Category Archives: Yes campaign

Scottish independence, Brexit and Trump: Similarities and differences

Yes
Yes.
2016 is continuing to surprise and shock people, and the election of Trump is definitely going to overshadow the Brexit referendum in many people's minds.

Some people started to comment on Twitter that the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum is starting to look like the exception in that the result was the one expected by the elites. For instance, here's Kenny Farquharson from The Times:

Tweets like this one have upset many independence supporters, because it makes an implicit link between the Yes campaign on the one hand and Brexit and Trump on the other.

Of course, there are some similarities, but there are also several important differences. Perhaps it gets clearer if we look at some of them in a tabular format:

Yes Leave Trump
Mainly appealed to older voters? No Yes Yes
Xenophobic? No Yes Yes
Internationalist? Yes No No
Did they win? No Yes Yes
Opposed by tabloids, Fox News, etc.? Yes No No
Opposed by broadsheets, the BBC and all that? Yes Yes Yes
Strong appeal to voters ignored by the elite?

Yes Yes Yes
Strong social-media campaign? Yes Yes Yes

So the similarities are basically that all these campaigns were opposed by the elite media (the broadsheets, the BBC and so on), appealed strongly to voters ignored by the elite for years, and ran strong social-media campaigns that to a large extent broke the conventional rules about how a successful campaign should be run. In most other regards, the Leave campaign and Trump were very similar to each other, but very different from the Yes campaign.

Interestingly, if we were to add Bernie Sander's unsuccessful campaign and the Greek party Syriza to the table, they'd tick almost exactly the same boxes as the Yes campaign.

So did we lose two years ago because of some of the differences? I'm sure we would have won if the tabloid press had supported us, but if the price had been to turn the campaign xenophobic, it simply wouldn't have been worth it.

If we had appealed more strongly to older voters, that would have pushed us across the line, too. It was hard to do without mainstream-media support, though, and this is something that we need to get right next time.

Perhaps Kenny Farquharson is right, and the independence referendum simply happened too early. Everything else was right, but people weren't desperate enough yet for what was perceived to be a leap into the dark.

Perhaps the time is ripe now, and things will be easier next time. However, it's likely to be a finite window of opportunity before people tire of insurgencies, either because the elites get better at listening to voters again, or because the future disasters caused by Brexit and Trump will scare voters away from audacious experiments.

Do we know what worked and what will work?

LeafletsThe recent anti-BBC billboard brouhaha seems to me to be founded in ignorance. The ones in favour of them evidently think they'll move voters to Yes, and the ones criticising the effort clearly think they'll have the opposite effect. Crucially, neither group has any firm evidence they're right, which leads to people resorting to coorse language because they don't have hard data to back them up.

(We saw the same during the Holyrood campaign earlier this year. Both SNP supporters and their Green counterparts were utterly convinced that giving the second vote to their own party was the right thing to do for the wider Yes movement, but the electoral system is so complex that it was impossible to settle the question logically once and for all, so instead people kept getting into heated arguments with each other instead of taking the fight to the Unionists.)

The interesting thing about the first Indyref campaign was that it was so decentralised. I don't think anybody has a clear picture of all the campaigning efforts. We simply don't know what happened, and we thus don't know what worked.

What had the greatest effect? Door chapping? Yes Scotland's billboards? Wings over Scotland's Wee Blue Book? The TV debates? The BBC Bias demonstrations? The street stalls? Project Fear? We simply don't know.

It would be really interesting to commission an opinion poll asking people when they moved from No to Yes, and if it happened during the campaign, what had the greatest effect on them. It might already be too long ago to get an precise answer, but it would still be indicative of the truth. The poll could also ask what was pulling them in the opposite direction.

Perhaps the poll could also ask the public about their current position. If we focus on the ones that say they might change their mind in the future, what do they reckon it would take? That the alternatives have been exhausted? A new White Paper? A recommendation by the BBC? Chatting to somebody on their doorstep?

It seems to me that we need to find out more, or we'll descend into infighting because we all believe we're right and everybody else is wrong. In the meantime, as I've said before, we should focus on converting No voters to Yes, not on criticising our own side.

There’s more than one way to do it!

Perl Camel
Perl Camel.
Some of my fellow Nats seem to be going rather mental about the crowd-funded anti-BBC billboards.

I have a few observations to make in that connexion:

Firstly, I think we all have to learn to campaign and let campaign – we shouldn't waste our time criticising other people's campaigning efforts but instead spend our time doing what we think is right. After all, as Perl programmers are fond of saying, there's more than one way to do it. Also, nobody can know for sure what will work till afterwards.

I tend to think that one of the main reasons why the Yes parties didn't do better at the last Holyrood election is that people spent far too much time arguing about the merits of "both votes SNP" versus "second vote Green", rather than taking the fight to the Unionists.

Secondly, the main reason why some activists spent some of their hard-earned money on these billboards is that they're frustrated so little campaigning is happening. If Yes Scotland II had already been up and running (hopefully using a better name than that!), spewing out campaign materials and putting up billboards, the vast majority of people would simply back them up and send their money to them. It's because nothing is happening that people get frustrated and start doing things on their own.

Activists aren't employees that can be commanded to do something different by their manager. They need to see that something is happening, especially when the situation in the UK post-Brexit is so dire and so ripe for a change for the better.

Thirdly, it has been suggested that this shows that Tommy Sheppard's idea about paid organisers in the SNP was right. I'm not so sure. I agree community organisers would be really useful, but they'd have to work with the wider Yes movement, not just with the SNP. I can't imagine that those Yes activists who aren't members of the SNP would take very kindly to getting told not to undertake certain campaigning activities by a paid SNP organiser.

The two last points show why we need Yes Scotland II to get up and running as matter of priority. We need somebody to produce campaign materials (and of course the SNP cannot really do that before they call the referendum), and the Yes movement community organisers need to be employed by some organisation other than a political party.

In the meantime, we should all focus on campaigning for a Yes vote in the next referendum, not on criticising each other. There's more than one way to do it.

Indyref postmortem V: Critical mass

I think it’s quite likely the next independence referendum will happen sooner rather than later, so it’s important to have a look at what we could have done better, not in order to point fingers at anybody, but simply to make sure that we win next time. This is the fifth and last of several indyref postmortems.

Yes rally Glasgow ahead of #indyref Independence Referendum
Yes rally Glasgow ahead of #indyref Independence Referendum.
Most people like to go with the flow. If you get the impression that everybody around you is in favour of X or against Y, it takes a lot of willpower to say the opposite.

This is of course why independence for so long was going nowhere – the establishment and the media managed to portray independence as a whacky idea that only lunatics would support, and it wasn't until mainstream media started their decline that things changed. It is interesting to observe that the SNP only scraped into power in 2007, one year after Twitter was created, three years after Facebook was launched, and four years after WordPress came into being.

Online support is all well and good, of course, but people also take a lead from their family, friends and neighbours. It's much harder to come out in favour of independence – even if you've been convinced by the arguments online – if everybody around you maintains it's bonkers.

Because of this, it's critically important to reach a certain critical mass that ensures that independence feels normal, perhaps even to such an extent that unionism feels old-fashioned and quirky.

This sort of critical mass was reached in Glasgow and Dundee in 2014, but probably not in many other places. If you spent a bit of time in FreedomGeorge Square the day before the referendum, you couldn't help feeling that all of Scotland were in favour of a Yes vote. However, I'm sure things felt very different in the areas that voted No.

Could the Yes campaign have done more to achieve critical mass in other places? I can't help thinking the strong focus on local campaigning (activists were almost never bussed around, or even just encouraged to help out elsewhere) made it very hard to break through in areas with a strong No majority.

Campaigning for a Yes in Newton Mearns in East Renfrewshire was definitely a lonely job for the first two years of the campaign. It would have been nice if groups of activists from different types of areas had come round to do some mass canvassing earlier in the campaign – and it might have been good for those helping out to realise not all areas were like their own home patch. Also, it would have been great for me and the other local activists to spend a day in a Yes area to realise how close we were to winning.

Of course bussing people around wouldn't have solved everything. Some areas were always less likely to vote Yes than others because of local issues or because the national campaign materials weren't tailored sufficiently to specific places (as discussed in the first postmortem). It would have helped, though.

In Indyref2 I'd like Yes Scotland II to keep track of whether critical mass is being reached in different neighbourhoods across Scotland, and if an area is getting close to getting there, other areas (especially those that already appear to have a Yes majority) should help out to carry them across the line.

We'll only win if there are more than two Yes cities next time.

A regional view

The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and an old prediction of mine, based on an earlier election. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and an old prediction of mine, based on an earlier election. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
It's quite interesting to look at yesterday's election from a regional point of view.

In Glasgow, the SNP added two seats (and the Greens kept their single seat), and in West Scotland, the SNP were flat while the Greens added a seat. On the other hand, Central Scotland was static, and in Mid Scotland and Fife one seat moved from the SNP to the Greens. Everywhere else the Yes parties lost ground: In both Lothian and the Highland & Islands, the SNP lost two seats while the Greens gained one; in South Scotland the SNP lost a seat, and in North East Scotland the SNP lost two seats.

I've added the change in seats for the two Yes parties together and have superimposed them on an old map of mine, which illustrates how the indyref results compared with my predictions. We all know now that Glasgow and some neighbouring areas voted Yes in much greater numbers than anybody had predicted two years earlier, while Edinburgh and most areas outwith the Central Belt voted No in greater numbers than expected.

It's looking like this pattern is repeating itself. Two SNP seats moved from Aberdeenshire to Glasgow yesterday, for instance.

Another way to look at it is that party politics is still adjusting itself to the indyref result.

What will this mean for the next independence referendum? Will it make it even harder to obtain a Yes vote outwith Glasgow? Or will it be easier because we won't focus on preaching to the converted? We'll need to think very carefully about these questions over the next couple of years.

Back to the Future: Scottish Independence

"You and Jennifer turn out fine. It's Scottish independence, Marty! Something's gotta be done about independence!"
"You and Jennifer turn out fine. It's Scottish independence, Marty! Something's gotta be done about independence!"
Because today is Back to the Future Day, I've been having some fun with fellow tweeters discussing how we'd achieve a Yes in the 2014 referendum if we could go back in time to 2012 or so.

It's actually quite an interesting question. To formalise it a bit, imagine you could go back to any point in 2012, and you could speak to one person for an hour. You could show them evidence such as photos, newspapers or videos, but they wouldn't be able to keep it. Who would you choose to talk to, and what would you tell them?

Would you try to convince Alex Salmond that his currency stance wasn't credible and that he needed to publicise a Plan B?

Or would you try to convince him that Blair Jenkins shouldn't be made the head of Yes Scotland? (I presume he was chosen because of his links to the BBC and STV in order to achieve favourable media coverage for the Yes campaign, but of course this didn't work out.)

Or would you convince him to step down and hand over to Nicola Sturgeon much earlier? That could have backfired badly, however, if it was seen as a sign of weakness.

Perhaps you would instead talk to Angus Robertson and show him his own advice, namely to "harness the powers of younger voters to persuade grandparents and grandmothers that it was not just about an older generation but about future generations and voting for the future of the country".

However, I think I'd go back to early 2012 and talk to Douglas Alexander. I'd show him a video of his concession speech from May 2015. I'd explain to him in no uncertain terms that practically all Labour MPs were going to be kicked out if they campaigned against independence together with the Tories. Although Douglas Alexander wasn't the leader of either UK or Scottish Labour, I believe he was influential enough in both that he would have been able to change things. Perhaps he would even have been able to save Scottish Labour, but I believe a Yes vote would have been a consequence of this.

Would would you do?

Where was the SNP?

Freedom Square in Glasgow today, one year and a day after the independence referendum.
Freedom Square in Glasgow today, one year and a day after the independence referendum.
I'm just back from the Hope over Fear rally in Glasgow that was held to commemorate the independence referendum.

It was great -- a fun family outing like the ones we used to attend all the time during the referendum campaign. The kids know the routine -- going to the face-painting stall and wearing huge Saltires -- and they love it.

I met a lot of friends from the Yes campaign there. Most of them are SNP members today, but of course there were people from all pro-Yes parties and none.

However, the SNP wasn't officially involved in the event, and as far as I could tell, there weren't any MPs or MSPs there. It was almost as if they'd been told not to attend.

I can understand if people in SNP HQ are worried about sharing a platform with Tommy Sheridan and about helping the Greens and the SSP in the fight for the crucial Holyrood list votes, but boycotting the post-No Yes events is a monumental error.

At least 95% of the people at the rally today were there because they saw it as a Yes event, and they couldn't care less who the organiser was. Yes supporters have a huge need for Yes marches and rallies to keep the flame alive, and Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity party is simply filling the void left behind by the SNP.

As a result, the ordinary punter can easily get the impression that Tommy Sheridan cares much more about independence than the SNP, which is obviously completely and utterly wrong.

If Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon had been there today, they would of course have got a much bigger cheer than Tommy Sheridan, and it would have given them a great platform to explain why a list vote for the SNP is the best way to get independence soon, and probably more effective than giving the second vote to one of the smaller pro-Yes parties.

I'm not saying the SNP needs to share a platform with Solidarity if they don't want to. They could create great Yes events together with the Greens, the SSP and the surviving Yes groups such as Women for Independence and Business for Scotland, and of course the vast majority of SNP members would choose to attend the events organised by their own party. Also, the turn-out was excellent today, but if the SNP organised and publicised an event (such as a march and rally in Edinburgh on the independence anniversary), it should be quite feasible to get at least 100,000 people to attend, and that would really get Westminster's attention.

As I've argued before, we need to campaign for independence now in order to get the support up to a level where a new referendum is inevitable. We can't simply focus on party politics and hope that support for independence suddenly increases on its own.

Two percent of Scots have joined the SNP over the past year because they think it's the best way to get independence soon. However, my gut feeling is their support is dependent on a strong commitment to independence, and that means the SNP has to be seen to be leading the continuing Yes campaign. The SNP should have had a strong official presence on Freedom Square today.