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Prime Minister Gordon Brown by Downing Street, on Flickr.
It might come as something of a shock to people who know me, but for once I agree with Gordon Brown (in his recent article in The Guardian):

It is also a mistake to think what's new is Scotland demanding its own national institutions and the freedom to run them. From its churches and law to its schools, universities and hospitals, Scotland has had its own distinctive national institutions throughout all those 300 years of union. [...]

Perhaps surprisingly, what is also new is the recent loss of a million members from Scotland's churches and the weakening of the Scottish institutions – religious, legal, educational and even sporting – which expressed our Scottishness. They provided an anchor that made us comfortable with being part of Britain. The delicate balance between cultural nationalism and political unionism has been ruptured [...]

I think this analysis is spot on. For centuries, Scotland effectively had cultural autonomy within a political, economic and monetary union called the British Empire. Because of this autonomy, and because almost no Scots spoke English as their native language until recently (Scots and Gaelic dominated for a long time as spoken languages, and English was only used in schools and churches and some other formal settings), their was no threat to Scottishness at all.

However, these days it's getting harder and harder to define what it means to be Scottish. The TV programmes young people watch the most are British (X Factor, Big Brother, The Apprentice, Britain's Got Talent and so on), the churches are dying out, and Scots increasingly speak standard English with a slight accent -- and even that is dying out (my kids are struggling with pronouncing the 'ch' in 'loch' and the 'w' in 'whale'). Gordon Brown even created a UK-wide football team for the Olympics.

I'm surprised how Gordon Brown can see these issues so clearly and yet fail to provide any solutions for them. His article doesn't suggest any concrete measures -- he doesn't suggest splitting up the BBC into four national broadcasters, he doesn't think the UK should field four separate Olympic teams, he doesn't draw up a plan for revitalising Scots and Gaelic.

Because Unionists don't seem to want to do anything to create new distinctive Scottish institutions to repair the "delicate balance between cultural nationalism and political unionism", I cannot help but conclude that they're happy to see Scotland merging gradually with England until eventually it becomes just another British region like Yorkshire or Devon.

I agree with Gordon Brown's analysis, and so far as I can see, the only practical solution to the problems he raises is independence. Surely he can see that too?

A deeply divided Scotland will be the result of a No vote

Heart Wrenching Position
Heart Wrenching Position by Kat N.L.M., on Flickr.

Better Together's Campaign Director, Blair McDougall, wrote something rather odd on their blog (thanks to Newsnet Scotland for the link):

[A narrow victory to Yes] would be the worst of all worlds: a legitimate but unconvincing mandate leaving behind a deeply divided Scotland. There is a better alternative to a divided Scotland, separate from the UK. An idea we can unite around as Scots. Distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom.

Obviously a clear result is always preferable, but here he claims a narrow Yes would be worse than a narrow No. This is very odd. Sensible Unionists (like for instance Michael Moore) have always said that they'll change sides after a Yes vote and will start working to achieve the best result for the independent Scotland state. That doesn't sound like a divided country to me.

In fact, almost no newly independent countries have significant political forces advocating a recreation of the country they broke out of. People get used to independence, and after a few years nobody wants to go back.

It's a narrow No victory that will leave behind a deeply divided country. A landslide No victory would perhaps have finished off the independence movement for a long time, but that's simply not going to happen. If the No campaign manages to scare enough voters into reluctantly voting No that they narrowly win the referendum, does anybody think the massive grassroots movement that has sprung up in favour of a Yes will just wither away? Of course it won't, so the demand for independence will just grow stronger and stronger.

Thinking that Scots could possibly unite around the idea of being "distinctively and proudly Scottish with more decisions made in Scotland with the strength, security and stability of being part of the bigger United Kingdom" is just ludicrous. Two years ago, I would have said Devo Max could have satisfied most people, but too many people have now realised it's independence they want (and Devo Max isn't on offer anyway).

I don't know whether Blair McDougall really believes it himself. Surely he should also be able to recognise that only a Yes vote will bring closure.

Darling, I am NOT an ethnic nationalist!

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling
Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling by Downing Street, on Flickr.
Like many other people I feel offended by the infamous Alistair Darling interview:

NS: Salmond has successfully redefined the SNP as [representing] a civic nationalism . . .

Darling: Which it isn’t . . .

NS: But that’s what he says it is. Why do you say it isn’t? What is it? Blood and soil nationalism?

Darling: At heart . . . [inaudible mumble] If you ask any nationalist, ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’ they would say the answer has got to be no. It is about how people define themselves through their national identity.

It's clear the inaudible mumble wasn't a clear No, so he clearly agreed with the interviewer's Blut und Boden provocation.

This is outrageous! I've been fighting ethnic nationalism all my life, I'm an internationalist. I'm even an Esperantist, for crying out loud!

I'm also a proud member of the Scottish National Party. The party that calls itself "National", not "Nationalist". As I've argued before, we independence campaigners should really have been called sovereigntists (or independentistas as suggested by Wee Ginger Dug), not nationalists, but that's just a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare wrote.

In Scotland the word "nationalist" has come to mean "a member of the SNP" or even "a Yes campaigner". I don't have a problem with this, and I'm happy to call myself a nationalist in a Scottish context. However, outwith Scotland the word has the wrong connotations. This was why Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group in Westminster, felt compelled to say the following in an interview with an Austrian newspaper:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger -- von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten. [We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world -- because of this the German translation of my party annoys me: We are not nationalists.]

I agree with Angus Robertson. In some contexts it's useful to talk about civic nationalism (which Wikipedia defines as "a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights"), and I'm very happy to identify myself as a civic nationalist. However, if you're talking to somebody who doesn't really know about civic nationalism and assumes nationalism means ethnic nationalism, it's better to say you're not a nationalist.

Finally, I feel I should answer Darling's question (‘Are there any circumstances in which you would not vote to be independent?’). Yes, generally speaking -- I think there are countries that would benefit from forming a union with a neighbouring country. However, the United Kingdom has so many flaws that I find it hard to think of anything the No campaign could say that would make me vote against independence. The union might have served a purpose during the age of imperialism, but these days it's better to be an independent country. Even if there was no oil left and Scotland couldn't remain the EU, I believe an independent Scotland would be much better at responding to the needs of its citizens than a corrupt and remote government in Westminster.

My national identity is complex. I guess you could try to define me as Scottish-Danish-German-Esperantist-European with a few sprinkles of Georgian and Basque, but it's really a bit complicated. It's not how I define myself, and it's not the reason I'm voting Yes.

Alistair Darling should feel ashamed of himself. There are plenty of neo-fascist movements appearing all over Europe at moment that he could spend his time fighting. Ethnic nationalism is a horrible ideology, and applying that term to an anti-xenophobic party that welcomes foreigners like me with open arms is insulting, demeaning, harmful and evil. We are not amused.

Close your eyes and think of England!

bunting as far as the eye can see...
bunting as far as the eye can see... by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr.
It's become customary for Better Together supporters to prefix their attempts at talking down Scotland with the words "I'm a patriotic Scot, but ..." or similar. (It's always followed by an example of how they believe Scotland is either too wee, too poor or too stupid so survive in the real world.)

This use of patriotic (a word that independence supporters rarely use) is straightforward enough -- they want to ensure that people don't think they're doing this because they don't feel Scottish.

However, today the Scottish Office (which at least on Twitter ought to change its name to the Better Together Propaganda Office) tweeted this:

This seems to imply that voting No is a patriotic duty, that voting Yes is a temptation that must be resisted. It smacks of "Close your eyes and think of England" and "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori".

It's an interesting change of semantics. Whereas the way patriotic is normally used by No campaigners clearly refers to Scotland, this seems to say that people have a duty to the United Kingdom, and that it would be an unforgivable folly to vote Yes to independence.

This tweet seems to be condensed version of this quote by Alistair Carmichael: "Being passionate about independence does not make you more Scottish. It does not mean you are the only ones that care about Scotland’s future. People who care are asking questions about our pensions and the Pound and if they do not get convincing answers then the patriotic decision will be to reject the idea of Scotland leaving the UK."

In the longer version, patriotic seems to have its usual meaning (although the logic is somewhat flawed).

So what happened? Is the Scottish Office on a mission here, or are they just bad at condensing statements down to 140 characters? It will be interesting to study the use of patriotic by Better Together for the remainder of the campaign.

Will Scotland be a lucky country?

Four-leaf Clover
Four-leaf Clover by Hyoung Won Park, on Flickr.
A while ago the psychologist Richard Wiseman did some research into luck, in particular why some people seem to be luckier than others:

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Can these principles be applied to a country as well as individuals? And if they can, would they combine to make Scotland a lucky place after independence? Let's have a look at each of them in turn.

On the first principle -- chance opportunities -- it's well known that small independent countries can react more quickly to them. As Stephen Noon puts it: "Government and institutions can be structured more effectively, making our size an advantage, with shorter lines of communication and the ability to bring together key decision makers, allowing a quicker response to changing economic conditions." While we're a part of the UK, it's much harder to react swiftly, because we don't have all the powers here and might need to bring Westminster on board before we can act. (One might argue that entering into a political union with England in 1707 was a case of a small country pursuing a chance opportunity, and Scotland did indeed do amazingly well out of it for the first 100-200 years. After that, Scotland stopped acting like a small country and more like a region of a large one.)

The second principle -- intuition -- is harder to apply to a country. One might argue that in a country with a high degree of trust in political institutions, there's a tendency to accept other people's actions without seeing the rationale for them. The problem with this argument is that not all small countries are very trusting. According to this article, the Nordic countries score very highly, but many ex-communist countries are at the bottom. So a lot might here depend on Scotland managing to learn the right lessons from the Scandinavia.

The third principle -- self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations -- applies easily: The story of Scotland is a positive one, especially after a Yes vote, and it's one that will appeal to people both here and abroad. It's not like the UK that immediately conjures up images on colonialism, racism, privilege and corruption. So people in an independent Scotland will expect to do well, and therefore they will.

The fourth principle -- a resilient attitude -- comes naturally in a small country. I grew up in Denmark, and you had a feeling that you were all in it together. If the government for instance said that salaries were rising too fast, it was easy to reach a consensus to do something about it -- you didn't feel that your benefits were being cut and your taxes increased just so that the bankers in could keep their bonuses.

Richard Wiseman adds:

Unlucky people often fail to follow their intuition when making a choice, whereas lucky people tend to respect hunches. Lucky people are interested in how they both think and feel about the various options, rather than simply looking at the rational side of the situation. I think this helps them because gut feelings act as an alarm bell - a reason to consider a decision carefully. Unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine. They tend to take the same route to and from work and talk to the same types of people at parties. In contrast, many lucky people try to introduce variety into their lives.

This is a very accurate description of the Yes and No campaigns: Most Yes campaigners both think and feel that independence is the right way forward, whereas the No campaigners tend to fight for a No in spite of their feelings (the "I'm a proud Scot but ..." sentiment). Also, many No campaigners cling to the UK because that's their routine, whereas Yes campaigners love to think about the endless possibilities that an independent Scotland will offer us.

Of course Scotland will still belong to both groups after the referendum, but I don't think there's any doubt that the winning campaign will make Scotland more like themselves. If Yes wins, the visionaries and optimists will be running the country, whereas it will be the unlucky pessimists who will be running the show after a No vote.

If Scotland votes Yes on 18 September, the country will be brimming with energy and positivism -- exactly the circumstances that means we'll create and notice chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to our intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good. In other words, Scotland will become a lucky country.